Opeth – Watershed

Like all other albums from Swedish progressive metal band Opeth, “Watershed” is an eclectic web of complex melodies and harmonies, influenced by everything from prog rock, to jazz, to European folk, to classical music, and of course, Scandinavian death metal. While Opeth may be more influenced by jazz recently, they still manage to keep the flowing melancholy feel that differentiates them from any other band in Sweden, or the world.

After eight studio albums, Opeth has explored almost everything on the musical spectrum (save rap and country, of course). If you are a devout fan, “Watershed” may take some time to get used to. But after a few listens, you’ll realize that though it is unlike any other Opeth album, it retains one characteristic – it’s amazing.

After the release of their seventh CD, “Ghost Reveries,” Opeth experienced a substantial lineup change. Their new drummer, Martin Axenrot, replaced Martin Lopez’s laid-back, jazzy style with faster, more syncopated beats. The new guitarist, Fredrik Akesson, shows his chops in “Burden,” where he trades multiple solos with skillful guitarist and songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt. The new members provide a fresh sound that many fans have been waiting for.

While Opeth is not the first to fuse metal with jazz, prog rock, and Eurofolk, they are the first to perfect it. On “Watershed” (and all other Opeth albums), songwriter-guitarist Akerfeldt mixes many genres of music into long songs (usually 10+ minutes) that flow from heavy to haunting, sad to uplifting, and anywhere else a song can go. The transitions are so smooth that sometimes it takes a few seconds to realize that the song has changed from a chilling acoustic counterpoint to a brutal metal riff.

While the music explores many sounds and emotions, all the songs are beautiful, whether a classical piano melody, a Yes-esque prog rock epic, or even a shred-tastic metal guitar solo. Opeth’s fusion of beauty and brutality has led me to create a new word: brutiful. Except for a few segments of “The Lotus Eater” that I could have done without, every track on the album is nearly flawless.

“Watershed” manages to do something few albums succeed to – get better with age. With each listen, you discover new aspects and subtleties, like the faint piano countermelody in “Porcelain Heart.” Every song is the best on the album. Just because it’s from Sweden doesn’t mean it’s ABBA.

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