Few genres require more leaps of faith for a listener than progressive rock. For indie rock, listeners may get disjointed guitar riffs mixed with loud, brass horns. For electronica, listeners may hear the sounds of common kitchen appliances set to a standard dance beat. But in the case of a progressive band like Opeth, you’re bound to either listen with a sense of awe or bust a gut laughing at the utter absurdity of their ambitions.
You’ll know what camp you fit in by the second song in Watershed. The album opens with the dramatic “Coil,” which features a vocal performance more suited for a musical than a rock album by Nathalie Lorichs. Even though the band has been together since 1990, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to the theatrics of Evanescence.
That comparison all but disappears with the lumbering intro of “Heir Apparent.” Mikael Ǻkerfeldt’s ominous, and yes, Cookie Monster-like death metal roar decimates the subtlety of the opening track. If death metal is not your forte, be prepared because that song is one of five songs that approach or surpass nine minutes. And just as you’re getting accustomed to the schizophrenic shift from more ‘70s-era, traditional progressive rock to all out death metal “rawk,” a quiet, disarming flute solo comes in.
If there’s anything that can hold a mix containing pulverizing guitar hooks and oboe, flute and French horn, it’s percussion. Matrin Axenrot’s drumming somehow manages to hold everything together. His work on “Porcelain Heart” and “The Lotus Eater” is something to marvel at, even if you think Opeth’s music is the soundtrack of late night World Of Warcraft marathons and three-hour Penta sessions at Perkins.
Aside from a few memorable guitar riffs from Fredrik Ǻkesson and Ǻkerfeldt, Watershed is proudly inaccessible. It’s also hilarious. When you lay your passion and influences this bare for listeners, you’re bound to get some unintentional laughs. The end result is a listen that will stick with you, whether you like it or not.