From there we are treated to a diverse tapestry of sound, most of which we can call "vintage" Opeth, with several surprises thrown in the mix. The band had received some criticism on their previous studio album, 2005's Ghost Reveries, namely that their trademark loud-to-soft transitions were becoming too forced. Whether or not they chose to acknowledge this criticism is moot, but the transitions in this album are much more fluid and graceful. Songs like "Hessian Peel" grow slowly from folk-inspired acoustic passages to the chthonic assault that makes Opeth such a powerful force. Along the way the band makes use of flutes, ("Porcelain Heart"), and strings to create dramatic effect ("Burden").
Though their 70's-prog influences are still shining in this album, the Swedes are far from going soft. "Heir Apparent" and "The Lotus Eater" (Ed Note - or is it the "The Louts Eater"...hmm...) contain some of the roughest, fastest riffage heard since My Arms, Your Hearse. This is no surprise - Ǻkerfeldt has been saying for a long time that it was a worthy successor to the album, released a decade ago. In between, it is clear how tightly the band has honed their craft. Even with a lineup change, replacing longtime guitarist Peter Lindgren with Frederik Akesson and drummer Martin Lopez with the aptly-named Martin Axenrot, there is a definite sense of consistency in the band's catalog. The dynamic, and often frantic, balance between intense and soothing is still there, but not as deliberate and self-aware as it was in Ghost Reveries.
With Watershed, Opeth have created an eponymous album that vastly exceeded my expectations. Much like prog-metal peers Symphony X and their release of 2007's Paradise Lost, they have perfected their style and created a remarkable work of power, consistency, and beauty. Though not perfect, as exemplified by the album's lackluster closer ("Hex Omega"), it is a solid musical statement, driven by Ǻkerfeldt's intricate and disciplined songwriting. Whether you're a fan of the dark side of distorted metal or the serene landscape created by lush acoustics, Opeth will deliver.