INTERVIEW: Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt

Opeth have always been a little left of centre, especially when taking the iconic sounds of death metal out of the 90s and into the naughties and infusing it with a progressive edge. But nowhere has that prog influence been more inspired – and even jarring – than on their new album, Heritage. There’s barely a hint of metal to be found on the album and absolutely no death growling anywhere. In its place there’s distorted organ, nylon string guitar, and – you’re not gonna believe this – fully authentic 1970s-style jazz fusion in the style of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Mikael Åkerfeldt explains the abrupt change in style…

There’s an obvious fusion feel to a lot of the material on Heritage. Where did that come from?

We’ve been listening to not only fusion but all sorts of music. And the fusion aspect comes from Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham… I listened to Alphonse Mouzon, the drummer who was with Larry Coryell in The Eleventh House; some Herbie Hancock; the Headhunters, who are a mix of free-form and jazz and pop and whatever. But we listened to all styles of music. Some influences are more there than others, but I think we’ve been quite taken by the sounds of fusion for quite some time now, all of us.

How did you write it? Fusion is very ‘musician’ music.

I write everything on my own. I’m not really a good keyboard player, although I’m learning and I would love to be better. But with Opeth I can play what I want to hear, and I can play it fairly well. But I really, really rely on the other guys to make it proper for the actual recording once we go into the studio. I make demos of everything, and the demos, if I do say so myself, they’re pretty fucking good-sounding! I work a lot on the drums. Every ghost hit on the snare has got to be there. Everything’s there. So I want to have a splendid demo that I can present to the other guys so they should almost feel intimidated! I tell them, “You make it better than this and we have a real fucking thing going here!” And they always do! I think it’s inspirational for them to get that kind of level from the demos. Once they come up with something it’s gonna be fucking outrageous.

It must be great to have musicians who are professional enough to deal with that!

Yeah! I surround myself with really, really good musicians, but they are also more than metal musicians. They listen to all sorts of music, they’re interested in their own instruments and in developing their skills for those instruments. That’s been the case since the beginning. We always aimed to be fairly competent musicians because it makes experimentation so much easier. I mean, we could not have been doing this album with just a bunch of musicians who can only play metal. It’d be physically impossible.

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