Whether it be changes of their line-up, label or direction, Opeth always seem to find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to prove themselves. Their latest album, "Watershed", once again finds them in this quandary with guitarist Peter Lindgren and drummer Martin Lopez both exiting the fold. Fitting replacements have of course been found; but as proven time and time again, with band frontman/guitarist/nucleus Mikael Akerfeldt firmly behind the wheel, little could sway this group off course.
Simply put, "Watershed" is yet another worthy tome in the bands extensive library of Swedish progressive (death) metal. Grandiose in nearly every facet, this effort is ripe with classical instrumentation, sweeping atmospherics and seismic momentum shifts. It all sounds larger than life and while this is definitely the result of some studio trickery, the instrumental wanderlust feels just as gigantic. It doesn't matter if it's the ripping guitar work, delicate keys and acoustic strums, yearning sullen vocals or towering bellows, everything seems to mutually enrich each other.
Yes the groups heavier moments of barbarity continue to recede, but they are still present in key positions. In fact, their metered absence casts a looming dark cloud over much of the material here, eventually rupturing through the graceful bleakness like a crack of thunder. Sometimes less is more and Akerfeldt and co. truly realize and appreciate that on this album. However, while boundaries have continued to relax for this outfit, they still remain in place, as do a few other usual suspects.
For one, there is a liberal amount of gloss and layering found here that will be far too slick for some. But given that it's mainly applied to melancholic 70's worship and ever-present forward-thinking musicianship, it's readily forgiveable by the rest of us. Some of the tracks featured here also seem thoroughly over-labored and may distance older fans with their relative accessibility. That said, "Watershed" may not just mark a change in personnel, but also the groups fanbase as Opeth's adventurousness and grandeur has rarely been this openly inviting before.
(4 / 5)