Opeth have been one of the most innovative bands on the metal circuit for nearly three decades. Having formed in 1989, the Stockholm based five-piece have gone on to release twelve albums since 1995's debut Orchid. Fusing influences ranging from prog and ambient rock to death metal and more besides, they've been cited by many bands down the years not only as a main source of inspiration but in some cases a reason for their existence.
Currently playing the final few shows of what's been a long summer on the European festival circuit before returning to the UK for a handful of shows in November, DiS spoke to founder member and lead vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt about the longevity Opeth have enjoyed throughout their 28 years and why he dislikes playing live.
DiS: You've played a lot of festivals this summer. Which has been your favourite so far?
Mikael Åkerfeldt: For me personally I like the smaller festivals. Ones where they have time to cater for your needs rather than just ship you in and straight again after you've played. Finnish festivals are the best. They have great food and it's always in a beautiful place. Whereas with the bigger ones it's easy to get lost because there's usually so much going on.
You formed Opeth 28 years ago and you're still one of the most forward thinking metal acts today. What would you say is the reason for your longevity?
Just sticking around I guess? We've been lucky in the sense there's always been some type of interest for us. Every record label we've ever been on always picks up the option for us to do another album. Which then leads onto another tour and inevitably the band ends up building its fanbase. I'd like to think the quality of our music has something to do with it too. I think we've always done something a little different to most of our peers.
Opeth have always incorporated a diverse range of sounds, styles and ideas into their music. Are there any other directions which you see the band's music heading in the future?
I'm a rock guy generally so I guess we've pretty much exhausted that kind of thing. There's always much more you can do with any genre. Although at the same time, there is no specific genre I'm particularly interested in or want to bring into the band. Because I'm a pretentious guy I'd love to have more strings incorporated into our music; we worked with strings on the last two records and it sounds so beautiful. So maybe that? I know it's been done to death by a shitload of bands but we haven't done it as much so I think it's something we'll definitely come back to at some point.
Your most recent album Sorceress came out last year. Are thee any plans for a new record?
No. Nothing actually. I demo stuff with pro-tools and I've actually forgotten how to use them so before we start thinking about a new record, I'll have to relearn how to use pro-tools first. It's been a while since I wrote; I start writing and then I finish as soon as the record is done - I don't write a little bit here and there, I prefer to write everything together in one go. We've been touring a lot this year so I've not really had time, and I don't have any ideas at the moment either.
You're playing some shows in the UK in November. What can fans expect from the shows? Will the sets be mainly based around the last record or will they be more career spanning?
The album will not by brand new by November but it will still be a Sorceress tour so I would expect us to play at least three songs from that album every night. We normally play a lot of shows when we tour the UK but because we played Wembley last time round we aren't doing as many on this tour. I'd like to think we'll mix it up a bit. Play some songs off most if not all of the albums. We haven't really discussed it yet, to be honest. We're touring with our Norwegian friends Enslaved and it's not a long tour so I think we'll be up for the duration. I hope people show up to the shows. We have this thing going on in Nottingham with a bunch of policemen; I got duped by this guy online who sold me a record but never sent it, so I filed a police report. He was based in Nottingham so it went to their police department, and it turned out some of them were fans of our music. So they always come to our shows now whenever we play there.
Do you find there's much difference between UK audiences and the ones back home?
I wouldn't like to say Scandinavian audiences are boring because when I go to shows myself I'm hanging by the bar, drinking beer or whatever. But that's kind of how it is. In fact, that's more Sweden than the rest of Scandinavia. Norway is good. Finland too. Denmark has become amazing all of a sudden. It's been shit forever but now it's really good there. The UK audiences are very similar to American ones. They like to yell out things which is OK. Even in nice posh places! But that's alright. Generally, they're a good crowd in the UK. We always focus a lot on the shows whenever we play there. We're anglophiles.
Would you ever relocate to the UK?
I would want a country house in the UK. Maybe. I've been talking to my girlfriend about travelling around here as she also loves the UK. But I'm not sure whether I'd move there? I love Sweden too. England is a beautiful country and the people are funny. They've also latched onto the IPA trend. Finally! Once you start you can't go back.
Do you prefer working in the studio or playing live?
Working in the studio. Definitely. I don't particularly like playing live. If somebody said to me you'll never play live again I'd be OK with that.
Why is that?
When we started out I used to love playing live because it was like an ego fix. But now we've done it a million times I don't need that fix anymore. I'm more excited about experimenting with music, that's where I feel more fulfilled. Like I've got something to say, something to do. Whereas when I'm on stage I don't feel like a natural performer.
What would you say is the definitive Opeth record and why?
It's always going to be the latest record, so I'd have to say Sorceress. I think the band is so good now it's actually quite scary! I get quite protective that nothing can happen now because we're so good. We play so well together at the moment.
Do you think Fredrik Åkesson joining in 2007 brought a whole new dimension to the band?
Definitely. I'm not a particularly good musician but I can write songs that are interesting to a certain extent. But I'm not a muso type of guy. I like to piece things together and make them exciting. Hopefully make a good record or whatever. Whereas now we've reached a point where the musicians in this band are top notch - myself excluded. It's not false modesty. I don't have any aspirations to be the best guitar player or best singer -it's kind of a non-appeal for me. But I have a fascination for music, I know a lot about it, and I consume so much music and through that I've found a musicality of my own that allows me to write songs. And I've surrounded myself with musicians that can perform them which is great.
Are there any current bands you've seen that are carrying on Opeth's legacy?
I'm sure there are but then those bands are probably focusing too heavily on what we were doing ten or fifteen years ago. Which is cool, but when I hear those bands it's a bit old hat for me. I think bands who are trying to do something that's too close to what we were doing is probably bad for business.
Are there any new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
Because I collect records, I'd probably be better at recommending old bands that never made it! There's a Swedish band called Thirty Years War who are still relevant today. They're in their 60s and still making new music. For me, they're more exciting than most of the new groups I hear. I would say Ghost are my favourite new band but I expect everybody already knows about them. They make ABBA songs with distortion! I love Abba.
What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
For more information on Opeth, please visit their official website.