Swedish metal group Opeth easily embodies talent and respectability within its genre – and like any talented and respectable band, it strives to evolve with each new album. Watershed, Opeth’s ninth studio album, which was released earlier this month, does nothing less.
Lead vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt has never let the band fall to the stereotypes of metal. Their signature sound, which incorporates moments that are both beautiful and haunting, brutal and melodic, really cannot compare to any other band in the genre. Setting itself apart from symphonic cheese or cheaply produced scream sessions, Opeth takes a unique and sophisticated approach to the entire category of metal.
Opeth, who has been promoting the album alongside progressive technical giants Dream Theater on the Progressive Nation 2008 tour, will most likely never shed the prog-metal label, and certain moments in Watershed are about as prog-y as prog can be. But even so, their sound continues to avoid the ridiculous time signatures and overly-technical noodling common to other related groups.
Their long, sustained and often harmonized guitar solos, intense double-bass and distorted guitar chunking and Åkerfeldt’s deafening growl maintain their dark and brooding image throughout the album. Moreover, Watershed is laden with deep acoustic sections that often border on blues and medieval styles, and even includes full-on jazz organ solos.
If anything, some of the album’s main weaknesses come from the unusual feeling of this broad diversity. Though not a new concept to Opeth’s evolving nature, their sound is more spread out and wider-reaching than ever before. Nonetheless, Opeth is able to keep itself under control – the album never strays from its original dark foundations, despite what might be seen as significant change in direction.
This shift is partly a response to Åkerfeldt’s newfound interest in production, to which he contributed significantly more for Watershed than previous albums. Having worked with master producer and Porcupine Tree lead Steve Wilson multiple times in the past, Åkerfeldt’s full and layered sound matures more and more with each album.
There are moments without words that are almost more powerful than those with words. Opeth’s uncanny ability to draw out instrumental sections is as far from repetitive as possible. Sure, their songs are often longer than 10 minutes, but what’s the rush? Keep it coming.