The past few years have been very rocky for Opeth: they lost two members, one an original member who was a necessity as far as songwriting goes. This was probably one of the most anticipated and simultaneously dreaded releases in the metal community this year. What with Martin Lopez being replaced by prolific death/thrash metal drummer Martin Axenrot and Peter Lindgren being replaced by Krux and ex-Arch Enemy shredder Frederik Akesson. According to speculation, this was going to be the disaster that would spell the end for Opeth.
Everyone was proved wrong. This is one of the strongest Opeth releases yet, rivaling such masterworks as "My Arms, Your Hearse" and even "Still Life." The musicianship is at its tightest in years and now Per Wiberg's keyboard presence isn't overbearing as it was on "Ghost Reveries." Since there is just so much going on in this release, I will be doing a *gasp* track by track review.
The disc starts off with "Coil" - a folk song. This song is driven by a jangly 12-string guitar and goes in immediately; there is no intro. The track's highlight is by far the female vocals, contributed by Swedish folk singer Nathalie Lorichs, who is, coincidentally, Martin Axenrot's fiancee. The first track then drones and slightly builds up to the monolithic dissonant chords that begin the epic "Heir Apparent," which is, by far, the most bizzarre song on the entire disc. This song is the most technical song Opeth has ever done, with fret-dancing riffs and even a tastefully done shreddy guitar solo, if that is indeed possible. Also, this song contains the fastest Opeth riff yet, a blistering death/thrash metal riff, more than likely written for or by Axenrot. Right when you think the song is over, there is a volume swell which segues into the traditional "Opeth part," slow, dirge-like guitars and drums with some sort of minimalistic guitar lead over the top, making a very epic atmosphere. Great song, this one is.
"The Lotus Eaters," when released as a single about a month before "Watershed" was released, confused a lot of people. Why? Two words: blast beats. Opeth has never ventured into this sort of progressiveness (or as an elitist would say: PHILISTINE BULLSHIT) before. And ontop of the bast beats, what do we have? None other than Mikael Akerfeldt's clean vocals, returning from their absence in "Heir Apparent." This song also brings back the traditional "Opeth beat," a 6/8 groove with the drums doing something like "do doDAdo do doDAdo." Essentially, this is a beefed up Still Life song. The high point of this song is definitely the blast beats, which are sure to catch listeners off guard.
Next comes "Burden." I like to think that the reason Opeth wrote this was because they went on a week-long Whitesnake bender and needed to write something extraordinarily cheesy. This is a ballad. A cheesy-clean-vocal-extended-keyboard-solo power ballad. Not that this is a bad thing, though, for this is Opeth's take on the traditional metal ballad. A solid, yet unexpected, song. "Porcelain Heart" follows suit. I find this to be the weakest song on the release. It sounds like it was written right after, if not during the "Ghost Reveries" sessions. Yet again, no growling from Mikael in this song. Not really much to say about this song. Track highlight: the baroque-sounding classical guitar part.
Now comes the 11-minute epic, "Hessian Peel." This song starts off with a rather old-school Opeth part, with an acoustic guitar underneath a rather melodic lead. This moves on for a while, venturing into some 70s progressive rock, when suddenly death metal rips through the song and punches you in the face. Yet again the guitarwork shines as Frederik's fingers dance around the fretboard in another finger-shredding guitar solo - normally I hate those, but there's something about Frederik's phrasing that is great. Probably the strongest and catchiest track on the release.
Now, finally, the end. "Hex Omega" immediately barges in with a "Blackwater Park" type riff which drops out leaving Mikael singing and keyboards. Suddenly everything gets rather Egyptian sounding and then returns to the "heavy" sound, if you would call it that. This is almost like if Opeth took a Damnation song and made it metal. Pretty cool, if you ask me. Yet again another guitar solo, though not as flashy. This track features some very cool mellotron work from Per Wiberg. The song has a very long outro, akin to the ending of "A Fair Judgment," though much more interesting as a result of the use of dual guitar harmonies and tribal drum work.
Overall, "Watershed" is a triumph from the Opeth camp; redemption from the slight disappointment that is "Ghost Reveries." The venturing into other genres help Opeth rebuild their trademark sound to escape the doom that is monotony.