EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – OPETH

Opeth have rolled off the US leg of their Heritage tour to take on UK fans still debating the switch from growling death metal to user-friendly prog rock.

Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth talked exclusively with founder member and driving force Mike Akerfeldt

rushonrock: Was Heritage an easy album to record or were there times when you doubted yourself?

Mikael Akerfeldt: I did write a couple of songs just trying to find my feet and they were metal sounding songs and not very good songs. So I started again from scratch. I came up with an idea for The Lines Of My Hand straight away and that set the tone. It was 180 degrees from what I was writing before but once I’d written that song I felt I could do anything and the album was completed in six months.

rushonrock: As a body of work does Heritage stand up to the very best of Opeth’s back catalogue?

MA: First of all I love playing the new songs live. Maybe it’s just because they’re newer than the other songs we’re playing but they feel so much fun. We’re having a really good time playing these songs and they seem to go down well with the fans. In terms of the atmosphere at the shows it doesn’t feel any different than it has done in the past.

rushonrock: How do you incorporate the new material into the set?

MA: We mix the new songs in from time to time rather than play a bunch together. But we’ve chosen older songs that go well with the new material. There’s clean singing all the time – no screaming. We have a fair number of songs that fit together well from across our career. We have 25 songs for this tour and we play 12 or 13 each night. Five or six of them are from the new album.

rushonrock: Is it the end as far as Opeth and screaming and/or growling vocals are concerned?

MA: I can’t say really. I’ve never turned my back on anything and I’m not going to start now. It’s not like I don’t like that style of vocal delivery any more. But I just can’t develop any more as a singer if I keep on screaming. In fact I think I got worse at that as the years went by. But if the future songs require those vocals then that’s what I’ll deliver. It seems like a long shot at this stage.

rushonrock: How important is a Steven Wilson mix to Opeth?

MA: Steven just happens to be a good friend of mine as well as a very good engineer and producer. I haven’t met anyone who can touch him in that respect. We get along great and he’s always done a great job with Opeth in the past. He’s been a huge help to us but maybe a little less so with Heritage. He wasn’t actually getting into the songs as much this time. But he’s hugely influential to me. I suppose the biggest tribute I can pay to him is that Steven Wilson is the only guy I would ever let tamper with my work!

rushonrock: All the talk before the release of Heritage was that it would be the album that divided Opeth fans. Have you seen evidence of that?

MA: It has been very well received by the people who’ve come out to the shows. On the net I’d say the opposite is true but that’s no surprise. On the net people are hating Heritage but I’ve stopped trying to seek approval for my work altogether. It probably has divided the fan base a little. But I’m hoping Opeth fans are a little more open minded than they’re being portrayed. We’ve been out seven weeks on this tour so far and there haven’t been too many heckles: we do hear the odd ‘play something fucking heavy’ chant but I don’t listen to any of that. I look at where the record is in the charts around the world and I’m not complaining. Of course I’d like everyone to buy the record but if they don’t then the main thing is that everyone in the band is very proud of Heritage. If you’re looking at where the album’s charted then I suppose you’d say it’s been a success but t doesn’t mean that much to me.

rushonrock: How do you plan to deliver the more technical songs from Heritage in the live show?

MA: I thought that might be a problem. But it’s not been difficult at all. The live versions of the new songs sound closer to the originals than many of the other songs. We have a new keyboard player who’s really into the different sounds we create and he’s got lots of kit. When he plays it’s like he has four arms. He’s doing a lot to make sure the current live show is something very special. But we’d never record anything that we didn’t think we could pull off live.

rushonrock: Is Sweden the most creative and productive rock and metal nation in the world right now?

MA: Probably. There are a lot of bands across all genres making good records right now. I’m not too much into the scene over there but I do hear about this band and that band and the impact they’re having. We have a long history of great metal bands in Sweden – as a country it’s always spawned a lot of good bands and that’s the same to this day. I can’t really say that the quality is top notch all of the time but if you go looking it’s not difficult to find something to like!

rushonrock: Of the British bands you’ve listened to down the years which have influenced you the most?

MA: I listen to some British bands on a daily basis. I’m a huge fan of early Judas Priest and all things Sabbath and Purple. When Iron Maiden first burst onto the scene I was a huge fan for a time. I loved Angel Witch, Saxon and all of that NWOBHM stuff. In 1980 I was only six-years-old but I’d bought my first Maiden album – The Number Of The Beast – when I was eight.

rushonrock: It sounds as if you were more than just a casual fan of metal…

MA: I was already a fan of Maiden by the time I had that record. I grew up in a small community and there were only three streets but I had lots of friends who had older brothers and who were into metal. One of my friend’s brothers gave me his entire Judas Priest collection and I think they enjoyed the fact that they were schooling me in metal. I recorded everything I could get my hands on onto cassette tape and I built myself a tidy little collection. Records were so expensive when you were just a kid and so I was part of a group of friends who’d pool our resources as best we could.

Catch Opeth with support Pain Of Salvation across the UK at the following venues:

08 Nov 2011 O2 Academy Bristol

09 Nov 2011 O2 Academy Newcastle

11 Nov 2011 Manchester Academy

12 Nov 2011 O2 Academy Birmingham

13 Nov 2011 O2 Academy Brixton

Tickets available via: www.livenation.co.uk

Read the RUSHONROCK review of Opeth live in Newcastle right here:

http://rushonrock.com/2011/11/10/review-opeth/

Read the RUSHONROCK review of Heritage right here:

http://rushonrock.com/2011/09/18/reviews-new-music-54/

 

 

I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.

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