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Opeth - Watershed CD (album) cover

WATERSHED

Opeth

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.93 | 809 ratings

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1 stars Not really Progressive Music - Let alone a Masterpiece!!!

Here is an album that really makes me wonder who its audience is, as it's too tame for Death Metal, too lacking in complexity for Prog fans, and really, so predictable, average and lacking in catchy tunes overall, that I would think that even the average rock fan would turn their nose up at it.

The opening would have you think you were about to listen to Nickelback.

An acoustic guitar, picking out a simple pattern that suggests Pink Floyd, and the vocals, which sound not dissimilar to Chad Kroeger, with the same earnest delivery, even if delivered through a rather odd filter, all conjure up a very familiar landscape.

This makes me wonder how this is even vaguely related to progressive rock - without being unfair to the band, as it's a nice sound - just all sooooo familiar (and what, exactly, is familiar about progressive rock?).

This album is gonna have to unleash some compositional fireworks and unheard of textures in order to save itself from such a bland and tired introduction.

After 30 seconds, the drums don't pile in - so Opeth save themselves from going totally Nickelback, but the song pans out as the next verse unfolds similarly to the first, and keyboard layers add a vague proggy sound - it's the similarity to the Mellotron that does it. The female vocals and folk-like bass runs take the song into an almost Fairport Convention kind of sound, and the wind synth voices add a kind of Moodies touch, which for a brief moment sounds like (and sounds like is the key phrase!) proto-prog.

A wind-like filtered synth voice leads predictably to crashing metal riffs and plectrum sweeps, with flavours of Black Sabbath and Metallica for Heir Apparent. This is dropped away to a very simple, noodly piano line, and even more predictably back to the crashing riffs, over which the vocals roar, and the riffs go irritatingly over-complex (by which I mean you can hear the band striving to avoid the obvious and try to go for the wow-isn't-that-complex factor, rather than developing the music. There's even that pinched harmonic sound that I associate with bands like Slipknot and b>Pantera - and Loudness before them.

Nothing interesting happens until around 3:30, when this is broken down into a quiet dissonant passage, filled with short, repeated phrases and dissonances generally for their own sake rather than to promote dischord or drama in the music. This is followed by a bliteringly fast riff, which drops away to another quiet section. This latter is odd, as it seems to feature leads from Echoes over simple picked riffs into which tritones have been crowbarred.

Then it's a return to the blistering riff, which, incidentally, has far less character and drama than, say, Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir, and reminds me strongly of both (but much less interesting).

This drops away to a more melodic section... every time I listen to bands like this, I suddenly find myself hearing the music in sections - that's just not how it's supposed to work, to my ears. A piece of music is just that, not a contrived bolt-on kit, like Lego or something.

When we analyse music, we chop it into sections to make it more digestible - to allow us to focus in on interesting features in the music.

When we write music, we let it flow - there's as much flow in this music as there is in the average cliff. The whole off-at-tangents, quiet-loud-quiet-loud thing has been so done to death that I immediately recoil in horror at the first inclination that this unadventurous pattern is about to be used yet again. Some bands manage to pull it off by concentrating on the overall flow of the music and how this technique can add power - it's not a bad technique in itself (no technique is), but it's all in the way it's used. Here, it's predictable and dull as a consequence.

The Lotus Eater is another near 9-minuter, and already, I'm filled with dread. Can Opeth pull something out of the bag - after all, I've actually liked a couple of things they've done on earlier albums - or is this going to be more predictable contractual obligation nonsense?

The introduction is reasonably interesting - humming over a synth bass line, then a fast, thrashy riff with those Kroeder-alike vocals dropping back to death metal growls. A smooth segue to a more mid-paced riff shows promise - this is certainly better than the first two tracks. Trouble is, as it progresses, you can hear the various sections jumping out at you, and the first rhythm that was introduced at the segue dominates, as the sections leap into one another, creating an overall sense of wondering when it's all going to eventually kick in.

Another tritonic riff suddenly puts me in mind of Spinal Tap - and that's exactly what's going on here. Opeth have become the Spinal Tap of Death Metal with this album.

A drop to Hammond around 4:30 gives a very vague Purple flavour, and then there's the dreaded acoustic/Mellotron section - a couple of minutes of very uninteresting meandering about that leads to an almost comical two-chord jam section around 6:00 - but no feeling of artful musicianship or of an overall song direction, just a continual feeling of when is it going to end. In this sense, the song is successful - from the start, the big riff should be keenly anticipated, and towards the end, signals should be put up so that surprises can leap out on the listener as the piece reaches its climax and finale - but Opeth seem to have no concept of this, just a keenness to prolong the agony and reach 9 minutes no matter what.

Burden has a nicely textured introduction, but after that little 5-note piano motif has hit you for the fifth time it does start to feel old. Underneath the Mellotron and ARP-style strings, a simple ballad song unfolds - and again, I can't help thinking of Nickelback, even though this is miles away from their style - the vocals do it, I think.

As it continues (I'll avoid the word progresses, in case it gives the wrong impression), the bass stands out quite nicely, with little touches of Pete Trewavas here and there. There's a pentatonic-based Hammond solo, and the whole has a 1970s rock ballad flavour through and through, but with modern production that makes it a little to pristine for my tastes. A later guitar solo pairing (or is that bad mixing?) carries flavours of all your favourite 1970s blues-based guitarists, with nary a note out of place - but the I-VI-VI-V7 chord progression (well known to all beginner piano students for that famous duet that drives music teachers crazy around the globe) gets very old very quickly.

I hate the de-tuning of the guitar at the end - but that's probably just me.

Easily my favourite song so far - utterly predictable, but nice because of it.

Porcelain Heart features a lugubrious Sabbath-style riff, which feels like it should be building up to something, but disappointingly and irritatingly drops away to more of that very simple acoustic guitar stuff that permeates this album. It doesn't even suggest anything emotionally, which is what irritates me most. Predictably, the big riff from earlier returns - but it's not a very satisfying riff, punctuated as it is with all manner of little percussion details and rhythmic mucking about that only serves to annoy rather than build any kind of unfolding dramatic picture.

An uninteresting song follows, with more of that simple acoustic guitar - I'd read somewhere else that the acoustic guitar on this album is complex, but it quite definitely is not. For complex acoustic guitar, I recommend you go and listen to some Jan Akkerman - he's pretty good.

When the big riff comes, you think it's going to go somewhere, but no. Disappointingly, more solo guitar, then back to the song. I'm bored, and there are 3 whole minutes left... tick... tick... tick...

There's more of that acoustic guitar to kick off Hessian Peel, which seems to reference a number of famous songs - Icarus Dream Suite is the first that springs to mind, followed soon after by Voodoo Child (Slight Return), but without the emotion of either Hendrix or Malmsteen.

But what's happening next? A clear wrong note - but played deliberately. Hmm. Without resolution or precedent, that note stands out like a sore thumb, and to my relatively untutored ears at least, suggests poor musicianship in a way that the rest of the album has only hinted at. The problem is, it sounds played for - to me, it sounds like a failed experiment that should have been edited out.

However, it sits right on the crest of a cadence, in a passage that has a decidedly traditional feel, so such a non-traditional note really has no place at that point being as far out of the harmony as it is - unless the cadence was artfully modified to cope with it. 51 seconds is the exact point, according to my media player - yours may vary. The cadence is re-approached, or repeated, to be exact, and the offending note corrected - but then, mysteriously, the wrong-note version is also repeated, as if somehow repeating it is going to make it sound right.

I've heard Opeth (and other metal bands) do this - repeat something bad often enough and it begins to sound right - intent being stronger than the basic underlying rules.

All of which is gibberish, of course.

When the song starts, it's THE SAME as most of the others - Kroeder vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboards - but this time, with that WRONG note. And it IS wrong. Simple as that.

The rest of the song pans out horribly predictably - don't bother with this one at all, it's terrible. 11 minutes of anyone's life wasted.

Hex Omega begins as a continuation of Hessian Peel, and a dark feeling comes over me. OK, Opeth, in a way you win - your music is supposed to inspire a dark feeling, but surely not like this...

What to say about this song that hasn't been said about earlier songs? There are exactly the same elements in it, exactly the same techniques of loud bits and quiet bits, the same instrumental textures, and a few poor compositional techniques. It ends on big chords, as you'd completely expect.

Summary

An album with no surprises or Progressive ideas, and only one song I actually like.

For collectors of Death Metal, I suppose - although this is certainly the limpest Death Metal I've ever heard - and, judging by the responses so far, definitely one for the Opeth fans.

I could not possibly recommend it to a fan of Prog rock, however - they would laugh long and loud.

I guess it's not really poor, as there was one track I liked - but as an album of Prog, it really is very poor.

Hence my (rare) castigation of awarding a solitary star.

Certif1ed | 1/5 |

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