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Looking back at the evolution of heavy metal, we've seen many styles come and go. Just when we think that everything has been done, some new band crawls out of the woodwork and surprises us with something fresh and original. This certainly holds true for Sweden's own Opeth, a band that has the ability to communicate many emotions in the course of a single song. From brutal death metal to prog riffs to tranquil acoustic sections, it's all here. In many ways, Opeth are peerless leaders. As 'Blackwater Park', the band's latest masterpiece, proves that some bands get better with age, this band is most certainly in their prime. A Metal Update chat with Opeth's mastermind, Mikael Akerfeldt, could not come at a better time.

MU: The name 'Blackwater Park' was taken from an obscure psychedelic rock band. What meaning does the name have for Opeth?

MA: Well really - we stole the title from this band basically because I liked it. I figured it could be a good title for an Opeth album. It sounds like a classic kind of title, you know what I mean? So I basically stole it from them. The music for this album came out very, very dark and the lyrics as well. I just felt that Blackwater Park sounded like a classic dark kind of title that would go along with the music and the lyrics.

MU: You actually wrote a song with that title so what did that end up meaning lyrically?

MA: Basically, "Blackwater Park" doesn't have to be a park. It is just symbolic for some kind of dark place. It could be within or whatever. The song "Blackwater Park" is about how disgusted I am with people sometimes. I just wanted to create some kind of very, very disgusting and very dark kind of mood with that track. That is really what happened as well.


MU: How did you end up hooking up with Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree?

MA: Well, I got an email from him. He got our 'Still Life' album from a journalist and my email address. So he just wrote me an email saying that he loved the album. I was kind of blown away because I've been a Porcupine Tree fan for years. When he wrote the email I couldn't believe it. I was very, very surprised. We started talking, and I met him in London. I asked him if he would be interested in producing 'Blackwater Park'. We were actually talking about doing something together musically as well, but I just had to ask him because we knew that he had been working as a producer with some bands that he knew. He's pretty much more of a producer than a musician in Porcupine Tree. He works with production full-time basically. I knew that he liked Opeth and everything and that he was kind of interested in doing something with a metal band production-wise. He said yes, so it was cool.

MU: He was only there part of the time so you guys pretty much took over the rest of the production from there?

MA: Yeah, but we are used to that. We have been producing the albums ourselves since 'My Arms Your Hearse'. It's nothing new for us really. Of course, then again, we are no full time producers. We only kind of set up one guitar sound and one drum sound and then we use it for the entire album. Working with Steve it was different because he knows a lot about the technical aspects of recording. He's pretty much interested in the sound of technical equipment that we don't care about. He could help us coming up with weird sounds and experimenting with sounds. That is what we did for this album which I think is one of the main differences from the previous albums. We never experienced it before as much as we did on 'Blackwater Park'.

MU: Will you be touring with Porcupine Tree soon?

MA: Not touring. No. It's just a single gig in Sweden. They will be touring, but we will not be on the tour. Steven just picked some local bands. They are just going to do one gig in Sweden. They asked me, "Do you want to support us?" And they are going to have support in England from Anathema.

MU: Oh really?

MA: They are pretty much hooking up with some metal bands. I think it is cool. But I don't know who is going to do a big part of the support.

MU: I have never heard them, so I was wondering how both of you would fit onto one show.

MA: They are like a progressive band, you could say, but I heard some new stuff. . . Me and Peter went to London to do press and to dinner at his place and he played me some demos of new Porcupine Tree and it's metal. I was really, really surprised. It sounds so good. It's unbelievable.

MU: I'll have to check it out.

MA: Oh yeah, I think all of their albums are worth having. It's definitely high quality. Everything. It's not a super metal band. It's more like progressive rock. It's like Pink Floyd and maybe Radiohead or something with some psychedelic influences as well.

MU: He worked out pretty well on the recording too, right? He sang on "Bleak"?

MA: Yes. He played the guitar solo on the same track as well.


MU: And then he played some piano.

MA: Yes.

MU: Prior to the recording of the last two albums, you had only practiced a few times beforehand. Does Opeth work better this way? Kind of spontaneous in the studio?

MA: It doesn't really put us in a bad situation (not rehearsing). We are pretty much getting used to that now. We know each other so well so it is not a big problem for us to record parts, if you know what I mean. I had the basic song structures done before we entered the studio and then we rehearsed like three times before this album. It was enough to get to know some of the materia, but we pretty much enjoy experimenting in the studio. I think the best work that you do is in the studio. It's a very inspirational environment to work in. You really have nothing else to do then to concentrate on perfecting the music. While being at home in Stockholm, we always have other interests that we kind of put in front of rehearsing.

MU: You always seem to subject yourselves to poor living conditions while in the studio. Does this bring out the best in Opeth?

MA: Sure. We always have some problems because we are not a wealthy band and we can't stay at the Hilton, you know?

MU: I would think you'd be able to.

MA: No, no, no way. We slept in the studio. All four of us slept in a room in the studio for two weeks and then we were at Mikael Stanne's apartment, the singer from Dark Tranquillity. We stayed there because when the two Martins were done with their parts, they went back home to Stockholm. It was just me and Peter left. Then when Steven came down he stayed with us at Stanne's apartment. It's not luxury, but we're more used to being poor than having great hotel rooms or anything like that. It's nothing strange for us.

MU: How does an Opeth song take shape?

MA: Basically I just sit around in my place playing guitar. I play the guitar every day basically. Sometimes I come up with riffs, sometimes entire arrangements or even entire songs. I try to memorize most of it because I can't write notes. I have a four track, something I can record off of, but I haven't figured out exactly how it works. I always write it down. If I have a riff that sounds like Metallica, I write Metallica riff. Then I will remember what it is. Then I try to put them together. For the last couple of albums, I went to a friend's house to record demos so that we can listen to it and correct all things. But I don't work too much with the material because I want to keep it kind of open for the other guys to come in and bring their stuff into the songs.

MU: Yeah, I was wondering if you had all the bass parts figured out in your head, the drum parts, etc.

MA: Well, I've got a fair idea of how I want it to sound. If I've got a drum beat, I present it to Martin and he usually alters it a little bit. That's basically how we work. I want to be part of every aspect of the recording. I want to know what the bass player is going to play. I am there 100% of the time. I have them coming up with the best bass line, drum beat or whatever.

MU: You write all of the lyrics then, right?

MA: Yeah, I write all the lyrics.

MU: Genererally, what do the lyrics deal with? Do they have a common theme?

MA: For this album it is almost like the music. I don't think too much. When I wrote the lyrics this time, I didn't really think what I wanted to write about. I just wrote. It turned out being really, really twisted and almost sick at times. When I read the lyrics afterwards I was like, "Fucking hell! What is wrong with me?" I was amazed to see what I had written down, but it came out in a very personal in a way. I have been writing concepts for the last two albums, but I was pretty tired of that. I wanted to have something different this time. I spent ten days writing the lyrics. Ten days before I was supposed to record them, so I was under a little bit of pressure. It came out very well I think. It's basically about disregard towards humans in general, but spiced up to be even more twisted. Many of the songs on the new album pretty much deal with the same subject. Different elements of this subject.

MU: You are known for being quite the 70's prog fanatic. What albums would you recommend checking out?

MA: So many albums were made during that time that have been completely forgotten that deserve more attention. I'm a collector. I find records pretty much every day. I'm on Ebay bidding on records. . . but to recommend some, I would say. . . do you know the record label Vertigo?

MU: I think so, yeah.

MA: They are still doing stuff like Metallica.

MU: Oh, OK.

MA: In the early 70's when the label started out - it was late 60's, early 70's - pretty much all the releases they put out were great. Bands like Gracious and Cressida, Legend, you know, stuff like that. Early Uriah Heep albums and obviously the Black Sabbath albums that came out. Pretty much English stuff from the 60's and 70's, German stuff, some American stuff like singer / songwriter stuff from the States. There's a chick called Linda Perhacs who did one album in 1970 that is absolutely amazing. It's like psychedelic, almost evil-sounding folk singer / songwriter music. It's beautiful and kind of ghost-like. The album is called 'Parallelogram'. I haven't got it on vinyl because it is so hard to find. I'm more likely to find it for a dollar. If you see it on Ebay, it's like the minimum bid is $100 or something. It's very hard to find, but I've got a CD copy of it anyways. Absolutely fantastic album. Some other stuff from the states like Captain Beyond, Iron Butterfly and stuff like that.

MU: 'My Arms, Your Hearse' is quite the bizarre name for an album. What exactly does that mean?

MA: A lot of people asked me that when the album came out. I took it. I steal all the album titles from other bands. 'My Arms, Your Hearse' was taken from this band called Comus. They released two albums, I think, and this is taken from their first album called 'First Utterance'. It's taken from a lyric line of theirs and the entire lyric line is: "As I carry you to your grave, my arms, your hearse." That pretty much explains everything.

MU: Was that a concept album?

MA: Oh yeah.

MU: What other albums of yours were concept albums? Were they all?

MA: Not all of them. 'My Arms, Your Hearse' and the album after that, 'Still Life'. The first two were just individual stories if you will - pretty much rambling on about stuff I didn't understand myself.

MU: Would you summarize the basic concepts for each one?


MA: For 'My Arms, Your Hearse' it was like a ghost story. The basic theme was that this person dies. He's kind of reborn as a ghost, and he stays in the same environment. He sees his loved ones, like family members and friends, going on with their lives. It's almost like a film - what's it called? The Sixth Sense - he doesn't understand that he is dead - but I wrote it actually before the Sixth Sense came out. It's almost like a film. 'Still Life' was not Satanic but an anti-Christian theme. It sounds pretty naive when I explain it like this. It kind of takes place a long time ago when Christianity had a bigger importance than it has today. The main character is kind of banished from his hometown because he hasn't got the same faith as the rest of the inhabitants there. The album pretty much starts off when he is returning after several years to hook up with his old "babe." Obviously a lot of bad things start happening with, as I call it on the album, "the council." The big bosses of the town know that he's back. A lot of bad things start happening. They see him as a hypocrite in a way. It's almost like a devil's advocate or whatever it's called.

MU: What is the picture on the 'Morningrise' cover?

MA: We did not know at the time. Our label boss for Candlelight went on holiday, and they went to this place. I can't remember the name. He actually walked on the bridge or whatever it is. He sent me a postcard with the exact same picture that we have on the cover there but with color. It's some kind of tourist place in England.

MU: Tell me a bit about your side projects Sorskogen and Bloodbath.

MA: Sorskogen is not really a side project. It is just something I did for fun. I don't know why I decided to put it up on the internet. It was a professional recording if you will. It was recorded with Dan Swano. I was pretty proud of the track. I thought it was a cool track, but it's not a project. It is just something I did. I've done a couple of more tracks by Sorskogen, but nothing serious. I wouldn't call it a project. Bloodbath - we only did that mini CD on Century Media 'Breeding Death'. Which is pretty cool. It is kind of like a homage to late 80's, early 90's death metal from Stockholm and America.

MU: Yeah. It is very well done.

MA: It's cool. We did it for the hell of it. All of us are huge fans of that kind of music. There's even talk that we should do a full-length, but I'm not sure of that. It's more or less Anders from Katatonia. It's his project. If he's gonna write a couple tracks, I'm gonna put down some vocals for it maybe. We also plan to do a Morbid Angel cover for some kind of tribute album.

MU: Opeth's performance, as well as the response from fans at this past Milwaukee Metal Fest was quite phenomenal. Do you look forward to your upcoming tour of the States?

MA: Yes. Very much so. Milwaukee was probably one of the best we've done in terms of the response from the crowd.

MU: Yes. It was so powerful.

MA: I've never experienced anything like that.

MU: And vice versa.

MA: We have very high expectations about going back to the States. We're gonna do a seven or eight week tour of the States. We have high expectations. We hope that every gig on that tour is going to be the same as Milwaukee. It's going to be interesting to see. I'm sure we might get disappointed at some gigs and some gigs are gonna be great. MU: I'm sure it'll probably be good overall.

MA: I hope so.

MU: Part of that will be with Amorphis and Shadows Fall I believe.

MA: It's just a couple gigs with Amorphis. Like six or seven gigs. Then we are going to head over to L.A. and start the tour with Nevermore for five weeks. It will be a long time.

MU: Why hasn't Opeth played out live often?

MA: I don't know. We don't have an agency or anything. All the gigs that we are offered go through me basically. I would never call up people asking for gigs, so we wait for people to contact us which hasn't happened that often in the past.

MU: Wow. That is surprising.

MA: It's not the fact that we don't want to play live because we do, and we love to play live. That is the best thing about being in a band. Now that we've signed with Music For Nations, they are pretty much taking care of everything for us regarding this. They fixed us up with this US tour, and we are going to do all the major festivals in Europe like Dynamo and Wacken. We are going to fix up a European tour in the fall as well. Things are starting to happen now. In the past, I have no explanation why. Basically, I think it was because no one really wanted us.

MU: I don't understand it personally.

MA: But that's the way it is. You gotta be out there. You've got to have some bastard taking care of your business and I'm pretty much sitting at home answering my emails, but that's about everything I do. If we get offers, it's usually just from suckers that just want to be your friend. Every day I get, "What do you say about coming to Mexico to play?" or whatever. I'm like, "Yeah, what can you offer?" and nothing happens. Not many people are for real. When the label takes care of it, something is going to happen.


Review of Opeth 'Blackwater Park'

Review of Opeth 'Still Life'






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