BWBK new Interview with Mike of Opeth:


Oct 15, 2002
New Paltz, New York
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OPETH - Delivered [Hot Flashes - 03.04.24 12:32:03]

By Chris Bruni

Since the release of last year's deadly Deliverance, it seems that the Opeth machine has never run stronger. The band's wild and hectic ride has been demanding, but at the same time, the overwhelming recognition Opeth are constantly being bombarded with comes well deserved. Through the years of hard, intense and stressful work that Mikael Akerfeldt and co. (them of course being guitarist Peter Lindgren, bassist Martin Mendez, and drummer Martin Lopez) have given us, one can look upon a repertoire that shall forever be etched in metal's immortal echelons.

It is surely well deserved, even to the point where Guitar World magazine has claimed Opeth as "metal's most brilliant band" and rightfully so, when such promise was showcased as far back as their Orchid debut in 1995 (an album that still sounds just as mind-blowing as it did when it came out). Since then, there's been no turning back.

But before Deliverance was released in November of last year, Opeth did announce that with the conjunction of said album, they will release its counterpart Damnation, an all-out acoustic observation where there will be no heavy and extreme parts whatsoever. Instead, it will possess Opeth's more delicate and mellow side which we are all familiar with. Could Damnation be Opeth's most challenging release? That's notable because it definitely was quite the task for Akerfeldt to weave this latest masterpiece together. But it is definitely one of their most alluring, haunting, possessing, and quite possibly their darkest and most introspective release ever. It is natural that, at the present moment, Damnation is the Opeth album that seems to be the most obsessive; it is an album that easily fits within the band's repertoire with sheer musical magic that bleeds throughout an impeccable traditional sound picture. The way that only Opeth can deliver. caught up with Mr. Akerfeldt, who had just gotten back from a mini-tour of Australia. He gives us an insight on everything the band has been up to since and during the endless touring, along with the impending future.

"We spent a week in Australia, but we went to London, stayed a couple of days there and then we went to Oslo for the Inferno Festival," Mikael begins. "That was great and we went down really, really well. Australia was great; five gigs, four sold out. So it was really good. They have been waiting for such a long time to see us. They were crazy! Especially in Sydney, I think that will go down as one of our best gigs ever."

How was the recent European tour, following the mega success of the North American one just prior?

"It was also good. But I think we have been spoiled by the U.S. tour because that was so good. Some of the gigs were really, really good and some really shitty which didn't feel right. We played, one show in old Eastern Germany; there were 200 people maybe, and then one show in Austria which also had about 200 people. I mean you kinda get depressed when you've done seven albums and you're playing in front of very few people. It was just that the U.S. tour was so good that we expected everything to be like that. But obviously some gigs on the European tour were really good and some shitty."

And now you're coming back to the U.S. for another tour...

"Yeah there's so much to do. But we only did certain areas on the first tour. So we have to come back to do the south parts of America. We're only doing two gigs on the Danzig tour, the most part of it with Lacuna Coil and we're doing one gig with Meshuggah, in Dallas. We have them as support actually, so that's a bit intimidating (laughs). This tour will go on for four weeks. After this tour I think we have two more U.S. tours coming this year!"

You mentioned that you had plans to do a special tour for Damnation. How much of a reality is it now?

"It's very real. We're going to do this with Porcupine Tree. I don't know where we will be playing, I just spoke with Steven Wilson today, and he told me that we start on the 15th of June and I think it is until the 5th of July. When we did the tour for Deliverance, we did most of the heavy stuff and I want to give Damnation a proper chance and I want to play all of those songs. We're also gonna try to rehearse stuff like 'To Bid You Farewell' and all that other stuff, do remakes of them and see how they work. It's going to be a joint headline thing. For me, I don't care where we play, as long as we get the same amount of stage time. So I think it's going to be at least an hour and a half each."

And you have been threatening to do an all-out mellow album since My Arms Your Hearse.

"Well ever since Morningrise, Lee Barrett (ex-Candlelight owner, present day Elitist Records) said that we should do something like an acoustic album. And at the time I was interested in the idea but I felt that I wanted to do something heavy. And now since I have piled all these influences up in my head, from '60s and '70s progressive music that I have been listening to for the last 15 years or whatever, I just picked them out and did the songs for Damnation. I felt that this was the right time to do this because it felt easy to write these kind of songs."

The thing is that Damnation is much more than a simple acoustic album, meaning that people were expecting these songs to simply be full versions of the mellow parts of the traditional Opeth songs. But it's much more than that. Actually, it's quite different...

"Yeah, you know I had to do it a bit differently because in the heavier songs, the mellow parts are used as an effect in a way and obviously they are part of the whole sound. It's very effective regardless of what you are doing; if you do a mellow part next to a super heavy part, it has that certain effect. But this time around I had to concentrate on the quality of a whole mellow song. So it had to have some kind of structure to it."

So Damnation was virtually written at the same time as Deliverance?

"Simultaneously, I wrote this with Deliverance. It was just depending on the mood I was in. Some riffs, that I maybe could have used for Deliverance I put on Damnation instead. But it's not so far away; it still sounds like Opeth. It was just a matter of putting the songs together in the right way and the whole production on the album is what makes the difference. But musically, we could have used a bit of 'Windowpane' and put some of it on a heavy Opeth song or whatever."

Frederick Nordstrom vs. Steven Wilson...

"Steven has been with us since Blackwater Park and I think he knows now how we work in the studio. He's gotten more into the producer's role this time and he got us working because with Blackwater Park we were so lazy and we got him lazy too! But this time we were under a little more time pressure and he was like, 'Come on, let's get this done...' and when he was fixing with stuff on the computers he was like, 'Okay go have your cigarettes and everything and I'll fix this and tell you when I'm done.' So it was kind of easy but Frederick never worked with us as a producer or anything. He just fixed the sounds; if there's any technical problem he would help Steve with that. Pretty much I would do the takes of my vocals for example, and then I wasn't so involved with the whole sound production. If I had an idea, I would tell them and they would try to tweak it. But many times I would do 20, 30 takes of a verse and go out to have a cigarette, come back in, and Steven would just fix everything and maybe have a little idea with the sound production with effects or something. This time I think he knew exactly how we worked."

I can imagine that it must have been a field day for Steven Wilson to work on Damnation.

"I think it was easier for him to produce an album like Damnation because he only produced certain parts of the songs on Blackwater Park and Deliverance; just the mellow parts. He didn't get an overview of the entire song. This time around he produced the whole album and every song."

There was even talk about Damnation brining Opeth to a new level of commercial success, but personally, I find Damnation too bleak and dark to reach total commercial satisfaction.

"It's like... I think a lot of fans think that this is a commercial move. But we don't see it like that in any way. For me it was just getting closer to the influences I have. There is obviously... when you do a mellow album and you are an extreme metal band like ourselves, it's inevitable that you could possibly get some commercial success or get into the mainstream just because it doesn't have the extreme elements in it. So like your mother, father or grandparents could listen to it and think it's nice. But that's just because we're an extreme metal band. So it was never like, 'Oh we have to make some money' or 'We have to sell more records.' But I think that's the side effect. If everybody doesn't like the screaming, I think it would be easier for them to get into an album like Damnation."

So your ideal intention was to release this simultaneously with Deliverance?

"That was my original idea. But it was just from an artistic point of view that I wanted to have them released at the same time. But if you are on a label, they have to do promotion for albums and two albums out at the same time will confuse people and I think maybe I'm rating the average music listener too high or maybe the company thinks people are stupid. But either way I don't want to get into any arguments about the release dates because I got my dream fulfilled in making these two albums. So released at the same time or not, it didn't really matter."

Do you think people might find it a bit hard to accept Damnation as a new Opeth full-length?

"Maybe. Because it's six months in between, they see it as we went into the studio after Deliverance and threw together another couple of songs. But both albums were recorded at the same time. I guess a lot of people will see that this is the new Opeth album. But it's very much linked to Deliverance in the sense that they were recorded in the same time."

What about concept-wise, what is the connection between Deliverance and Damnation?

"I wanted to have a concept theme that involved both albums. But I couldn't be bothered to come up with an idea; I just had the idea for them to be linked together. So the only thing that kind of connects these two albums is obviously the artwork, the titles, and the fact that they were recorded at the same time. But lyrically there's no connection. I didn't have any ideas because there was just so much pressure. And lyrics are not my thing really."

There are a lot of songs that hit a nerve and as you mentioned; Damnation enabled you to experiment more. For example, the way the song 'Closure' ends could be the most experimental thing I have ever come across on an Opeth track.

"That was one of those riffs that could have ended up on Deliverance since it's kind of a heavy riff. But Martin Lopez is very into all these percussion-like songs and I showed him that riff on the demos and he just got these ideas for the percussion bits and then I figured that it will be on Damnation. It was also like a build-up because I wanted to put 'Closure' and 'Hope Leaves' together; to have 'Closure' cut immediately and have 'Hope Leaves' start immediately. But it was just to build up to some kind of climax, a production kind of thing."

'Ending Credits' has a Santana-like feel to it...

"To be quite honest that was like a Camel kind of thing. A very naive kind of melody, something you would hear on a boat cruise with people dancing. But it's very tongue-in-cheek; it was one of the songs that I wasn't sure if we were going to have it on the album. I just love it, it's silly and everything, but it serves its purpose because it's the only song on the album that has a stream of light."

The final track 'Weakness' is one of the darkest songs you've ever written...

"I wanted the same kind of vibe as Led Zeppelin's 'No Quarter' which is basically a very tremolo-ish Fender Rhoades piano feeling. When I wrote the song, I originally wrote it on guitar but I always had the idea for it to be played on a Fender Rhoades. So I just played the demo to Steven, he played it on piano and we put some Mellotron vibe on it with some very naked guitar leads. I just wanted it to be really stripped down."

There are also some vocal experiments as well...

"I wanted it to be very... naked or whatever (laughs). Before I was always behind multi-tracked vocals and reverb, but this time, because the whole production was very dry, we wanted the vocals to be kind of dry too and be in the centre of the sound picture. I was a bit stressed in the fact that I was going to record the vocals because I don't consider myself as a great vocalist and everything that goes wrong will be audible. So I had to concentrate a bit more. But I was also, as if I was slightly out of pitch, if I had some shit in my throat or whatever, it added to the whole picture of the album. It sounds vulnerable which I wanted it to sound like. If you can have Ronnie Dio... actually bad example, but having it like Rob Halford high-pitched, it would be strong of course, but if it's closer to Nick Drake, it should be fragile."

I guess it was inevitable that Steven Wilson made a guest appearance adding some backing vocals...

"I didn't write any songs specifically for his voice. He was so involved with it anyway because he's so into the whole production thing, doing backing vocals, playing keyboards... I dunno, I didn't really think about it. But Steven has a higher range than me so it was perfect to do backing vocals and there were parts that I made him do that I couldn't do."

Tell me about the keyboard sounds and effects that were incorporated...

"We were supposed to have the guy from Spiritual Beggars, who is going to come on tour with us actually, do the keyboards on the album too, but he was at a birthday party or something. It was nothing complicated, just chords pretty much. But instead of me trying to work it out, you know it went so fast with Steven playing them because he knows his music. So he just put them down. We got the Mellotron sounds from a friend of ours actually; it's not real Mellotron sounds, just very good samples. Mellotrons are just so hard to come by; they are really expensive, and can cause a lot of problems if they get out of tune. But the samples we had are so good in that sense that even they got out of tune. It was easier to have samples instead of having the real deal, but when I get the extra money, I was actually thinking about getting a Mellotron. I didn't want to write Roland XTP on the album. I wanted to say 'Mellotron' (laughs)."

Before Blackwater Park came out, you mentioned that you were dabbling in a prog project with a few locals from the scene. Since this hasn't manifested yet, does Damnation kind of compensate for it? Will this prog project see the light of day?

"It was me and the keyboardist of Spiritual Beggars who got together and did a couple of songs. We never got anywhere with it yet. It's still in the works, we still plan to do something, but he's always touring with Spiritual Beggars and he's going to come on tour with us, so it'll have to wait. I've always talked too much saying I'm going to do this and that, but I want to do all these things. There are so many people out there I want to work with and I am going to try and make all these projects become a reality as soon as I can."

And what about this collaboration with Steven Wilson you are to take part in? "We're going to do a cover of an American songwriter, this girl named Linda Perhacs, who did one album in 1970. It's a fantastic album called Parallelograms, I've been a fan of hers for a couple of years and Steven is also an avid fan. As far as I know it's not going to be a tribute album, but we know the guy who put out the CD version of her album and he's going to do a split 7" single where me and Steven are going to do a cover of hers on one side and Pathos, which is a Swedish progressive band, will do another cover of hers on the other side. Me and Steven haven't chosen the track yet but I'm probably going to put down some acoustic guitars and vocals over here and then he's going to do the rest in England."

Why do you think people are taking notice of Opeth now, more notably the band's rise to fruition after the release of Blackwater Park?

"It's just that we've been around for a while and after Blackwater Park, which was such a successful album, I think it goes down to units shipped and if someone is making a little bit of money, with the little extra push, all of a sudden you are selling more records. So I don't think that Blackwater Park on its own was our best album or anything. I think it was the album that the company decided to push a little extra. We got a proper thing in the U.S. and it's all because of that I think. I don't think it was all of a sudden people started to go and buy Opeth albums. The label just did a good job."

You have made comments on music leaking on the internet and MP3 downloading. Have your thoughts changed on this particular medium of obtaining music?

"I understand how it all works now. It doesn't upset me as much because it's going to be out there anyway. It's just a matter of when. I mean I would rather have our music be on the internet a week before the album came out, not a month. I mean of course people get the album for free, but I hope our fans understand that if we don't sell albums, we can't record. That's just how it is. Say if Damnation sold 1000 copies whereas it should have sold 150,000, obviously it's a big difference. Fortunately, with Opeth, we can use the internet to branch off a little bit; a lot of people will get to hear about the albums because of the internet. But if you are a big band like Metallica where the fans don't feel any obligations to pay the dues to buy the albums, I think Metallica will suffer severe losses. But a couple of years back, I was upset with the whole internet thing with people downloading MP3s. I'm never going to be a person who downloads an album because I'm obsessed with music and I want to have the packaging and everything."

But is it still easy these days to make a living off the music?

"I'm not sure if it's easier. It's still very hard. For me, I spent several years in poverty with no money or anything. But now since we're the fucking cream of the crop or whatever, we get some money and since I'm the only songwriter in the band, I get all the publishing money. But as for the Peter and the Martin's, they have more problems than I do. Their only income is only if the album recoups. But if they don't get any royalties, their only income is touring and merch fees. It's kind of hard if you are just a musician in the band and not a writer. And I've agreed to split my publishing and give 50 percent of the funds or whatever, something that will keep us and the other guys going. So I'm going to watch their backs as much as I can. But it's still hard."

Well as they say, no rest for the wicked...

"We literally have no time to rest! As I said, we just got back home and here I am doing interviews again. I figure that maybe after all this touring, it's time for a long break. We've set our minds on doing all this touring and press and just kind of become whores of metal pretty much and just do everything the labels tell us to do. And after this is all done, I think we'll retire for a while. I don't think we are going to do something like Damnation again. To be quite honest, I don't know what it's going to be like. I played a little bit of guitar today and it's like... I have no idea. I feel a bit confused with the whole Opeth thing. So I guess I have vague plans to do something. I wanna do something like a two track album. Two 30 minute songs and I've been thinking about doing something with an occult theme (laughs). I dunno why, but I mentioned it to the Martin's, who were black metal kids a few years back, and they were like... shivering. They were so into the idea of doing something evil. The last couple of shows, before our encores, I was talking to the audience saying, 'This next song is dedicated to our lord Satan.' And everybody went fucking crazy!"
Hey looks like ya beat me to it, I was just going to post that my chat with Mike was on our magazine site, but here it is... thanks guys!
Great interview. It saddens me though whenever I hear about an amazing band such as Opeth having some financial difficulties at times. Props to Mikael though for splitting his publishing money and not caring too much about file sharing. It's interviews like these that make me respect the band even more. We're very lucky guys.
Nice interview.

I guess perhaps I'll be the only one skeptical of a possible "black metal" direction for Opeth. I dislike the music mainly because of its rediculous and childish forays into occult and Satanism, and other "evil" things. But maybe I'm just thinking that they're gonna turn into some stereotyped black metal band, but maybe they'll make it awesome. I'm sure they'll make something more interesting than the usual; they are Opeth.
We're also gonna try to rehearse stuff like 'To Bid You Farewell' and all that other stuff


And Porcupine Tree as well?! I MUST SEE THEM ON THIS TOUR.

An occult album would be very interesting....

As would a 2 track one....

Great interview.

Holy shit, I hadn't read the part about To bid you farewell. Tears are coming out of my eyes right now.

No, wait, it's just pus.

Either way, I don't know what to say...I've used up all my dodgy, lame "jokes" already and I'm still excited as hell.

It's just a good thing it'll be a co-headline thing. Same play time :)

And To Bid You Farewell HAS to be encore/closer.


Scratch that, as long as they play it...god. So yeah, that's it, it's quicker to use quick reply again than to modify, so shhht.

guys, this is gonna be fuckin' great, i can't believe that...