Sound — 10
Opeth's 9th "observation", Watershed, is finally here, three years after Ghost Reveries, and I had no idea what it would sound like considering the huge difference in style from Deliverance/Damnation to Ghost Reveries. Two songs were released as singles, Lotus Eater and Porcelain Heart. I have to say that I was a bit nervous the first time I heard these songs. The Lotus Eater was unlike any other Opeth song, with Akerfeldt rapidly alternating screams and clean vox and an upbeat keyboard groove coming from out of nowhere. Porcelain Heart seemed to be missing some death growls and was a tad short for Opeth's standard ten minute format. After a few more listens, though, I saw the genius of these songs and realized that Watershed was going to be another masterpiece, which I can now say is true. The arguably "more death metal" new band members, Axenrot on drums and Akesson on guitar, threatened to take away some of the progressive element, but it all worked out well. Axenrot, while noticeably different in style from Martin Lopez (definitely more blastbeats) is extremely capable and knows when to tone it down and when to turn on the jets. Akesson brings the element of shredding to Opeth, but it is tasteful and in moderation and fits very well into the songs. Also, this is the album where keyboardist Per Wiberg really shines. There is a lot of keyboard in this album, but at no point do you think "Ugh, get rid of the friggin keyboard there." Whether it's just backing chords or the times when he plays a melody unaccompanied by other instruments, I'm really digging the keyboard. Mendez also delivers the goods with many well timed bass grooves. Right, so here's a little song by song analysis: 01. Coil - a short acoustic opener with guest vocals by Natalie Lorichs (her only appearance and yes, Akerfeldt also sings on this song). Beautiful song with great singing and a sweet acoustic riff heard a couple of times. 02. Heir Apparent - possibly their heaviest song ever. I'd describe it as Master's Apprentices on steroids. If you aren't headbanging and/or playing air guitar at some point during this song, something is terribly wrong. Gnarly dimented riffage, a creepy acoustic interlude, and a brilliant outro melody make this an Opeth classic. 03. The Lotus Eater - unlike any other Opeth song, for reasons mentioned earlier. The middle part with a mellow yet dark guitar thing followed by some groovin keyboard jamz is very cool, but the best part is after this when the song kicks back up with an out of left field riff and a very interesting vocal melody that eventually fades into some shady characters speaking in different languages. Cool song. 04. Burden - the "ballad" of this album. It took a few listens to get used to this, considering it's softer and at times simpler than the usual Opeth song, but then I saw that this is a masterful song that many would not expect to be the kind of thing Opeth excels at. At first it is carried not by a clever guitar lick but by keyboards and some very good singing. It then escalates into a guitar/keyboard jam with less structure than usual, but it is still awesome. It ends with acoustic guitars playing a cool upbeat folkish thing and then slowly being detuned while still playing, creating an ominous effect. Great song. 05. Porcelain Heart - with no screams and a more definitive direction than typical Opeth songs, it is easy to see why they made a video for this. Don't get me wrong though, this is still a great song with a lot to offer. It really shines in the two soft parts where Akerfeldt is pretty much by himself singing and playing guitar. The second of these soft parts is particularly goosebump inducing. Another great song. 06. Hessian Peel - from the solitary bass note it begins with, you know this is going to be epic. It starts with a happy little melody that seems innocent until a crooked note is thrown in that foreshadows the coming storm. After a good six minutes or so of being soft and pretty with one of my favorite clean vocal performances of the album, it erupts into some mammoth riffs and the rest is history. The longest and definitely one of the top songs of Watershed. 07. Hex Omega - last song. Like Porcelain Heart, it has heavy riffs but no screaming and the best parts are the soft parts. I would describe the clean part as transcendent yet immense, if that makes any sense what'soever. It ends with a slow and glorious riff, and that's the album. Very good way to end it.
Lyrics — 9
Opeth's lyrics are the kind that don't always seem to make sense, but are definitely well thought out poetry, and I'm not looking for life lessons from a death metal band, so this is the way it should be. My favorites here are probably those of Porcelain Heart. More important is the singing. This album really emphasizes Akerfeldt's clean voice, which is present in large doses in all but Heir Apparent. For those unfamiliar, Akerfeldt has an uncannily good voice for someone in a death metal band. On the other side of the spectrum, his screams are great like usual, although there are a good bit less than say, the Deliverance album (I think his vocal cords are slowly dying, so maybe that's for the best) My only miniscule complaint is that after "fields of sorrow" in Coil, "ocean of sorrow" in Burden was a tad repetitive. For that reason (but mostly because some people disregard perfect 10 scores, which this deserves), I'm giving a 9 here.
Overall Impression — 10
Watershed holds it's own and more against any other Opeth album (not that there's any need to compare masterpieces). The point is that this is a thoroughly mind-blowing artistic statement that stands above most metal and music in general. A cool thing about this album is that it is Opeth's first record that is truly diverse in it's sound from song to song. If I had to pick my favorite tracks, I'd say Heir Apparent and Hessian Peel, but they are all top notch. Please buy this. It is worth way more than the $12.98 I paid at Target (that deal ends very soon, so hurry).