OPETH — Watershed (review)

OPETH — Watershed album cover Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
voila_la_scorie
“Watershed” is a crucial turning point in the musical trajectory of Opeth. A major line-up change saw the departure of long-time guitarist Peter Lindgren (since before the debut) and drummer Martin Lopez (since the third album “My Arms, Your Hearse”) and the recruitment of drummer Martin Axenrot and guitarist Fredrik Åkesson. Keyboardist Pir Wiberg who joined the band for the previous album “Ghost Reveries” remained on board.

With “Watershed”, Mikael Åkerfeldt and company developed the band’s two sides even further. The death metal side shows its fastest and most aggressive-sounding ever in the songs “Heir Apparent” and “The Lotus Eater”. However, Opeth’s progressive side, which I felt really began to broaden on “Ghost Reveries”, pushes the envelope even further hear, and in fact, I feel there are hints of the album “Heritage” that would come three years later.

The album opener is the surprising all-acoustic track “Coil” which includes not only some beautiful woodwinds with the acoustic guitars but also the guest vocals of Nathalie Lorichs, the girlfriend of Martin Axenrot at the time. A lovely though curious first track, the album’s real worth for me lies in the next two tracks, “Heir Apparent” and “The Lotus Eater” which, as I stated above, not only includes some of Opeth’s fastest, most aggressive metal to date, but also some fabulous progressive parts that go beyond what the band has managed before. Just listen to that funky dual keyboard passage with the groovy wah-wah guitar and drumming!

“Burden” is a classic, seventies type of heavy and slow number with harmony vocals and an organ. It’s almost so perfectly written that I feel it’s too much like stuff I’ve heard many times before on much older albums. Nevertheless, it gets some pretty good ratings on Opeth song ranking sites. “Porcelain Heart” is the third killer track for me. Slow and heavy and showing more technical playing in parts, it’s both haunting and brooding.

The last two tracks seem to me like the band is trying to decide where to go next. “Hessian Peel” is more like several short songs stitched together to take us on a journey that includes progressive acoustic-type music as well as heavy metal with death vocals. I might add here that Mikael’s vocals sound deeper and more sinister on “Watershed” than they do on most older recordings. It took me time to warm up to this track but I can finally appreciate and enjoy it. The final track, “Hex Omega” though is a little of a disappointment. I feel it has no solid direction and even after many repeated listens, I can’t keep my concentration on the song if there are any distractions. The one impression that remains is the sparseness employed in one part, which I recognize from a couple of tracks on “Heritage”, except that I rather like them on that album. Here I think the album is left to close with a song that begs the question, “Where are we going now?”

So here we see an all new Opeth (two new key members) taking bold steps but still keeping their death metal sound but for the last time. As history has shown, no future albums over the subsequent ten years ever included any death metal, but instead saw the band plough full onward with their progressive rock styling.
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