Review by Stephen Pedicino
After releasing albums for nearly fifteen years, I doubt these Swedes require an introduction. Opeth releasing an album is like Russell Crowe starring in a new film. You know it will be fantastic, but will it eclipse the last? The only real way is to go and experience it for yourself! If Watershed was a Russell Crowe film, it would probably fit in the level of Master and Commander. Something respectively different but ultimately falling short of the mountainous expectations formed by previous efforts. Let’s begin.
“Coil” is a pure acoustic folk tune. Its brevity makes it an appropriate first track, as it more so offers a pillow to lay on and prepare yourself for the album. Some well-placed woodwinds help create a distinct feel to the song. A little surprise comes from the presence of female vocals which enter after the first verse from Mikael. Unprecedented, but I had figured that Opeth would have to include a little at some point in their career. They fit gently into the ballad-like nature of the song and don’t really protrude as shocking or blasphemous. No, Opeth aren’t going Evanescence on us just yet….
Our first full Opeth opus is “Heir Apparent,” which I had the pleasure of seeing live before I even heard the studio version. The beginning snails with a stodgy but clutching riff that would sound disinteresting if attempted by any other band. Power and aesthetics complement each other beautifully throughout the song, woven repeatedly within a meticulous pattern of chord progression and wicked miasma. This is the best track off the record and incidentally the most brutal. It has a hefty amount of death metal parts for a typical Opeth song but also spouts that prevalent acoustic fluency which never manages to sound disjointed. And if any skeptics doubted Mikael’s voice, rest assured that he still possesses one of the wickedest voices in all of metal.
The initial soft seconds of “The Lotus Eater” precede yet another groundbreaker for Opeth……..Blastbeats!!! Yeah, you heard me. Look out Behemoth! Uniquely, they are played alongside clean vocals instead of growls. Another surprise in Opeth’s little bag of trickery. That’s really the only eccentricity on the track aside from the jazzy keyboard lead from Per during the middle break. Otherwise it’s a typical 9 minute slice of Opeth. So far so good, right?
This is where Opeth seriously mellow out. Typically, there is one song off ever Opeth album that is lighter than the rest and devoid of death vocals. “Burden,” a fine song, does the job of satisfying this expectation. It actually sounds more like Pink Floyd than Opeth. Even the arrangement of the vocals sound Floydian. A good portion features that soft stringed sound found prevalently on the Damnation record. There are some rock influences but it doesn’t ever sound mainstream or commercial.
A video was shot and released for our next song, “Porcelain Heart.” It was eerily cool, but I’m afraid that the song itself doesn’t really suffice. I’d never thought I’d say this………but it actually got boring! There isn’t much melodic strength or hook to the song, rendering it as my least favorite off Watershed. Personally, I think that Opeth could have advertised themselves better with a video of a heavier song. But hey, I’m not their label!!
The mellowness resumes with “Hessian Peel.” For everyone that wanted more stuff like Damnation, here it is! It seems as if Opeth geared this records towards those who are into progressive metal but don’t fancy harsh vocals as much. The middle features a brief death-vocal portion and proceeds with those fascinating progressive signatures that only Opeth could manage to make. The last growls you’ll have heard before this were on “The Lotus Eater.” The second half definitely compensates for a rather dull beginning though.
The songs are well-written as always, but oddly I found nothing to be dramatically memorable as I did with albums like Blackwater Park or My Arm, Your Hearse. There just isn’t the same echelon of hypnotic rhythms or vocal arrangements. Instead, the album feels somewhat loose. Almost like it lacks a solid foundation. Not to imply that Watershed is stale or barren, but fewer parts stuck with me after it completed its rotation. Although I wouldn’t doubt that its one of those records that grows on the listener every time, eventually earning the favorite spot in their Opeth collection.
This is the least heavy material Opeth have ever recorded aside from their Damnation record. Mikael’s ultra-powerful screams are as brutal as they ever were, but are used much more sparsely than on other Opeth masterpieces. Incontestably, his clean voice has vastly improved from the soft whispers they once were, but if he still has those demonic growls, he should exploit them. Opeth are multidimensional, but without the growls I see them as incomplete. Being a progressive death metal band, it only stands to reason.
The production is perfect as always. Every imaginable facet is captured without a blemish, thus conveying the true meaning of each song. You’ll notice the keyboards are a bit more popular this time around. This is probably conjoined with the increased amount of progressive influence on Watershed.
Of course, I fully respect Mikael Akerfeldt’s freedom to do as he wishes with his music. For more than a decade, he’s produced enough quality songs with his band to warrant infinite accolades. If he intends on lessening the brutality of Opeth’s sound, so be it. Musically, Opeth have succeeded in creating yet another album with its own “feel.” They’ve maintained their own style but crafted another audible tone. By this point it should be clear that this band is simply incapable of regurgitating used material. I just feel they could have done better and included more death metal aspects while still sounding distinguished from their prior works.