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