Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Opeth - Watershed (2008)

2.0 ★/4.0 - 4.9

You can be rest assured that a band that's developed as devoted a cult following as Opeth has, hardly needs to worry about their latest being received as anything less than monumental. It's not even out yet and bloggers have already begun to lob it excessively ecstatic praise. But here's just hoping that Opeth doesn't listen to their listeners, because after the irrational fandom that so many have for Opeth settles, the bottom line is that they're really gonna need to focus in order to bounce back from the disappointment that is Watershed. Essentially, Watershed retreads the balance between brutality and beauty that Ghost Reveries achieved, except with half the inspiration. "Heir Apparent" and "The Lotus Eater" form the meat of the first half and they're depressingly typical for Opeth, filled with all the expected death metal chops and progressive structures but none of the heart. If a song is gonna waste 9 minutes of your life, it should at least be sincere and coherent, but these songs never come together as much more than demonstrations of dexterity. It's volume and misplaced intensity without any memorable dynamics or soul. The slow-paced "Burden" is much more basic, but probably even worse. Opeth have always hinted at their dreams of being featured on Monster Ballads, but they've usually had the sense to reign in their hair metal urges by balancing them with a sense of the arcane and attention to composition. "Burden" throws this rule completely out the window for an extremely predictable and cheesy power ballad. The solos are admittedly, accomplished, but hardly are enjoyable thanks to how easy it is to imagine Steve Vai jamming along. It's after the dissonant Spanish guitar noodling that separates the two halves, that the possibilities of Watershed become apparent. "Porcelain Heart" is the first song on the album that stops messing around and takes Opeth's legacy seriously, with consistent quiet-loud dynamics that are continually breathtaking for the full 8 minutes. The hair trigger riffage of "Hex Omega" and beautiful landscapes of "Hessian Peel" are even more exciting and both rank among Opeth's finest. But since the album is only 7 tracks, it picks up the pace a little too late to save itself from mediocrity.

Many critics will probably cop out and blame the drop in quality on the departure of guitarist, Peter Lindgren, but that's just laziness. Mikael Akerfeldt is the main songwriter and he shows he hasn't lost anything on the album's second half. Maybe the near-perfection of Ghost Reveries set a standard that was too intimidating. Or perhaps writing songs between the nearly 200 performances of the tour are what resulted in the rushed feel of the album's first half. Critical analysis aside, Watershed is quite simply a listening experience that frustrates as much as it thrills, made all the more infuriating by the fact that it's come from one of the best death metal bands of the decade.

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