One of the finest musical examples to ever come out of Scandinavia, Opeth have set the bar for melodic death metal since the band’s early 90’s inception. With each release since their debut ‘Orchid’, the Swedish metal maestros have further earned themselves a position as one of the most respected and inspiring metal bands of the modern era. Their defining style blends beautifully intricate darkened melodies and classic gothenburg death metal to an effect that no other band on earth could adequately imitate. Their 10th studio album Heritage is only days from release, and is set to be a whole new chapter in Opeth’s extensive chronology, doing away with death growls for the first time since 2003’s Damnation. Just ahead of the album’s official release, we caught up with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson to talk all about Heritage and all other things Opeth.
Hey Fredrik, how are you?
Good, very well thank you.
Album No. 10 ‘Heritage’ is just about to drop, are the band more excited or nervous at this stage?
Definitely more excited. We did all the recording in February, it’s quite a long time before the album actually gets out there.
I’ve had the chance to listen to the new album and it’s pretty damn amazing, and undoubtedly Opeth, but also very different to anything you’ve done in the past.
Yes, it is. I still think it sounds like Opeth, for sure, but we have definitely challenged the style in a way. Originally Mikael did a couple of recordings that sounded more like a continuation of Watershed, but then deleted them and went for a bit of a different approach. Also I think the guitars sound less like a wall of distortion have a more coarse type of sound, but it opens up for other sounds and makes the album more dynamic I think. I still think it sounds quite hairy. Hairier than ever in a way.
One of the biggest changes in style is the absence of many of the death metal elements that have helped define Opeth’s style up until this point. With Damnation, the band went down a similar path, but the end result of Heritage is very different.
Absolutely, Heritage is much darker and more intense than Damnation. Heritage doesn’t contain the death metal elements that we have used in previous albums, but I also don’t think we could have created this album without our death metal past. I think this album has a bit of 70’s prog rock and 70’s hard rock with some Swedish folk thrown into it. Mikael doesn’t growl on this record, but he has pushed his clean vocals to a more aggressive level than ever. It was necessary for him to sing in a different way than in the past, because we still have calm music meeting aggressive music, just in a different style than ever before.
If someone had handed you a copy of Heritage 10 years ago, what would you have thought of it then?
That’s a good question. I probably would have liked it. I think it’s pretty far out, quite complex.
Can you run us through the production of this album?
We recorded the album in Stockholm in the 1960’s called Atlantis. Actually, ABBA used to record the majority of their material there. We worked with a guy there who has been there since 1963 called John Hounsolme, he was our engineer so it was just him and us working on the recording. Then Mikael did some mixing alongside Steven Wilson, who then did the final mix of the album. He also did a 5:1 mix of the album which is really, really cool. It has so much detail in it. It was then mastered at Abbey Road Studios in the UK, our good friend Travis Smith did the artwork which we are really happy with. That’s about it, now we can’t wait for the album to get out there.
So it wasn’t Jens Bogren engineering?
No, I’m not sure why everyone got that information.
Weird. This will be your third album with Roadrunner Records, are you happy with the job they do?
Absolutely, they are very professional. We get to do a lot of interviews, which is good! They are very good to us.
How did you enjoy your recent run of Euro festivals?
They were very fun actually. The biggest one was Sonisphere in the UK, that was great.
Well there’s some very hard touring just around the corner, are you looking forward to beginning that cycle?
Yes and no, you always look forward to playing the shows, but the travelling… it gets to you. Especially when you’re doing the festivals and you’re just flying everywhere and checking in, checking out…I prefer bus tours, you get into a daily routine, it’s not all over the place. So yeah, travelling sucks, playing is really, really good.
I think all your Australian fans are probably wondering when they’re going to be seeing you guys again, is there anything planned?
Yes there is. It’s being talked about at the moment, we’re hopefully set to come at the beginning of this year. We love Australia, the support is great and it’s great to hang out there. We really enjoyed it last time, especially the shows. We had a great time in Brisbane. Hopefully it’s ok now, after the flooding.
You’ve got such a large back-catalogue of music now, it must be difficult picking which songs to play?
Oh yes. Especially considering the length of the songs. It’s going to be really tough for this next tour, we’ll have to see what happens.
What are a few of your favourite Opeth songs?
I really enjoy playing The Moor, and off the last album Heir Apparent.
Yeah there has been a lot of support flowing in for that which has been great.
Great to hear.
I have to ask, at the Royal Albert Hall show when you were being filmed for your 20th anniversary DVD, when the cameraman tripped your amp lead and your guitar cut out in the middle of The Lotus Eater…How would you go at describing your feelings at the time?
(Laughs) you can pretty much see that on the DVD, my heart completely stops. It was just one of those end-of-the-world kind of moments. I was thinking ‘of course, everything goes perfect and now this fucking happens in the last song.’ I was stressed out, but it came to the point where I was almost laughing at it, and so was everyone else because it was quite comic.
Did the cameraman get an arsekicking?
I never actually saw him after the show, he probably ran out of there. He definitely got yelled at!
If you could put together a supergroup of musicians, alive or dead, who would they be?
Ronnie Dio on vocals. I think I would like to have Geezer Butler on bass, it’s already almost Black Sabbath now! Why not Jimi Hendrix on guitar. Some crazy drummer… Keith Moon on the drums.
Opeth’s music has always been quite dark, but I’d imagine the band have quite a few laughs. Tell us one of your funniest experiences with the band?
Oh yes, there is a lot of laughs, a lot of crazy moments. A few months ago in Greece I managed to lock myself out of my hotel room sleepwalking and woke up naked in the hallway. That was probably not so pleasant, but very funny.
Strangest interview question you’ve ever been asked?
I don’t know, but the stupidest one was a few weeks ago in Sweden. This girl asked me to barbecue a marshmellow for her with my cigarette lighter. Then they started rolling the camera and she said ‘So, what do you want me to ask?’ That was very annoying interview.
I can imagine! t’s been awesome talking to you man, but we’re nearly out of time. Anything at all for your Australian fans?
Oh just make sure you check out the new record, we hope to see you all soon!
Thanks a lot for your time Fred, good luck with the album and the tour!
Thank you very much.