Review Summary: A disappointing release from a band who are capable of much better.
Prior to the albums's release, Opeth mastermind Mikael Akerfeldt described this album as being heavier, darker and more technical than anything they had done before, causing much anticipation within the bands fanbase. But sadly, such comments are made by practically every metal band as they hype up their newest release, and ultimately, this leads to an album that cannot live up to expectations.
Unfortunately, this is the case for Opeth's 9th observation, Watershed.
Listening to the album for the first few times, there was something wrong, something I could not quite put my finger on. It was only around the 3rd or 4th time I realised what it was. I knew the album, almost in its entirety. I was bored already.
I should explain at this point that much of Opeths appeal lies in the atmosphere their music creates, the way you can immerse yourself into them, and allow the music to take you on a journey. The long, meandering songs require many listens before they begin to sink in, and bit by bit you find yourself remembering a riff, or a vocal line, a part you previously had not noticed. Ultimately, Opeth create satisfying music, that rewards patient listening with a large repeat value.
This is what Watershed lacks. There is no sense of depth, no atmosphere, and several signs that show Akerfeldt is beginning to run out of ideas. The opener, Coil, is a pleasant acoustic track, featuring guest vocalist Nathalie Lorichs, but at 3 minutes it just doesn't add anything. It would have been better broken down and used within another song, rather than left as a stand alone track. Porcelain Heart is another example of this. It is over 8 minutes in length, yet consists of just 3 riffs, repeated over and over again. I can't help but think this is purely to make the album longer, rather than to enhance the song itself.
Watershed also features a rare Opeth phenomenon; a bad song. Hex Omega is not even bad by Opeths standards, its just bad full stop. Mikes vocals have none of the power he is capable of, the riffs are bland and forgettable, and just when it seems to be going somewhere, it ends. All in all its a bizarre choice of album closer, that leaves you feeling unsatisfied, something that I have never experienced with Opeth before.
Speaking of Mikes vocals, only 3 songs here feature his brilliant death growls. It sounds like Mikael is allowing his old prog influences to domminate his songwriting too much. I know Opeth have never just been about metal, but at the same time, its often the moments of sheer heaviness that make up the most memorable and haunting moments in the Opeth cannon. The lack of variety in the dynamics, particularly vocally, contributes towards the total lack of atmosphere present on Watershed
However, Watershed does have its redeeming points. Heir Apparent is one of the most straight up brutal songs the band have ever recorded, ending with melodic beauty that harks way back to My Arms, Your Hearse. While it won't go down as one of their absolute classics, it is more than worthy of Opeth's outstanding back catalogue. Burden, which resembles a Whitesnake power ballad, features some stunning soloing, and heartfelt vocals, and The Lotus Eater features some signs of genuine experimentation.
Sadly I could not escape the fact that after 3 listens I had heard everything the album had to offer. While Watershed is not a bad album, it has little or no replay value. I admire the band for trying something different, for this album bears little resemblance to Opeth of old, I just hope they learn from their mistakes and recover from what is their largest misstep thus far.
Recommended tracks; Heir apparent, Burden.