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Opeth

When the headquarters of Lords ask me if I am interested in an interview with Opeth, I do not have to think twice of course. If there is one band that is always looking for the borders of our beloved musical genre and for new ideas, it is this band from Sweden. Death metal, hardrock, acoustic music: the band around Mikael Åkerfeldt masters it all to perfection. This month (September 2011), the new album 'Heritage' is released, and again it is an album with new musical directions. No grunts, references to classic hardrock from the seventies and many acoustic guitars. I spoke with Mikael in Amsterdam, one day after the band's performance at the Graspop Festival. We were both a bit tired of the day(s) before, but despite that we had an interesting conversation about the ups and downs of this magnificent band.

By: Wim S. | Archive under hardrock / aor

Hello Mikael, how are you? Still a bit tired after the gig from yesterday at Graspop?
Hi Wim, I am fine thank you. I am a bit tired but I am feeling OK. We played quite early at Graspop so no problems there. Did you like the show?

Yes, I really liked the show. I thought you guys were the first band and maybe the only band with a decent sound in the Marquee tent. I saw a few bands with a terrible sound, which is so unfortunate for both the band and the audience. Were you satisfied with your performance?
I think we were doing all right. We also had some problems with our sound, especially in the beginning: the keyboards caused a few problems. After that it was OK. I will tell our new sound engineer that you were satisfied and that he did a good job: it was his first gig with us!

Is there a real difference in approach for you as a musician, playing at a festival or playing a solo headlining gig?
O yes, there sure is. The main difference of course is the time element: at a festival we can only play for an hour tops. So we have to pick the songs more carefully. Another difference is the audience. When we do a solo show, all the people are there to see us. At a festival there are quite a few people who see us for the first time and maybe even by coincidence, because they just happen to be in the tent at the time we play there. It is still a challenge to convince those who see and hear us for the first time, which is nice for a musician. Even when it sometimes does not work out the way I want it. When I am on stage it is the same: I want to make the best of it, at a festival or at an Opeth-gig.

Well, Mikael, I am not going to bother you with questions about the past. I assume that is known to everyone already. I would like to focus on the new album, 'Heritage', OK? Listening to the album a few times, a couple things strike me. First of all, your vocals have changed; you are a much better singer right now. And of course; there are no grunts on the album!
Well thank you. Obviously there are no grunts on our new album. The reason for that is simple: the songs did not ask for grunts. As far as my singing is concerned: I do not know if I am a better singer. I did my normal routine for this album. Maybe it is just that you like that approach? I am not going to say anything about my own performance, that is for you as a listener to decide. And if you like it, that is good.

The other thing that strikes me are your guitar parts. There is a lot of acoustic guitar on 'Heritage'. And your electrical guitar parts, especially the solos and your sound, remind me of brilliant guitar players like Andy Latimer and our own Jan Akkerman, with a lot of classical and jazzy influences. Something you recognize?
I think I have to answer the same as for my vocals: I did my normal routine as a guitar player. I was not busy trying to play or to sound like god knows who. Of course I am influenced by great guitar players – like Akkerman for instance – but that is nothing new. As for my guitar sound: I am getting tired of people who say that 'the guitar has a great sound'. Let me tell you Wim: a guitar does not have a sound. When I do not play the guitar, the guitar does not have a sound. So it's the guitarist who is responsible for a certain guitar sound. And I am responsible for mine. And thank you for enjoying my sound, I do as well! And let us not forget the guitar contributions of Fredrik (Åkesson, WS), he's brilliant.

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Per Wiberg played the keyboards on the album and after that left the band. Why did you part ways?
That was something that did not came out of the blue. It was a process of departure that started a while ago. Per was not happy with his contribution to the band and we were not satisfied with his contribution. Per did not like his role as band member, he wanted to have more authority. That was not possible in Opeth. That fact - in combination with his lack of inspiration and motivation – led to his departure.

The album was produced by Steven Wilson (and Opeth). Tell me, in what way is he inspiring to you as a musician?
Of course we have known Steven for quite a while now. He is a very inspiring person. He is very intelligent. It does not matter what the subject of a conversation is; Steven is able to join every conversation and is always able to say something about that subject that makes sense! And what is important too: he is very funny. Being a musician himself, he knows what we want and do not want while recording an album. What was different this time in our musical relationship: we decided what we wanted, not Steven. Of course we listened to him, to his advice or opinion about certain things, but in the end I was the one who made the decisions.

Can you tell us a bit more about 'Slither'?
The death of Ronny James Dio had a great impact to each and every member of the band. We wanted to write a song to remember him. And suddenly there was the riff for 'Slither'. People will recognize part of that riff immediately. We wanted to name the song 'Kill The Queen', hahaha. But that was a bit too obvious I guess. We changed some bits and pieces until we were satisfied with the result: a worthy memory to Ronny.

My personal favorite after listening the album a few times now is 'Nepenthe'. Jazzy drums and guitars, an incredible guitar solo, great technical skills throughout the whole song. And I also like the transparent sound of that track!
Thank you. Yes, it is a nice song. It is fun to play. I have to give credits to Fredrik, being responsible for the guitar solo. Nepenthe means 'a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow'. I hope we succeeded in creating some sort of forgetfulness of pain of sorrow for our listeners while listening to this song. There's melancholy in that song as well as hope.

'Famine' is one of the examples for me of your growth as a vocalist.
I do not know. I think it's most of all one of the more experimental songs on the new album. Songs like that are fun to play. The same goes for 'Häxprocess' and 'The Lines In My Hand' in which you hear great contributions by Axe (Martin Axenrot, WS). I think as musicians we are very happy with the final result on 'Heritage'. It is going to be fun to play those songs live. We are aware of the fact that a few of our fans will have to get used to this new sound of Opeth.

I guess so. Are you not afraid of losing a lot of 'old fans', fans who want to hear the grunts and the heavy death metal riffs?
To be honest, no, I am not afraid of that. I think Opeth fans are open-minded, they appreciate us looking for new things, new sounds, new themes. I think this album is more metal, much heavier than a lot of so called real death metal albums. You do not create heaviness only by playing a metal riff. It is created by the vibe, the emotion, the sincerity of music. And maybe a few old fans will not understand that. So be it. We will also gain new fans I am sure. We cannot please everyone of course.

Thank you Mikael for taking the time to answer my questions, you must be exhausted after twelve interviews?
No problem, it is my pleasure. Doing interviews of course is part of the job. We need each other: musicians, fans, the press. So thank you. We see you all on tour later this year.

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