When it comes to metal, no one quite does it like Opeth. Long songs and an even longer history of dominating the heavy music scene, the band shows no signs of peaking or slowing down. With their mammoth of an album, ‘Pale Communion’ dropping this August, we spoke with guitarist Fredrick Äkesson to talk about the record and the mechanics of how the Opeth machine operates.
On the business side of things, what does releasing a new album encompass for you guys?
It means another three years of touring! (laughs) That’s what we did on ‘Heritage’, two-hundred and fifty shows, only finished the last one a few months ago.
I know right! (Laughs) Given though, the album tour finished last year and we’ve just been doing festivals.
So how about emotionally and personally; what feelings does releasing a new album evoke?
It’s a bit strange because you work so intensely on something for a month or so and you’re breathing this music for quite a short time then when you’re done recording; you have to wait six months for it to be released. I can’t put the music away once the mix is done. I crank it out, show a few friends and then
kind of just put it away till it actually comes out and we start rehearsing. What we want to do here is something new and interesting; we want to reach new areas on this album.
What kind of areas would you say?
Well, here that difference is a bit more [minute] as such. Before we started writing the record we had a good discussion about what we wanted. ‘Heritage’ was a bit more 70’s sounding production wise. So this album, we wanted the early 80’s kind of vibe like on ‘Holy Diver’. It’s in your face but it’s rough yet clean, you know? It’s weird but it works. Not the 80’s style with big snares and big hairs (laughs). Earlier than that; there was warmth in the mix before things got all digitalised. Also recording at Rockfield Studios was inspiring with bands like Rush, Queen, Rancid and Black Sabbath having worked there. The record didn’t end up sounding like ‘Holy Diver’ or those bands but it was an idea and a focus.
I was reading up on a few interviews and you guys have mentioned that this release was more melodic this time around. Would you still agree with that?
Oh yeah! Not in the sense though that it’s commercial or a pop album but melodic in the right way. There are really strong melodies in the songs, which make it easier to digest than ‘Heritage’ I’d say with the melodies that just hit you. But it’s got some complex stuff as well, a lot of proggy stuff. Still sounds like Opeth, but different.
Looking at the cover, there are three panels with Latin quotes in them; can you explain those quotes and or panels?
This is a bit embarrassing but I can’t remember the quotes. I can tell you about the panels though! (Laughs) So there’s the birth, life and the end of life or death I should say. There’s the young baby with a mother in the first frame, a middle aged guy in the second and a really old guy in the last one about
to die. I’ll come back to you regarding those quotes. I need to do my homework.
(Laughs) Well can you kind of tell us how that relates or doesn’t relate to the title, ‘Pale Communion’?
I think it has to do with the lyrics. The lyrics are bleak and they’re grey and not very uplifting. The lyrics are very personal to Mike, so he didn’t talk about them as such. But it’s kind of like the pale communion in the lyrics.
In regards to that, I know you said they’re personal, but how do you view that Mike’s not openly sharing the meaning with the band, the people he spends half his life with? Are you empathetic to it or do you see it as a bit detrimental?
It doesn’t bother me and he didn’t want to talk about it officially but I didn’t have a problem with it. I like to make up my own pictures and stories when I hear lyrics. Like when you read a book you make up your own scenery. You can relate to the lyrics differently than someone else would.
Going into the more technical side of things, I noticed there was a ten minute song on the record. That’s a long time for a song! I know you have longer tracks but are you ever worried that it may start to turn a few people off in this day and age?
I think we have a lot of old school fans who will appreciate that as it’s a lot like on the early Opeth albums. On our first record we had one that went for like twenty-two minutes or something! (Laughs) I like [‘Moon Above, Sun Below’] a lot as it reminds me of our older stuff. It has a lot of different sections to it and it’s the heaviest one on there. It’s tough to do a song that long without people getting bored, you have to keep up the interest a bit. I think we succeeded on that one; you don’t know what to expect on the song, there’s always new sections in it. I mean, the label won’t put it out as a single will they? (Laughs)
(Laughs) You do raise a point, do you intend on playing song live?
We talked about that, absolutely. We play a lot of older stuff that’s long, like ‘Deliverance’ is more than ten minutes and we play that. It won’t be anything new for us.
That strikes me as interesting because with festivals, bands are ridiculously lucky to get an hour, it’s generally a forty minute set. By playing these much longer songs, does it faze you that you may get three songs into a festival set?
It’s kind of sad and funny because that happens a lot. (Laughs) Forty five minutes, even hour sets, to us that’s five song,s if not less. We do have shorter songs of course. On the new record there are a few four or five minute songs. We try to cover as many albums as possible but to cover them all in impossible! (Laughs) We’ve done eleven albums now and when we headline, we play for more than two hours. You want to promote the latest record of course and play more than just one from that. But in terms of festivals everyone is pretty much equal. It is still forty-five minutes of music if you know what I mean?
Yeah exactly, and to someone who doesn’t know the songs, one could feel like four or three different songs as your music is so interchanging.
Of course because one song will start one way and then end in a completely different way.
So what inspired you and the band to do this type of music where you write ten minute songs and go off on tangents within the music?
I think it just came naturally. Mike who writes most of the songs doesn’t think that one song will be really long and another really short. It’s just the way things turn out. I know that’s a boring answer but in the beginning Opeth was a band with even longer songs but we’ve always had that dynamic. It will be
heavy one minute then go into a folky acoustic part next or whatever. It’s kind of about having no respect for arrangement and no rules; just letting the music flow. That is what I think progressive is. Never following trends like a pop song has that always has the bridge and chorus etcetera.
So before we let you go Fredrick, I want to ask in regards to what you said before about the three years of touring. I know that’s not straight touring but it is still a long time away regardless. How does that affect your relationships back at home, being away so much?
It’s difficult. I just got a daughter a year ago and I’ve had other children and it is tough for the family life to go on. We have limits now, like we are only away for six weeks then have a week at home. It works better than being on the road for two and a half months. I mean everybody’s been through divorces and breakups so it is difficult. It isn’t easy but it is what we do. Yet when I’m home I love it and I love my family and I guess the distance makes the time so much sweeter when you’re home.
‘Pale Communion’ is out now via Roadrunner Records Australia.