OPETH continue to evolve and push musical boundaries with each successive release but their latest album ‘Herigage’ (being released on September 16) is truly one of their greatest evolutionary steps so far. Guitarist Fredrik Åkesson discusses the new album and what makes it so different from past OPETH releases…
NZRock: OPETH fans know to expect something different with every album but even so, do you think that ‘Heritage’ will take them by surprise?
Fredrik: Yeah I think so. It’s quite different. I think it still sounds like OPETH but it’s a bit more maybe 70s sounding. It’s more 70’s prog rock, 70’s hard rock and a little bit of 60’s psychedelica in there. It’s dark and intense at times but it doesn’t have as much of the death metal element in a way.
NZRock: Yeah there are no death metal vocals on the album at all, what was the reason for leaving them out completely?
Fredrik: Well when we had this meeting Michael brought it up I was shocked at first, I wasn’t sure about that you know. That was my reaction, but when I went over to his house and heard the songs there wasn’t really any room for growling vocals on these songs. So I think it’s as simple as that. I still think that Michael developed his clean vocals on this one, they’re more effective in a way than ever.
NZRock: Are you guys nervous or excited about how the album will be received by fans?
Fredrik: I think OPETH fans know that they can never know what to expect. For example ‘Damnation’ which is older, this album is nothing like that. It’s not like we’ve started doing pop music, it’s just as complex as it has always been, it’s just that the sound approach this time is slightly different. We wanted to do a more organic sounding album. We were kind of fed up with the clicky bass drum method of production in contemporary metal. On this recording we took more of an old-school approach to the recording. We really did spend time to get those magic takes you know. It was really cool to do an album without any editing or anything like that. With the guitars, for the heavy riffs we took the distortion down a little bit. And with the bass, it’s more distorted than ever for the more intense parts. I like that sound, it’s cool, the string reacts with how you hit it instead of hiding behind a wall of distortion. You can make it sound hard or soft depending on how hard you hit the string. I mean for example if you listen to the first BLACK SABBATH album there’s not much distortion on the guitars there but it’s still really heavy, you get more of a chorus sound to it.
NZRock: On the last album Michael wrote most of the songs. Did you get to contribute more this time time?
Fredrik: No, actually not haha! On the last album we co-wrote one track and on this new one we did one as well but it’s not on the album, it’s one of the bonues on tracks on the special edition which will be coming out. So just one track on the Heritage album, but I did record a bunch of ideas for the new album, but they were mixed more in the older OPETH style.
NZRock: Are you content with having just the one song this time, or are you wanting to record more of your own original soon?
Fredrik: Yeah absolutely… but Michael is the pilot in OPETH and he has a vision you know, and he usually comes up with pretty good stuff. But he’s open to everybody bringing something to the table and see where it’s going to end up. So it’s no hard feelings like that. But yeah, I’m actually working to record something on my own.
NZRock: This new song ‘Pyre’ that you’ve co-written with Michael, I haven’t heard it yet, is it in the same vein as the rest of the album or is it quite different?
Fredrik: Yeah in a way. It’s a kind of laid back song in a way. It’s a kind of mellow track but it has a cool beat to it and a long guitar solo. I actually went to Michael’s house and showed him a bunch of different riffs and this one I just kind of sat down and played on the guitar. So we recorded a bunch of stuff, did some arrangements and it kind of happened like that.
NZRock: There are some outstanding and complex tracks on the ‘Heritage’ album as with the other OPETH albums. Has being in the band helped push your boundaries in terms of guitar playing?
Fredrik: Absolutely, there are so many different types of playing in OPETH’s music. You have the heavy riffs, you have the more softer leads, the more aggressive leads and then you have more acoustic fingerpicking style. It took me a while to get used to it. I’ve been in the band now for at least four and a half years so it feels like I understand Michael’s way of thinking better now. It’s easier for me to understand the riffs now, but they’re still very tricky haha!
NZRock: The cover artwork on the new album is pretty out there, who came up with the idea for that?
Fredrik: It was Mike’s idea. Our manager said something when he listened to the first track… “I see a tree” and apparently one morning when Michael woke up he has this picture in his head like the tree is burning and the roots going down to hell. But he wanted it to look more like an oil painting approach. Travis smith did the cover and he has done most of the OPETH covers. But he managed to do it totally different. We wanted more of a 70’s type of thing but I still think it’s quite dark even though it has a lot more colours to it if you compare it to older OPETH covers.
NZRock: Before your time in OPETH, you played for some other well known Swedish metal bands like ARCH ENEMY. What was the first big break for you early on in your career?
Fredrik: Well it was when I was 19. I got to play with this band called TALISMAN which was with Jeff Scott Soto on vocals and Marcel Jacob on bass. It was their band and they used to play with Yngwie Malmsteen. so back in that day they were pretty popular and they were one generation older than me so I was the kid in the band. We went to Japan and toured around Europe as well. So yeah it was good because Marcel Jacob the bass player he knew the old school hard rock style so in a way it was like going to school… what you want to do, and what you do not want to do. They went for more the popular culture so we parted ways because I wanted to play more heavier stuff. It was a good experience, so I guess that was the first time that I got to play and make a living out of playing. But then after that I got back to doing shitty jobs playing in the weekends and working in the weeks tearing down buildings and other things. Then after that I think it was when I started to play with TIAMAT and some time after that ARCH ENEMY happened.
NZRock: The ARCH ENEMY sound quite different to OPETH in terms of speed. Do you miss playing that style of music?
Fredrik: Yeah I do like the thrashier stuff but it’s more challenging to play with OPETH. It demands more of you in a way. But playing with ARCH ENEMY was really fun, it was a great time playing with those guys.
NZRock: Not counting anything by OPETH or your other bands, what are your top 3 metal songs of all time?
Fredrik: Oh, that’s a difficult one haha! RAINBOW ‘Tarot Woman’… this is damn difficult actually haha! ‘Powerslave’ by IRON MAIDEN and ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ by BLACK SABBATH.
NZRock: I saw OPETH play in Auckland in 2006 which was a short time before you joined the band. Are there any plans for you guys to come back here sometime soon?
Fredrik: I would love to. I mean I’ve heard so much great stuff about New Zealand. Last time some of the OPETH members stayed out there for a vacation as well. So it’s been talked about and I really hope so. I think that we’ll come. There have been some rumours about it but there’s nothing confirmed. They are talking right now about Australia and New Zealand so fingers crossed.