Sound — 10
Watershed, in every way possible, sounds like an album condensed to its bare vitals. A popular criticism often leveled at the group by non-believers has finally been addressed; the band has been known to jam on a particular groove to the point just shy of overstaying its welcome. It's a very fine line to walk, and the band has had extensive practice on this balancing beam over the years, yet the haters seem to feel the 10+ min compositions drag too long. Well, for the first time the songs have been cut down to barest possible length without tarnishing the amazing quality the band has been known for since it's conception.
Lyrics — 10
Songs like The Lotus Eater transition from movement to movement at such an alarming rate compared to past compositions, that while your brain is wrapping itself around what the hell just happened, you're already being assaulted by the next riff or soothed by the next acoustic, keyboard laced passage. It's an utter overload of brilliance in a shortened time-span that keeps Watershed from fully sinking in on the first several listens, revealing veiled nooks and crannies with each subsequent exploration. This condensed style is a double-edged sword however, as it drags along the only criticism one can shoot at the album; When it's over, it just feels like a song is missing. This is completely the fault of the band for spoiling us over the years with grand 60+ min opuses, while Watershed clocks in at a paltry 54 min. I can't help but feel gipped a bit by this, especially since most of these songs feel like they could go on for several more minutes and explore even more territory than the vast amounts of ground they already cover. Mikael Akerfeldt's vocals are even better this time around in every area possible. His clean vocals are more heat-felt and shiver-inducing than ever, and the death growls are even more rich and guttural, further cementing him as the best goddamn voice in contemporary metal right next to Mikael Stanne. The other notable change is the keyboards; While Per Wilberg's keys were a welcome addition to the atmospherics on Ghost Reveries, they admittedly felt detachable and tacked on. This time around, the keys have been completely integrated into the band's sound with such seamlessness, that you're left wondering how they ever got by without them. The departure of drummer extraordinare Martin Lopez and long-time guitarist Peter Lingren haven't left a scratch on the band's sound, contrary to the expectations of many, proving once and for all that Akerfeldt is still the indispensable core of the outfit. Though they will be dearly remembered and missed, Fredrik Akesson (ex-Arch Enemy) and Martin "Axe" Axenrot (Bloodbath) are welcome additions to the machine, and perform to the high standards set by the previous members, while adding a dash of their own styles to the delicious mix.
Overall Impression — 10
Akesson contributes a note of virtuosity to the band that had been excluded till now (he lets loose a ripping un-Opeth-y lead on Heir Apparent), and while Axenrot lacks the jazz sensibility of Lopez, he makes up for it with pure blunt force trauma, as well as a surprising knack for a poppy beat (just listen to his tasteful, head-nodding breakdown in Lotus Eater at the 5:45 mark). Opeth is always pushing the envelope, and Watershed can seamlessly transition from steamrolling death metal to anthemic arena rock, to off-the-wall prog, to poignantly vulnerable acoustic balladry, to freaking jazz fusion at the drop of a hat. The guessing game keeps each minute pregnant with possibility and hunger for more, all the while sounding like no band but Opeth. I'm convinced anything these guys touch turns to gold, and they can simply do no wrong as long as they keep thriving. It's just a bummer about the shortened length, but you know what they say about a good act: Always leave em' wanting more.