Despite being 2 years since their last studio release, there's been a lot of news in the Opeth
world. They're releasing a new live CD and DVD, they're making a new album and their lineup has been shifted around once again.
UG writer Duncan Geddes
caught up with frontman Mikael Akerfeldt
to talk about the new recordings, new members and evil alter egos.
UG: So, first of all, let's talk about 'The Roundhouse Tapes'. It's our first chance to hear Martin Axenrot play with you guys on record, do you hope that his performance will silence his critics until he really has a chance to prove his own creative talents with Opeth?
Well, I've thought his critics have been rather deaf and judgmental based on their love for Lopez rather than the overall sound picture of the band. I'm sure he's gonna get loads of shit and bollocking for whatever he does until 10 years from now. It doesn't matter, I'm sure his critics wouldn't be able to complete a bar of 4X4 beats to our satisfaction.
It's also an opportunity to hear Per's contribution to older tunes such as 'Under The Weeping Moon'. Who wrote his parts and how did they go about it?
Basically he's playing rhythms or leads based on the original recording. He makes it sound fatter, bigger and overall more heavy. He's as much of a rhythm player these days than any of the rest of us, and throws in the occasional lead as well. He wrote and arranged whatever he wanted to play together with the rest of us.
What inspired you to return to older material for these tours and the recording, especially considering your apparent dislike of some of it?
I don't dislike the songs, it's the sign of the times when it comes to productions of the 90's. I think "Orchid" sounds alright but "Morningrise" sound horrible in parts even though I really enjoy the songs. I think the definitive versions of "Under the weeping moon" and "The night and the silent water" are on the live album. We always meant to try and cover as many albums as possible when we play live in order to please fans, new and old. It's always been our intention to cover the old stuff as well.
It's now realised that 'The Roundhouse Tapes' will be Peter Lindgren's last recording with the band. Will the DVD release next year have content that relates to his departure?
No, there won't be some sappy stories about past members. I am shaken by the fact that he's not playing together with us anymore, but the band will continue for as long as there's good material in us. There's no time or room for nostalgia in terms of "the golden days". It's all just a waste of time.
I don't want to be judged at all, but since we will be I want it to be based on what we're doing now and not 10 years ago. The line-up in Opeth have been turbulent since we started and it really has nothing to do with me as a band leader. People change, it's a fact and it's futile trying to cling to something which is not there anymore. The essence of the band is the music regardless of who's playing it I think.
Much hype has surrounded your recently announced 2008 US tour with Dream Theater. Presumably by that time you will be touring to promote your new album, so will you be touring from then on in?
|"There's no time or room for nostalgia in terms of "the golden days"."|
I'd say so. That tour will happen as the album is being released. It's a good set up for the new record. We'll do several headline tours all over the world, but certainly the Dream Theater tour is meant to happen and it's been talk about it for years. Great honour for us to tour with them!
With this connection, and Steven Wilson and yourself making guest appearances on Dream Theater's new album, the rumour mill has been working and people are talking about your proposed collaboration with Wilson and Mike Portnoy once again. Will there even be time for such a project to take form between Opeth, Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree's respective schedules?
What you heard right there was the collaboration. It's what we've been whispering about for years. I'm sure people are dissapointed! Haha!!
Your touring partners have typically pleased your fans greatly (the DT tour announcement is testament to that), have you ever thought about doing a Tool and bringing out a more unknown band who Opeth fans may not immediately recognise, and introduce their style to your fans?
We've been offered to support Tool twice but they've always went for some other band eventually. I'd love to tour with them, we've played with them and they're lovely people and an awesome band. It'd be a great package, but I'm not sure it will materialize ever, even though I really hope it will!
We've done that several times before. We've had a fantastic unknown band called Madder Mortem with us, we brought Burst, Katatonia, Devin Townsend band (he's known obviously but not so much for his solo band), Extol, Amplifier. We always want to bring great acts with us, basically because we want to surround ourselves with proper musicians and band, we want their fans to hear us and we want to plug them to our fans. It's like one big happy family!
With the recent line-up changes, fan's expectations and predictions for your new album are very scattered. What kind of sounds and methods have Fredrik and Axe brought forward that may bring something new to Opeth's palette?
I don't know, they just have to hang in there for the ride. The material I've written is more complex than ever and it's fun... I repeat FUN to play these songs! That's all that matters. Some fans already have made up their minds that we suck now, so goodbye to them. Yet, for me I feel we're better, stronger, more progressive, darker, heavier, more musical, more complex, easier, cheekier... everything really... than ever before! I feel reborn in a way. I'm excited for the band and for the 5 of us. We'll have a blast playing these songs no matter if anyone listens to it. I'm not saying this to plug the band and sell records. These are proper emotions. That's why my answers are fucked up and incoherent. I can't hide me feelings about this band. Once we're going on routine, that's when you should worry... but that ain't happening anytime soon!
To my knowledge, Opeth's guitar solos have often been written and shared between Peter and yourself. Has Fredrik taken up Peter's role in that respect?
Yes, he's much more competent than both myself and Peter when it comes to soloing. I mean, he's old school widdly wooo guitarist who can do some fantastic stuff on the guitars. I've certainly learned from him, but he's also learned from me too I guess. He had to learn how to fingerpick properly and also to choose the notes more carefully in order to create the best vibe. We don't have solos cause we have to, it's done when we have an idea that can improve the overall feel of a part and ultimately of the entire song. Fredrik's demoed some solos for the songs, all of them have been fantastic but I made him redo them 4-5 times each, and come up with new, better stuff. And he has, he really has!
Opeth's guitar tone has been signature for many years, with Peter and yourself both using PRS guitars and Laney amplification. I have read that Fredrik uses ESP guitars, will this mark a change in the guitar's tone?
|"The material I've written is more complex than ever and it's fun."|
Not anymore. Fredrik is now on PRS and he aint looking back. No disrespect to ESP, I'm sure they're great guitars, but in comparison with PRS I'm sure even the heads at ESP would go... "Well, yeah, you're right...can't compete there!
". They're the best guitars in the world. I used to be a Strat and Les Paul dude but needed both in one guitar, and that's what I got with PRS. And more!!! On top of that their support for Opeth is just beyond words!
Same with Laney! I love those guys and they support us to death! We've had some great amps from them and I haven't looked back since we started the collaboration whatever it was, 6 or so years ago.
Since 'Ghost Reveries', some of your more close-minded fans have been blaming your signing to Roadrunner for your change in sound and apparently more 'mallcore' guitar style. Could you be kind enough to dispel rumours that Roadrunner are in any way affecting your writing process, for all of our sakes?
Haha!!! That's the funniest stuff I've heard! Opeth is mallcore now??? Well, the record was recorded as we're still finalizing the deals. We hadn't even signed to them as the album was recorded. They had no interference whatsoever, which is the way we like it. I mean, come on! People are just stupid sometimes, you know...we'll never be able to please some of these cats so fuck them!
Since your last couple of albums have had huge progressive rock influence, everybody now knows the in and outs of your prog tastes. So, what kind of metal are you into these days? What keeps you writing songs like 'The Grand Conjuration' when you could easily be writing 'Damnation' over and over?
Haha! I love the calmer stuff! I'm a sucker for a good ballad and I always have been! I get teased cause I love the Scorpions so much! And Whitesnake! I love old school heavy metal, but I almost hate the metal scene of today. There's a few great bands, but most of what I hear is just bloodless crap that's done without any finesse whatsoever. I can't believe some bands actually think they have something to offer, and ever more that there are labels who believe in them. Well, we're certainly no big band, and I accept people hating our sound, but you gotta give us credit for being somewhat alone in our field. Regardless if you hate us or not, there aint another band out there doing what we do.
One observation I made whilst listening to 'Ghost Reveries' was that Per Wiberg greatly impressed in the clean and chilled out segments, but didn't really stand out in most of the metal parts. Aside from going 'cheese-metal' on us and giving him a big cape and wizard hat, what might you do to establish him as an important part of Opeth's metal sound (unless he is already, and I'm just missing out)?
Well, that's his first album, we deliberatley wanted to be careful with the keyboards and not overdo it. Just add it tastefully where it's needed. He has more work on the new songs, so much in fact he'd need to grow another pair of arms. And hey! I like cheese and I like metal! He's certainly an important part of the band now, we couldn't do this without him for sure.
Another change on 'Ghost Reveries' was your guitar tuning. Will you be returning to E standard (with occasional dropped D) or will you continue to experiment with other tunings?
It's back to standard tuning for the new songs, one is drop D, so it's the ol' usual! I love open tunings since I'm a big fan of Bert Jansch amd Jackson C Frank and the likes, I can definately see us going on with that, but these new songs are standard tunings pretty much! Not standard music though!
The lyrics on 'Ghost Reveries' mostly followed a conceptual story which some people have linked to the Melinda character from your 'Still Life' opus. Is there a connection at all, or is it coincidental?
|"Regardless if you hate us or not, there aint another band out there doing what we do."|
No, I've never heard that...there's no conncetion!
Do you have any lyrics or ideas written for the album? Will they be conceptual or will the songs be about separate things?
Just notes....I think the lyrics will be greatly affected by the recent events in my life.
What music influenced your vocal styles, of both the clean and pure evil variety?
Basically they're a few singers I owe: David Vincent, David Coverdale, Ronnie Dio, Nick Drake, Rob Halford, Joni Mitchell and Scott Walker. I've studied them for years and their style and choice of notes is just what I think is exactly what I like. All I needed was to try and combine that into one. In no way am I saying I sound like these guys, it's just their style that I liked and have been extremely influenced by.
Being the bizarre place that it is, the internet has concocted possibilities for many metal musicians to appear on the cult TV show 'Metalocalypse'. Do you watch it, and if so would you ever consider making an appearance?
I think one of the characters is based on me? In fact I got an email from the character himself, this is true...can't remember his name, but it's the guitarist with the moustache. Wartooth? [that's Toki Wartooth, not a bumblebee-Duncan] He emailed me in person, as the cartoon character, talking like he does in the show. He confirmed he's... "me"! Haha! I've never really seen it but I guess I gotta!
And finally, how much evil blastbeat madness can we expect from Axe's evil alter ego 'Eric'?
Wait and see!