Not to say that this band was easy before. A growling death metal band has never been the most accessible thing to digest, but Opeth, progressive as they are, could be very straightforward, almost Sabbathian in simplicity. If you were at their recent shows in New York, you most likely heard “Master’s Apprentices,” for instance, whose main riff goes on for close to a minute before changing briefly, and then is heard for another minute or so. It’s a damn good riff, but to weathered fans, a new Opeth album could often be traced out. You always knew where their songs were going, because it was instinctively the right place to go.
Now they went and fucked that up.
For the better, thankfully. Watershed, their sophomore album on Roadrunner (but ninth in total), is their immediate reaction to their last record, Ghost Reveries, which for all its tuneful glory, is squeaky clean, easily understood and almost “pretty” progressive death metal that seemed to be born from the collective unconscious. It was a sort of Platonic ideal for Opeth records—everything was more or less “perfect,” almost to a fault.
Watershed, on the other hand, is a gritty listen. It’s a confusing album, with strange, jumping transitions, unusual prog (as in nerdy prog) lines, dirty guitars and overdriven organs, and bizarre rhythm figures. Very uncharacteristic elements show up, there are plenty of production tricks, strange backwards effects, detuning instruments in the studio. There’s a sappy ballad, a folk duet introduction, and more than one song that, almost five months into listening to this record, I still haven’t wrapped my brain around.