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Opeth
Watershed
August 2008
Released: 2008, Roadrunner Records
Rating: 5.0/5
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland

Following the curveball tossed by Judas Priest with NOSTRADAMUS, hearing another mellow, experimental and stylistic sidestep by one of my favorite bands didn’t bode well for me. Early buzz regarding Opeth’s latest release, WATERSHED, was that it was going to really shock people with the extremes the band reached. Even Opeth mainman, Mikael Åkerfeldt, admitted fans were going to either love the record or hate it. So when I first popped WATERSHED into my CD player, I cringed with what was about to follow…



For those who despised the soft touch Opeth had with 2003’s DAMNATION, get ready to raise your fists in protest once again as there are moments on WATERSHED that make “In My Time of Need” sound like “Raining Blood.” Sweeping string sections, crooned clean vocals, scads of acoustic guitar parts...pretty mellow stuff. However, there are also some of Opeth’s fastest, heaviest and most musically challenging parts ever put to record, as well. In other words, WATERSHED is, like every Opeth release, an album that takes a few spins to really sink in because of its extreme diversity but for those willing to give it a chance, this album really has something for all of Opeth’s fans to get excited and angry about all at the same time.



In a strange move, WATERSHED kicks off with a mournful, acoustic ballad. “Coil” may very well be the most beautiful, sad and pensive song in Opeth’s catalogue, punctuated by a stunning vocal duet between Åkerfeldt and Natalie Lorichs. The use of oboe and flute, in addition to a picked acoustic guitar, really take the song to another level. “Heir Apparent” executes Opeth’s musical dichotomy by shifting between the serenity of classical guitar and some of their fastest and most bone-jarring death metal to date. New axeman, Fredrik Åkesson, who replaced long-time guitarist Peter Lindgren, delivers soaring guitar parts that are awash in beautiful melodies one minute and face-melting riffage the next. As straightforward as “Heir Apparent” is, “The Lotus Eater” sees the band exploring adventurous terrain. Martin Axenrot’s progressive drumming style gives way to an atmospheric passage that showcases keyboardist Per Wiberg’s ability to transform the listener into full-on seventies prog-rock territory with a busy Moog solo. Åkerfeldt croons his way through the glorious album centerpiece “Burden,” while Wiberg’s delicate use of piano and Hammond B3 once again hearken back to Åkerfeldt’s fondness for seventies progressive rock. A squealing wall of guitars kick off “Porcelain Heart” and even with its mellow parts, the track is sure to become a fan favorite as Åkerfeldt’s vocal performance really shines. In one of their greatest epics yet, “Hessian Peel” brings out the big guns with beautifully technical guitar parts melding with strings and horns before building to a searing blastfurnace of progressive death metal engineering. “Hex Omega,” which sports lullaby-like vocals in parts, is the grand finale combining mellotron, strings, winds and mammoth riffs in a melancholic fascia of sound.



As any long-time Opeth fan can attest, it is impossible to predict what a new album from the Swedish masters will entail. It is this musical experimentation that keeps fans interested, critics aflame and reviewers often at a loss for words on how to describe what is presented. Like DAMNATION, WATERSHED is a real stylistic sidestep in terms of the rest of the band’s catalogue but it also acts as a bridge between the two sides of Opeth’s sound. Åkerfeldt, a self-professed prog rock junkie, may have delivered his magnum opus, combining his love for obscure keyboard-driven music while appeasing the death metal rebel in him all in one shot. WATERSHED can be a lot to take in at once due to its musical diversity but this will surely be yet another jewel in Opeth’s glittering crown.



KILLER KUTS: ALL!!
Track Listing

1. Coil
2. Heir Apparent
3. The Lotus Eater
4. Burden
5. Porcelain Heart
6. Hessian Peel
7. Hex Omega

Lineup

Mikael Åkerfeldt—Vocals/Guitar
Fredrik Åkesson—Guitar
Martin Mendez—Bass
Per Wiberg—Keyboards
Martin Axenrot—Drums


Next review: » Opeth - Watershed
Opeth
Watershed
February 2009
Released: 2008, Roadrunner Records
Rating: 5.0/5
Reviewer: Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus

Few in the metal world can deny that Opeth is an unusual band. Musically, they are able to do whatever they please with few fans ever screaming “sellout!” It seems that diverging from the norms of past albums is both anticipated and desired by critics and fans alike. In most of their trademark 10-minute songs, Opeth will transition from mellow, acoustic balladry to brutal death metal without batting an eye. Very few other metal acts are able to achieve such versatility while remaining both musically and commercially relevant.



Previous effort GHOST REVERIES was frontman/songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt’s attempt to outdo 1996’s critically exalted MORNINGRISE, which has been lauded by their fanbase as Opeth’s masterpiece. The resulting output of Åkerfeldt’s frustrations left much to be desired – GHOST REVERIES sounded like a confusedly mishmashed concept album lacking the delicate subtleties and tightly executed transitions characteristic of past works. The addition of keyboardist Per Wilberg did little to elevate heavier songs, while creating some half-baked experimentation in softer passages. Something had thrown the rock-solid Opeth off balance, with the expected counterpoint and balance between ephemeral beauty and caustic brutality being somewhat muddied.



With WATERSHED, Opeth has found its way again. Suddenly Wilberg’s keyboards, formerly sounding alien in Opeth’s guitar-driven soundscape, are used much more effectively, providing delicate accent, harmony, and counterpoint without sounding out of place. The album opens with the brief, but stunningly beautiful acoustic lament “Coil,” featuring a gorgeous female vocal counterpoint and a woodwind ensemble. But the peaceful mood is soon demolished by what may be Opeth’s heaviest and most brutal song to date, “Heir Apparent.” Beginning with slow, turgid dissonance and a creepy solo piano passage, vicious riffs and Mr. Åkerfeldt’s mutilating roar take over at the one minute mark and pauses only for a brief acoustic interlude. New guitarist Fredrik Åkesson is introduced with a technical guitar solo atypical of past Opeth, but WATERSHED does not mark Opeth’s transition into a shredding type of band. Åkesson’s virtuosity is used sparingly and with delicate application throughout.



Next up is the wild and bizarre track “The Lotus Eater,” which opens with woodwind-accompanied humming transitioning into clean, harmonized vocals atop of…blastbeats!? With sudden alterations into pounding double-bass and wrenching death vocals? This quirky juxtaposition took a few listens to absorb, but after I got over the surprise of hearing blastbeats in an Opeth album, this song soon became a personal favorite. The weirdness continues with some truly deranged-sounding keyboards alternating with a punchy drumbeat, and closing out with warped conversational voices backed by malevolent keyboard harmonies. Opeth has never done anything nearly this experimental before, but after a few listens it fits together very well. Åkerfeldt has done an excellent job balancing the beautiful, experimental, and downright ugly elements of Opeth’s music, and “The Lotus Eater” is the flagship example of his craftsmanship.



New drummer Martin Axenrot does a fine job replacing longtime member Martin Lopez while adding some technical touches of his own. He even gets an oddly placed drum solo on what’s probably the weakest track on the album, “Porcelain Heart.” While it’s still an excellent song (with a notably unsettling guitar motif,) the main chord progression is directly borrowed from the ultra-repetitive track “The Grand Conjuration” from GHOST REVERIES. Bands shouldn’t rip themselves off if they have a level of talent possessed by Opeth.



Other notable tracks are the nostalgic 70’s-style ballad “Burden” (featuring some of Mr. Åkerfeldt’s best clean singing to date,) and the 11-minute epic “Hessian Peel.” Closing out is another experimental tune entitled “Hex Omega,” featuring a lot of gentle, mellow passages that suddenly give way to a hypnotic outro and warbling organ chords.



Opeth’s albums have always felt to me less like a collection of songs and more like a single auditory experience, meant to be taken in all at once and slowly processed over many hearings. GHOST REVERIES lacked this trait. With WATERSHED, Opeth have rebalanced themselves and crafted a remarkably engaging musical experience. Whatever Opeth’s musical vision in future albums may be, they won’t go wrong by evolving from the amazing music found in WATERSHED.
Track Listing

1. Coil
2. Heir Apparent
3. The Lotus Eater
4. Burden
5. Porcelain Heart
6. Hessian Peel
7. Hex Omega

Lineup

Mikael Åkerfeldt — Vocals/Guitar
Fredrik Åkesson — Guitar
Martin Mendez — Bass
Per Wiberg — Keyboards
Martin Axenrot — Drums






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