When Opeth’s ninth studio album Watershed released in June, fans did not know what to expect. While some fans were optimistic about the album because of Ghost Reveries’s acclaim in 2005, others were far more skeptical. After all, this is the first album in which Fredrick Akesson takes the place for guitarist Peter Lindgren and Martin Axenrot takes the place for previous drummer Martin Lopez. Luckily for Opeth fans, the Swedish progressive death metal band out did themselves once again. Watershed is by far the most progressive album Opeth has ever attempted, playing true to their death metal roots, while at the same time embracing progressive rock of the 1970’s in ways they have never reached out to before.Watershed opens up with “Coil”, a mellow acoustic track that shows off Guitarist/Vocalist Mikael kerfeldt’s clean vocals, accompanied by a female singer during select passages; a first for Opeth. “Coil” also shows a second first for the band, as various woodwind and string instruments are used to enhance the overall mood. These instruments make one think of groups such as King Crimson rather than traditional death metal. Just when the listener feels relaxed, Opeth pull the lever and switch into “Heir Apparent,” one of their heaviest pieces so far in their discography.
“Heir Apparent” is a brutal track, showing off Akerfeldt’s impressive guttural yet decipherable vocals and riffs that would sound right at home on a Morbid Angel album. Although heavy, “Heir Apparent” is still nuanced. Keyboardist Per Wilberg displays a quaint keyboard interlude after the opening heavy section, utilizing his abilities far more than he did in Ghost Reveries. “Heir Apparent” also features acoustic work and classical instruments before breaking into its finish with a plodding doom metal riff that would make Candlemass proud.
If there is one weakness to “Heir Apparent” it is in Akesson’s guitar solo midway in the track. While it starts off strong, it turns into being technical to be technical at the end compared to tasteful solos done previously by Akerfeldt and ex-guitarist Peter Lindgren.
The highlight of the album is the track that follows it known as “The Lotus Eater.” It is the first track Opeth has ever used blast beats on over clean vocals, and features everything from Akerfeldt clean and harsh vocals, to classical instruments, punishing and mellow riffs, and a 70’s keyboard breakdown about three fourths of the way through the song. Even if it sounds like a typical Opeth song from the description it is anything but one and will leave you dazed until the end, where one hears murmuring and laughing to bring about the next song.
“Burden” sounds like a tribute to 80’s power ballads in a good way. Everything about it is over the top, and Akerfeldt adopts a more rock-ish vocal style than he normally employs. Beauty surrounds the piece up till the end as Akerfledt and Akesson’s guitars dance and trade off around each other until one guitar drops out. The remaining is gradually de-tuned until it deliberately sounds ugly, leading the way to “Porcelain Heart.”
If there is one disappointing song on Watershed it has to be “Porcelain Heart.” While it is not a terrible song, it just doesn’t stand out compared to the others. The main riff is just average and it feels like it lacks direction. The clean vocals are amazing like in every song, and so is the desolate sounding solo. Martin Axenrot also shows impressive drum work. However, I feel that there just isn’t enough dynamics to the song to make it memorable.
“Hessain Peel” contains everything that the previous song lacked. A folk-like passage is used to start the song, followed by Akerfeldt best clean vocals on the album. The classical instruments are brought up front again and halfway through the track spirals downwards. Brutal riffs and death growls come in and the mood goes from pleasant to unsettling both musically and lyrically. When the song finally resides, the album closes out with “Hex Omega.”
“Hex Omega” is a great way to end Watershed. After getting pummeled with a flurry of riffs and drum beats, it mellows out. The keyboards create a unique atmosphere to complement the rest of the instruments. When the guitars kick up they sound reminiscent of early Black Sabbath, before coming back down. It ends with the sound of a church organ before trailing off.
Watershed marks a pivotal album in Opeth’s discography. From here no one will know what they will attempt to do next. I recommend this album to anyone with an interest in death metal, but also progressive rock. Be sure to catch them on tour in a few weeks.
Devon Czekaj is a first year student. He can be reached at DC678434@wcupa.edu.