I have been anxiously awaiting the release of this album for well over a year. I have followed every blog, news article or rumor surrounding the making of it. A bit obsessive? Perhaps. However, for a die hard Opeth fan such as myself, it was only natural. So, after putting it my car cd player for the short drive home from the office, I pulled into my driveway with the volume at excessive levels and listened to the rest of "Watershed" as the sky darkened around me. I had heard three tracks already prior to this which sounded great, but I wanted to absorb it all in one listen with no interruptions. After the final track ended, I walked into the house to contemplate what I had just heard. Clearly many more listens were in order, but this is my first initial impression of the cd.
In many ways this is some of the heaviest material they have ever done and also some of the most melodic. The songs tend to have abrupt start and stop moments that take you into directions unexpected and at the same time breathe new life into their sound. The band lost two longtime members, guitarist Peter Lingren and drummer Martin Lopez which many fans feared would spell the end of Opeth, as the chemistry between the musicians was something very special. Fear not however, as their replacements (Fredrick Akesson/guitar and Martin Axenrot/drums) were more than adequate to fill the gap. Fredrick is a more technical player than Peter in some ways, but he shows restraint and plays his leads to fit the songs. Martin Axenrot is a slightly more bombastic drummer than Martin Lopez was and much more straight forward. I do miss Lopez's jazzier world influences, but truth be told, Axe's drumwork sounds amazing throughout. However lets not forget Opeth's keyboardist Per Wiberg. He became the fifth member of the band on Ghost Reveries. His parts were more of a background agent there, while on "Watershed" he has a far more pivotal and up-front role this time around. However, let me move on to describe this album in more vivid detail.
The opening track "Coil" is Mikael singing with acoustic guitar, keyboards and guest female vocals by Nathalie Lorichs a local Swedish folk singer. This soft (and quite beautiful) intro is soon swallowed by the devastating "Heir Apparent" which harkens back to the brutality of the Deliverance album. No clean vocals make an appearance on this track. It's all Mikael's demonic signature death style he is so well known for. Fredrick does the main guitar lead and Mikael adds a slide guitar part that sounds simply brilliant. I never pictured slide in an Opeth track, but it really works! The heaviness intensifies on "The Lotus Eater" with Mikael singing clean over blast beats then moving into death vocals and back. "Burden" delves into a more 70's mellow prog feel that has a very cool organ solo (showing off Per's amazing talents) with a truly bizarre and disturbing ending to the song. "Porcelain Heart" is a dark majestic epic that shows just how much Mikael's singing talents have strengthened over the years. It's the most haunting track overall and sounds similar in feel to that of the last album Ghost Reveries. "Hessian Peel" starts off slower and just when you think this is how the song will play out, the band comes crashing full force into yet another Opeth onslaught that will leave you breathless. The final song "Hex Omega" is void of death vocals, but not of intensity and complex arrangements.
Overall I think "Watershed" is another masterwork for Opeth. The band has taken their sound and evolved it without sacrificing any of the musical integrity that has come before. Mikael's voice has more passion and dare I say it, more soul than ever. The acoustic passages are far more intricate than anything on the previous albums. The band truly sounds fresh and invigorated. I know some will complain because it didn't sound like this or that, but these people can't (or won't) except change. They want Opeth to remake Morningrise or Blackwater Park over and over. Anytime a band moves into a slightly new direction it's always a risk. However, let's face it, the band has not gone nu-metal or made something strictly to make money. If I have any complaints it's that the album could have had one more really heavy song. This aside, I am extremely pleased with this release (not to mention how lucky I am to have an advanced copy, as the album won't be out for another month.) Even more exciting, there will be a deluxe version with additional bonus songs, covers and other goodies (which of course I will buy the day it hits the shelves) including new cover art by Travis Smith. Great job guys! You've outdone yourselves again!
- Craig Harvey