Metal-Rules.comís interview with Opethís Mikael Akerfeldt
Interviewed by Jeff Kent, March 2001
One of the benefits of getting ďolderĒ is that more of the
bands today have followed a parallel musical path to mine. Opeth is a
perfect example as they loved Iron Maiden early on and then moved into
more Progressive genres; always trying to capture their new influences
in the music. On the verge of releasing their fifth album, Blackwater
Park, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt took the time to
call me from his native Sweden. As youíll see, I may be new to the
band, but Iíve fallen for them and Iíve fallen hard.
You have the upper hand here because Iím a newfound Opeth
fan. Iím a clean slate. Be gentle.
[Laughs] Thatís nice.
canít stop listening to Blackwater Park and it makes me mad at
myself for not taking everyoneís advice to listen to Opeth earlier.
Thatís cool, Iím glad.
Iím working my way backward through your back catalog now.
Youíre probably going to like at least Still Life, the
album before this one and the one before that.
Do you see yourself progressing in a definite direction or are
you just going where the music takes you?
Depends, for the last couple of albums we havenít done much
touring so Iíve had a lot of time in between recordings to write
therefore we put out an album each year. I pretty much let the music
take whatever it wants to go. I donít think much about it I just
write; we use the stuff thatís good.
It sounds like most of it is riff writing, adding riffs together
to create these almost epic songs.
Some songs are put together like that where I didnít know I had
two sections that would go well together until I actually tried it.
Some parts I wrote entire arrangements and songs at once.
My favorite part of the album is that twisted dissonant little
acoustic guitar melody at the beginning of ďBleak.Ē
Yeah, I know what you mean. I love that stuff as well, that
disharmonic stuff, especially with an acoustic guitar. Iím very fond
Did working with Steven Wilson add a lot to the record? Since Iím
really only familiar with the last two albums, I can hear a distinct
difference between the two.
Well Steven Wilson is a big idol of ours both as a producer and
with his band Porcupine Tree, Iíve been listening to them for a
pretty long time now. To work together with him made us maximize our
performance because we really wanted to impress him. Heíd never
produced a Metal band before and it was a big experience for him, so I
think he was a bit nervous as well. He produced all the vocals and
lead guitars with us. He also helped out writing vocal harmonies and
stuff like that, we also used him because we knew he was very good
with sound. Weíd never really experimented a lot with sound for the
guitars, but we knew what he was capable of. Every idea we had we
asked him if he could do it and he fixed everything as well as coming
in with some weird ideas himself, which we liked and ended up using.
Was he familiar with your music going into the project?
Yeah, he was the one who contacted me actually. He got a copy of Still
Life when he did an interview with a journalist whoís a friend
of mine. My friend knew that I was a big Porcupine Tree fan, so he
gave him the Still Life album and my email address. So then I
got an email from Steven which said he thought it was one of the best
albums heíd heard. Then we started talking about doing an album
together and I met him in London to ask him if he wanted to produce
what would be Blackwater Park and he said he would.
He plays all of the acoustic piano on the album, right?
I think that adds a whole new dimension.
It does. Weíve used piano before on our third album My Arms
Your Hearse, but I was doing it all and Iím not a piano player
in the same way as Steven. He can pretty much play every instrument.
We wanted to add something special; also to get him featured on the
album, we got him singing a couple of lines as well and he played one
Do you think heíll go back to Porcupine Tree having learned
something from Opeth?
Oh yeah. We were doing press in London where he lives and he
invited us to dinner and he played a couple of new demos of Porcupine
Tree, and it was Metal. He said, ďcan you hear the Opeth influence?Ē
I was pretty blown away.
Yeah, weíre turning more into Porcupine Tree and theyíre
turning more into Opeth, so weíre thinking about changing names
Everything ends up blending together into one thing simply
Well people love to categorize and they ask me what they should
call Opethís music and I tell them Iíd like it to be categorized
under ďGood Music.Ē
In describing your music I tend to use the word beautiful a lot,
which not everyone understands after theyíve heard you. Thereís
definitely that full rich sound.
Iím glad you think so.
It sounds like your clean vocal style is improving each album.
Is that something that youíve worked on, or does it just happen with
I donít practice anything and we donít rehearse. I never do any
kind of practicing between recordings. I just kind of talk myself into
getting better since the last album.
Do you foresee going to a completely clean vocal style?
I donít know, I think what makes Opeth is the combination of the
two vocal styles.
The whole album is an exercise in dynamics.
Yes and thatís what weíre all about. Weíve always been about
that and itís one of the most important parts of our music. That
goes for the vocal styles as well. I think it creates some kind of
special dynamic because the screaming is one of the most extreme
styles there is and if you combine it with the normal singing you can
create some terrific dynamics there?
Is it hard to play a whole song like that live when you have
that many shifts? Does it take away from your energy flow in the song?
Itís not hard for us, weíre used to it now. Weíve done five
albums and even a couple of gigs so weíre used to that. Iíd say itís
the same for us as it is for any other band playing their stuff. Itís
so normal for us that we never really stop to consider what weíre
Most people donít realize that you can have quiet parts that
are just as intense as the loud and heavy parts. Itís not only about
Yeah, people donít really think in those terms. Youíre pretty
much the first person that ever understood it.
A lot of bands are starting to do that. A band like Pain of
Salvation does a similar thing.
Iíve never heard them. A lot of people are telling me about them,
but Iíve never heard them; I should have to check them out.
So youíre coming back to America this year.
Yeah, pretty much for the entire months of April and May weíre
going to be in the States and Canada.
Are you looking forward to it? I know last year you only got to
play the one show in Milwaukee.
Yeah, weíre looking forward to it very much actually. Weíre
looking forward to the whole touring thing because we havenít really
toured since í96. So itís been five years since our last tour. Itís
going to be an interesting experience for us, not only because we
havenít done it in a while, but weíll just enjoy being in America.
Itís always one of those countries that you want to see properly.
You laugh, but itís like that for Scandinavians. All the cities weíre
going to have those fucking classic names like Dallas, itís going to
Since itís been so long, do you know what bands are out there
that would go well with your style?
I have no idea. Pretty much we donít care what bands we play with
as long as we get our stage time. Obviously if itís bands we like
personally itís going to better. I donít know any of the guys in
Nevermore, I got a couple of emails from the singer; I donít know
him personally, but I like their music so thatís a good start.
They do a lot with dynamics too, which is good because many
bands today just try to be as extreme as they can for as long as they
How many times can you hear that? Fast music is not exciting, I
think with dynamics you can be way more extreme. If you just play fast
all the time you canít tell exactly how fast it is.
Have you always liked those dissonant harmonies?
Yeah, Iím very interested in that. I was a huge Voivod fan a
couple of years back; they had many different chords the same with
Coroner, I love Coroner. Basically the strange choice of notes came
from like Led Zeppelin III.
Today it seems like more bands are combining influences rather
than emulating one specific band or sound and sometime theyíre
sounds that you wouldnít expect to work together.
I think there are a lot of bands out there who have dropped what
they thought they wanted to do and just started experimenting a bit
more. Thatís what makes a band grow I think.
If it results in albums like Blackwater Park then Iím all for
[Laughs] Yeah, me too.
The cover is equally suited to the music.
Yeah, itís nice. I love the cover. Itís Travis Smith who did it
again, he did the Still Life album as well and he did the new
Nevermore. Heís done a lot of covers and I think heís the best
artwork guy around right now. Heís like aÖ painter [laughs].
Heís a ďrealĒ artist, not just some guy who does album
He should be very well known I think. Heís starting to some
recognition and heís got a lot of jobs through this.
Do you think that after the acoustic guitar and the piano you
might progress to using strings?
Thatíd be interesting, but it would pretty much have us unable to
perform the songs live unless we had the other musicians with us. Weíre
such a small band that we couldnít afford to travel with an
orchestra or something, itís just too expensive. But it would be
very interesting to do an album like that. I may do some of that in my
little side project where Iíll be able to use instruments Iíve
never used before. Itís like an itching I have to create something
apart from metal.
Will it just be you?
No, itís going to be a keyboards and by that I mean Mellotrons
and Fender Rhodes, stuff like that, the guy from Spiritual Beggars
[Per Wiberg]. Me and him and a guitar player whoís been in a couple
of Swedish bands that are totally obscure. Heís one of my favorite
guitar players of all time.
More of an ambient record?
Itís going to be very mellow, but very, very dark and very if I
may say so, beautiful. Itís going to be like Simon and Garfunkel
type harmony vocals.
I guess thatíll give you a chance to work on your clean vocals.
Yeah and itís an itching I have. Iíve been doing five Metal
albums now and I just want to try this out and play with different
musicians as well.
What kind of expectations do you have for the tour?
I think weíre pretty much going to see all the fans who have been
with us since the beginning and maybe some new people who have heard
our name and heard good things. But I think the bigger part of the
audiences will be fans that have been aching to see us for a long
time, six or seven years. Since weíve never done a tour of the
States I think all of our fans are going to show up of course, but
hopefully we can snitch one or two from the Nevermore crowd as well.
At the one gig we did in Milwaukee the response from the crowd was
just amazing, so I have high expectations for the tour.
Itís a big country.
It is, and Iím sure weíre going to have our ups and downs at
shows, but I wasnít to see the States as a tourist as well. Itís
been a dream of mine to rent a car or something and drive maybe from
the East Coast to the West Coast with my best friend Jonathan [Renske],
who is the lead singer from Katatonia. We want to go down to those
redneck places just see everything. Maybe meet the Amish people
I donít know that theyíre familiar with your music, but you
No, I donít think so either, and no you never know, but I doubt
Judging from the studio diaries at your website, it looks like
you try and have all the songs ready, at least in your head. Doe sit
take a long time to get them to come out the way you want with little
or no rehearsal?
I pretty much have all the basic structures written before we go
into the studio and Iíll send out tapes of demos for the rest of the
guys. We leave a lot of space though for adding things in the studio
because itís more interesting to experiment in the studio, which weíve
done for the last few albums, itís where you come up with some of
the best things I think. Itís a very inspirational place to work. I
also wanted the other guys to come in and contribute with their own
style since they donít write the material. Also when you come out of
the studio you have a fresh product. Not only for the fans, but also
for yourself as a listener as well. When we did the first album we
were so well rehearsed that when we listened to the finished album
there were no surprises in there for us. Now we can listen to Blackwater
Park on the drive back home to Stockholm and say, ďohhh, I
forgot about that riff, that was pretty cool.Ē
How much of it gets done in one take? Are there parts that are
improvised on the spot and end up on the record?
Some of it, but most of it is written and then we record it. We can
come up with something and then half a minute later weíve put it on
tape. We hung out in the mixing room doing the lead guitars and
thought about what we should add like certain harmonies or a strange
sound effect. We tried everything out and when we found something that
was good, we used it.
So you donít have any limits as to what youíll use to get a
Not at all.
A lot of Metal bands feel limited by what they can and canít
Weíve never felt that we had any boundaries, if we like it we
just do it, we donít care.
How did you get that cool guitar sound at the end of ďBleak?Ē
I LOVE that. Thatís Steven who came up with it. Basically I think
we told him that we wanted the guitar to kind of fall to pieces. He
just put that sound on it. We were laughing so hard because itís so
ugly. Then again it has a nice effect with the ugliest guitar sound on
the album coming in contact with the next song ďHarvest,Ē which
opens up with a beautiful acoustic guitar.
The other thing that would have been cool would have been to use
it as the last track on the album and let it go on seemingly forever.
I could listen to that ugly sound for a long time; thereís actually
a lot of music in it.
Yeah, but we had the song ďBlackwater ParkĒ and we wanted it to
be the last track. Itís the classic way to have the last track be
the title track.
Do you see whole albums almost as suites that work together,
even if theyíre not concept albums?
Kind of, yeah. I feel that every song on there is equally
important. Everything that we record ends up on the album, so we want
to have it one hundred percent perfect.
So instead of having fifteen four-minute songs, you have six or
seven ten-minute songs.
We donít want to spend time working on songs that we know from
the start are not as good as the others. If I have a basic song
structure that Iím not a hundred percent satisfied with I make it
one hundred percent in the studio with the ďspices.Ē We know what
we like and what we donít like.
Some of the best moments on the album are those shifts between
two sections that donít sound like they should work.
Yes, thatís what we enjoy doing, putting together stuff that
shouldnít go together.
Do you have any Classical influences?
Not really, I listen occasionally to Classical music, but not that
Do you listen to any of the contemporary Scandinavian Folk
Not straight Folk music, it has to be some kind of Folk Rock.
Bands like Hoven Droven and Hedningarna?
Yeah, theyíre pretty cool. We have tons of bands like that in
Sweden that mix modern music with more traditional Folk music.
I was thinking back to the idea of using strings and an
instrument like a Cello is perfect for your sound.
Weíve been thinking about that for a long time, but I donít
want to over do stuff. There was a time when we did the second album
where I was in an almost pretentious state of mind and I wanted to
have everything on there. But I think it was a good choice to keep it
subtle. We always wanted to have the four of us in the band doing
everything on the album and we never really used any guests until
Steven Wilson for this album. Weíre still a Metal band. We never
used keyboard or anything to make certain ďsounds.Ē I think the
guitar is very much an underrated instrument because people think theyíre
done exploring the guitar. I think thereís so much you can do with
one thatís never been done before. People ask me all the time whoís
playing the keyboards and I tell them there are none, itís all done
with guitars. You can experiment so much with a guitar that itís not
necessary to use keyboards. Itís easy to create some kind of
atmosphere by turning on a keyboard, punching a button and playing a
chord. Weíve never been about disguising our music with some kind of
Do you ever get a really cool guitar sound by accident and then
find youíre unable to recreate it later?
Yeah, we record at night sometimes and I record all my solos alone.
I wanted to switch the sound a bit, so I went over to the amplifier
and turned the knobs a bit, but then I couldnít remember what the
initial settings were, the sound I was supposed to have, so I got some
strange sounds from there. Just a simple thing like turning the volume
down on the guitar. I had full distortion for doing solos, but then I
turned the volume down on the guitar and did the solo for ďHarvestĒ
with that sound.
Do you prefer to stick to simple changes like that or do you use
a lot of effects?
We use effects, but simple changes are still very effective if done
right. Steven came up with a lot of the effects, so I donít know
what they were. He was using Pro Tools, the softwareÖthing, I donít
know anything about it, but he came up with some really cool sound
with some plug-ins he used.
Are there guitarists you listen to who continue to surprise you?
Guys like Bill Frisell the Jazz guitarist or Robert Fripp?
I donít like when people experiment too much, I still want to
hear the guitarists themselves. I like Fripp and what heís done in
the past and some of what heís doing now, but I prefer hard guitar
players. One of my favorite guitarists aside from that Swedish guy
that Iíll be working with is Andy Latimer, the guitarist in Camel.
This guy called Jerry Donahue who is a Bluegrass guitarist basically;
heís doing demonstrations for Modern Guitarist I think and he used
to be in Fairport Convention.
Do you know who Bill Frisell is?
Iíve heard the name.
He has a very distinct sound. You can tell itís him by one
Ok, thatís what I like.
Have you heard the band Naked City?
Yeah, oh yeah! Is that him?! Oh shit! Iíve been listening to
them, the guy who ran our first record label, candlelight, he was a
very big fan of Naked City and he played us some of their stuff and itís
just amazing. Iím not sure if I think itís good, but Iím
absorbed in it. Itís almost funny because itís so extreme. They
had one song where they put in like thirty different music styles in
one song it went from Jazz to Grind MetalÖ
Mhm, its called ďSpeedfreaks,Ē and Iíve seen them do it
You must have been laughing.
It was great and the funny part is that most of them are very
unassuming, almost boring looking.
And theyíre a bit older. Are they American?
Shit yeah, I was laughing when I first heard it because I didnít
know if it was a joke or not, but I could definitely tell that they
knew their instruments. I have to check it out more now. I came to
think of another guitar player that I really, really like. Ritchie
Blackmore. Heís got the tone, you can hear instantly itís him.
Do you ever just jam?
No, we rehearse so rarely that we canít waste time doing that.
Which is a shame because I love it. Itís also hard to do when you
have two guitarists. Iím more of a jam guy than Peter is, but Iíve
had some jams with the two Martins. It was funny, but it always turned
into some kind of blues because when you jam thatís really the only
thing you can do and enjoy. It wouldnít be fun to jam Grind Core
Do you stretch any of the songs out when you play them live?
No, we donít jam anything live. Our songs are pretty much jammed
and ready. Itís something I regret a bit because as I said I love to
do it. We have a track called ďCredenceĒ that has a jam ending, so
we might do something with that, since weíre going to play it live.
Do you have a setlist for the upcoming tour already?
Yeah, weíre gonna go for the safe cards. Since we rehearse so
rarely weíre going to go with the stuff we know by heart and not try
something we havenít played in ten years. Weíll do our standard
set with the new songs added in.
How much of Blackwater Park will be included?
I think two songs. We want to cover every album and since we only
have an hour onstage we want to do at least one song from each album.
Itís not only a Blackwater Park tour itís more like a OrchidMorningriseMyArmsYourHearseStillLifeBlackwaterPark
Itís the Opeth tour.
Thatís what people want to see and we want to give it to them.
Thanks to Jeff Kent from Promethean Crusade for contributing
this interview. Be sure to check out the zine! Goto prometheancrusade.com
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