Friday, June 27, 2008

Opeth - Watershed


So, I get my copy of Opeth’s latest disc, Watershed, and proceed to give it the initial spin to get a feel for what the band is up to these days. As the first notes flutter from my speakers, I can feel my mouth slowly widening as my jaw allows gravity to grab hold and not let go. With every subsequent musical passage, I find that my throat is as dry as any God forsaken parcel of desert and I realize that my mouth is still agape. How many flies I’ve ingested at this point is beyond me, and quite frankly, I don’t care. I’m caught up in the music. It’s all that matters. It’s all that is.

I fully expect the Opeth fans to come out of the woodwork and offer their two cents, but spare me the droll, knuckle dragging comments on why such in such album is better than such in such album. Couldn’t care less. I’ve just achieved nirvana in the form of sound and your opinions mean very little to nothing at this point. If you’d like to make inane remarks, the bands message board is better suited for you. I’m here to tell you why Watershed is a brilliantly realized endeavor of a musician who has spent the better part of his life trying to materialize the sounds in his head so that we could all take part in the experience.

Watershed opens with an uncharacteristic tune in the form of “Coil.” Uncharacteristic in that it’s the opening track and not a rocker. It’s completely acoustic with Mikael Akerfeldt’s soothing voice coming across as smooth as velvet. The melody is haunting and sexy. Reminiscent of some of those finer ‘70’s rock moments that some of use grew up loving, kinda’ like the softer moments of the mighty Zep. Akerfeldt’s voice is accompanied by the equally beautiful voice of Natalie Lorichs, which adds a tortured texture to the tune. My chin has abrasions from being dragged from my car to the front door of the office.

Opeth return to the darker roots with songs such as “Heir Apparent” and portions of “The Lotus Eater” and “Hessian Peel.” But, like much of their recent works, they intermingle softer passages to add texture and tension, which breaks up the din of death metal. Notably, the more traditional aspects of the death metal parts seem even more menacing than on previous releases. New drummer Martin Axenrot can be thanked for this as he incorporates more of a blast beat approach to the tunes, specifically on “The Lotus Eater.” This tune is about as epic as we’ve ever heard from Opeth in that it shifts from the raucousness of death metal to more elaborate and melodic passages, and ultimately turning a new page by adding a funked out groove that defies description. The way I've found to describe is as theme music for being trapped in a maze of mirrors with a crazed ax wielding butcher. Completely psycho and unique for the band, but welcomed by these ears. Pushing the envelope is what Akerfeldt has consistently done to create his musical vision, and by doing so, has alienated some of the more closeminded listeners. Opeth can no longer be considered strictly a death metal band, as they’ve become more of a prog outfit that incorporates their death metal, classic rock, and folk influences.

By the time “Burden” makes it’s way on the play list, my jaw has seriously cramped to the point that I’m sure I’ll be carrying it in my hand by days end. As this tune, in it’s acoustic vibrancy, carries us through forever, I glance over at the visiting Delta Mud Skipper, field correspondent for the Dirty South, and see that he’s absolutely mesmerized. Now remember, friends . . . the Mud Skipper is a blues guy through and through. To have him in awe of “death metal” means something otherworldly is going on here. As I've mentioned, it's not strictly death metal that we've got here. Akerfeldt is simply breaking down the barriers and stereotypes of the music with a “fuck it” attitude. This is his baby. Who’s gonna’ tell him he’s not doing it right? Check out Per Wilberg’s prowess on full display as he hammers out some memorable melodies on the keyboards.

“Porcelain Heart” is a sinister, yet sexy epic of a song. So horrifying in a dark Victorian-era kind of way. Gothic? Perhaps. Blended acoustic passages with the heavily distorted guitars create more mood swings than a pregnant woman. Akerfeldt’s bluesy guitar licks during one of the quieter portions are a nice touch and shows more of his unique flavorings. He breaks into a bit of what sounds like Swedish during “Hessian Peel,” though don’t hold me to that . . . I still haven’t learned the language (check a review of Trettioariga Kriget’s Elden Av Ar for details.) Listen for the guitar solos that Akerfeldt now shares with new guitarist, Fredrik Akesson. Amazingly fluid and versatile, this new combo of six string attack should keep things more than interesting for the next few years. “Hex Omega” wraps up the disc with a keyboard driven tune through the verses that explodes into a melodic and intricate, almost Arabic groove at the chorus. Keep an ear out for the guitar solos as they swell, shift, and dive with the texture of the music. Truly incredible that this was rattling around someone’s head at one time!

In typical Opeth fashion, seven songs clocking in at just under an hour. It's what we've come to expect from these guys. Grand scale music that encompasses a variety of moods and textures, usually in the course of one song. Mash that all into one album and you have a head spinning experience on your hands. It's their approach towards music . . . the band takes the listener on a journey through the visions of the main man in charge, Mikael Akerfeldt. He’s leaning on his influences through all aspects of music, not just death metal, which allows him to stretch the boundaries of the Opeth sound. Now, the music can breathe on it’s own and become it's own entity. When I first stumbled on these cats, I thought, ‘Oh . . . death metal.’ But, I grew with the band and I’ve been able to open mindedly accept the changes the band has gone through. So now I sit with Watershed, the band’s ninth album, and can’t help but wonder what changes the band will attempt on future releases. For the time being, I’ll revel in the brilliance that is Watershed and nurse my ailing jaw back to some semblance of normalcy.

- Pope JTE

Buy Watershed here: Watershed

Buy Deluxe edition here: Watershed



16 comments:

Dimaension X said...

Opeth are one of the very few bands who get better and more interesting every time they release new music.

I am continuously amazed at just how good they really are. And Akerfeldt's guitar playing is even better, ... is he taking lessons from the Amott brothers?

Great Album. Perhaps Metal Album of the Year 2008.

The Mad Hatter said...

Even after all these years I still have yet to hear a single song from these guys. Shame on me, shame on me.

The RIpple Effect said...

As far as Akerfeldt taking lesson from the Amott bros, I'd say no. But, from what I picked up on from the making of Watershed DVD (collectors edition) is that Akersson is performing the majority of the solos, and this dude's a shredder! I'm sure his time in Arch Enemy only made him better, so I can see the Amott influence there.

Hatter . . . yes, shame on you. But we still love ya'! I just forwarded you a list of tunes to listen to. Let us know what you think.

Pope JTE

The Mad Hatter said...

Ok, not that I have a problem with listening to a list of tunes, but -- I'm an album purist. Any album I should start with? The best way to gauge a band isn't just in their songs, but how they conceive them over a period as well. That's why Machine Head's Blackening is great and Supercharger sucks. ;)

The RIpple Effect said...

Touche.

Then Blackwater Park or Watershed . . . and you may want to set aside an hour. =)

Dimaension X said...

I would also highly recommend the live DVD "Lamentations at Shepherd's Bush"

Proves that these guys can perform their material in a live context jsut as well as on studio recording.

And, yeah, I figured Akersson (being a temporary Arch Enemy band member) did most of the solos.

Any of the albums before "Still Life" I just haven't been able to enjoy. The more raw old-style black-metallish production just does not suit this kind of music.

This band requires clarity.

The RIpple Effect said...

Waverider X, that was brilliantly put. Opeth's music is too detailed and complex to have the black metal, anti-production thing going on. And, I also agree with you on the Lamentations DVD. If you're new to Opeth, this is also a great way to get introduced to the band (first half mostly Damnation performed live in all it's ambient mellowness, second half - death metal frenzy, Opeth style.)

Pope

The Mad Hatter said...

I got Blackwater Park. Hopefully I can spin it once tomorrow.

dreadnought said...

I will save my knuckle-dragging comments about why such and such Opeth cds are better than Watershed and just say to The Mad Hatter: kudos on the Blackwater Park score. *IMHO* it is their masterpiece and possibly one of the best metal albums of all time.

Cheers!
Jeff

The Mad Hatter said...

Despite taking a while to do so, I've now listened to Blackwater Park three times in a two-day period and it's just ... okay. I appreciate the many, many musical shifts, the longer compositions -- I just found myself ... bored. They're obviously skilled musicians, and they obviously aren't trying to keep plugging at tired metal formulas; it was just ho-hum, really. Even the songs that I will say I enjoyed at a minimum level -- "Harvest," "Drapery Falls" and "The Funeral Portrait" -- were fairly forgettable. And by that I don't mean lack of catchy riffs -- I mean, a total fucking blur in my mind, like I was trying to learn the difference between "their" and "there" and wasn't getting it, became frustrated and began confabulating non-existent linguistic idioms to subjugate the void between what I was and wasn't supposed to understand. Ok, that made almost no sense. I love thrash. Perhaps that explains it better. ;)

paul said...

couldnt agree w you more, listened 4 times so far and only scratched the surface, incredible

The RIpple Effect said...

Hatter - I think I'm starting to understand your taste in tunes the more we converse. I'm sorry that you couldn't get into Blackwater, but I understand where you're coming from. Speaking of thrash . . . what's you're take on Byzantine? I'll shelve my opinions for later.

Paul - Unfortunately, due to the flood of music that I'm currently wading through, I can't find the time to enjoy it on a more "intimate" level. I find myself jonesin' for a Watershed fix quite frequently. Glad you like it, and thanks for stopping by!

Sheriff - You're always welcome to throw whatever knuckle dragging comments around. After all, you are the law.

Pope

The Mad Hatter said...

Well, if that's the case, then you must have just realized that I went several, many, semmingly eternal years without listening to, in my humblest of humbles, any good metal whatsoever. But that's because I'm a stubborn old-schooler...

Subash said...

Hello friends,

Opeth performs at Chennai, on the 25'th of January, 2009. The venue is just a few kilometers from my home. Looking forward to watching them. It sure must be a unique experience for us in this part of the world.

Subash S L said...

Watched Opeth live at Saarang 2009. Good band, performed tight and what a bunch of talented musicians they are. The only thing that sucked was the poor audio at the venue.

Looking forward to the Iron Maiden concert at Bangalore on Feb 15'th.

Subash
http://great-anonymous-albums.com

Subash S L said...

After the concert in January I haven't listened to much of Opeth except for the one song I downloaded off the web "Hope Leaves" that they performed at the concert here n Chennai.

I recently got the album from which the song came "Damnation" and I cannot tell you what a fine album it is. For those who don't appreciate the growls of death metal this is an album featuring clean vocals and superb melodies both on vocals and the instruments. Looks like a candidate for review on my site http://great-anonymous-albums.com. It's a must listen. Beautiful music from Opeth and thanks to The Ripple Effect for spreading news about them.

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