Interview with Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth)

Swedish unique-sters Opeth are seemingly unable to go wrong, even when they try to do so. Releasing a double-live CD during these days of high resolution HDD and YouTube may seem worthless, but when the result is so convincing as with The Roundhouse Tapes, it’s maybe not such a mystery anymore. This release was also the main subject of this chat with Mikael Åkerfeldt, a chat which, as you’re about to read, also took on, well, several other subjects …

Many bands – Kamelot, Manowar, In Flames, and Blind Guardian spring to mind – seem to have come to the conclusion that releasing a traditional live album is not enough to interest the fans, and instead aim for bigger packages with DVDs and lots of extra material. Did you consider anything like that?

In fact we did. Actually, we’ve been talking for quite a while about doing sort of like a special gig, a one-off experience, and make a DVD out of that. It’s one hell of a thing to plan and organize, and we’re definitely not ready to go through with this at this point, but no one knows what the future holds …

Erm … Mikael, didn’t you forget to tell just what would make this night so special?

That might be the case, yes. Warm and low-pitched chuckling takes over for a short while. The thing is that we’ve been talking about doing a show where we play alongside the musicians that inspired us and made us what we are today. I know the fans would appreciate this, and I definitely know we would too, haha. I’ve talked with the guys in Camel, among others, and Comus – from whose song “Drip Drip” I got the title to My Arms, Your Hearse – is also on my shortlist. It’d be great fun to bring in some of the heavier bands too; Morbid Angel for example …

I’m pretty darn sure not only the angels would go morbid at such an event …

Actually, we should get Camel and Morbid Angel to play at the same time. Then it’d sound just like it was us that were playing.

Anyone familiar with Åkerfeldt’s characteristic on-stage jokes will probably recognize the icy, Scandinavian tone in that last remark – probably directed at the journalists seeing Opeth as nothing but a bleak copy of the “real” Prog Rock and Death Metal bands. And speaking of those remarks, Mikael, I have to ask – have you ever considered writing them down and releasing it as a book – somewhat like Seinfeld did with “Seinlanguage”?

Haha, I reckon three big NO, NO, NO’s would answer that question properly. I’m not a friggin’ stand-up comedian! I’m very concerned that the music is always what’s important, not the joke making, and I dread the thought that people someday may come to an Opeth show for the jokes, not the music. That being said, we have quite a lot of fun with this ourselves, and the best bits are those the crowd does not get. I remember this one time when I asked the crowd if they knew if Klaus Meine usually eats crackers before performing “Winds Of Change”. Not one person in the crowd laughed, but the guys in the band could barely stand upright.

After Åkerfeldt had finished his speech, it was obviously time to deal with what really was the topic of this conversation – The Roundhouse Tapes.

The starting point was that we wanted to include two songs from each of our full-length albums, Åkerfeldt explains, but in the end that just was not possible. The day before the show we were informed that we had much less time onstage than what we first were told. Still, we tried to present our whole career in the best way possible, and we especially wanted to avoid doing songs from our previous DVD. As far as I’m concerned, “Windowpane” is the only track featured on both releases. Also, I guess I can say that we tried to go for the more “up to date” tracks from Orchid and Morningrise.

Is this a result of you feeling ashamed, to some extent, of what you did on these two albums?

I wouldn’t say ashamed … and actually, I really thing the point is doing what you think is right at the time you’re doing it. It’d be wrong for me to go back now and try to correct things I did in the past. Still, you do have a point. I am very critical, overly critical I’d almost say, to what we did in the past. Actually, I try to fool myself a bit, to trick myself into thinking all the old stuff still is as good as we thought back then.

Hence the rather sarcastic comments you make about “Under A Weeping Moon” on the CD …

Hehe, I thought that was why you asked, yes. The thing is that I was 19 years old when I wrote that song, and at the time we were very much into the whole Death Metal idea of being as dark and evil as possible. The Black Metal thing was going on in Norway too at the time, so everyone was really all about darkness and brutality. That, I guess, is easy to read from the lyrics to that song.

What are the lyrics to that song really about?

– Nothing at all! I was just trying to find as dark and mysterious words and phrases as possible, and then put them together into this kind of dark and mysterious nonsense.

Reading the lyrics to other Extreme Metal classics from the early nineties, it’s tempting to think Åkerfeldt was not the only one working like this, but there’s probably a much bigger chance he’s the only one honest enough to admit it. How much do you think Opeth have in common with other Extreme Metal bands?

I’m aware of the fact that quite a few people think of Opeth as a bunch of p*ssies playing quasi-Progressive Pop music – but the only thing I have to say to those is to f*ck off and die. All members of this band, past and present, have a strong, and I mean strong, passion for Metal music. That being said, I still feel that there’s very few interesting Extreme Metal bands around at the moment, and for me extreme music and Extreme Metal are two very different beasts. I just can’t see what’s so extreme about down-tuned guitars and fast-paced bass drums anymore. Then I’d rather much go with a man called Scott Walker, a 65-year old American guitar player, who created music that’s far more extreme than any Metal band I can think of. The album The Drift, which he released in 2006, is one of my all-time fave albums, and a great source of inspiration. THAT is extreme music.

The question is, then, does Mikael Åkerfeldt make for the perfect mix of US dissonance, Scandinavian misanthropy, and British humour? Hard to say – but purchasing The Roundhouse Tapes is definitely a good place to start this little philosophical journey.

Opeth will actually also return to Metal Expess Radio in not too long. The topic of that chat will be the band’s upcoming studio album. Åkerfeldt addresses the songs as ”the most complex songs we’ve ever written – I’ll tell you they’re downright exhausting to perform”, and what he means with that, and probably lots more too, will be thoroughly discussed.



  • Torgeir P. Krokfjord

    Torgeir was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. After hearing Malmsteen's "Vengeance" on a guitar mag CD at the age of 12 or 13, he began doing hopeless interpretations of Yngwie licks and it just took off from there. After shorter stints at other zines he was snatched to Metal Express Radio in 2003. Alongside Yngwie, Savatage, WASP, Symphony X, Blind Guardian, Emperor, Arch Enemy, In Flames, Opeth, Motörhead, Manowar, and Queensrÿche are a quick list of musical faves. Torgeir is also guitarist in the Heavy/Prog/Thrash outfit Sarpedon.

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