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Roadrunner (2008)
Rating: 8.5/10

It’s hard to decide where to start when reviewing an Opeth album. Do you talk about how amazingly diverse they are? How progressive they are? How creative they are? Or perhaps you first talk about the Swedish band’s masterful control over songwriting and how they manage to keep your attention despite the often extreme nature of their music? Opeth is simply a band that transcends constriction of a genre or an expectation, they dwell in a place few others have ever even found.

The first thing one notices about Watershed, the band’s ninth studio album, is the fact that Mikael Åkerfeldt has grown immensely as a songwriter, producer, and vocalist. Indeed, he finally hits his stride on this album, oddly enough following one of Opeth’s weakest albums, Ghost Reveries (2005). Fans of Opeth old and new will find some definite common ground here and it couldn’t come at a better time for this band as they are continuing to explode worldwide as I pen this.

The throwback style here is reminiscent somewhat of the Blackwater Park album (2001). Take, for instance, the psychedelic vibe during the heavy parts of ‘Hessian Peel’. They break down with the writhing, out-of control, vibe of bands like Iron Butterfly and early Black Sabbath, yet they resonate in much the same way that Blue Öyster Cult did in their heyday. The style is very much purely Opeth but the vibe is unsettling yet somehow still accessible.

‘The Lotus Eater’ is another great example, moving effortlessly between a gut spilling heavy part and a bombastic, tremendously accessible part. At the same time, this is arguably the single most progressive song the band has ever penned. The use of organs add incredible depth to the song’s progressive nature as well.

On the other side of the fence you have ‘Coil’, a deeply intimate sounding acoustic piece that opens Watershed with a whimper. The effect is astounding as ‘Heir Apparent’ picks up after a moment of silence, crushing all fears that this would be another Ghost Reveries.

Åkerfeldt has described this album as “a bit more energetic”, and that is a pretty massive understatement. Watershed is as dynamic as albums come and the dynamics contribute to a smooth flowing, yet diverse collection of songs that border on conceptual themes more often than not and the result is quite intense to say the least. Opeth are the pre-eminent band in heavy music, and if you had any doubt then Watershed is very likely to put them to rest.

Mark Fisher

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