Born Within Sorrow's Mask
CoC interviews Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth
by: Pedro Azevedo
With so many Swedish metal bands being accused of souding too similar to each other nowadays, there is one that certainly escapes such problems: Opeth. Their ten or more minute long songs that feature no choruses or predictable structures (rather than the occasional use of acoustic guitars, perhaps) have certainly earned them that privilege throughout the years. Of course, having such a vocalist/guitarist as Mikael Akerfeldt and the instrumental quality Opeth always had turns them into a truly outstanding band. After two superb albums (_Orchid_ and _Morningrise_), Opeth are back with _My Arms, Your Hearse_ (reviewed in this issue). Therefore, I proceeded to interview Akerfeldt himself through e-mail in order to find out more about the great band that is Opeth and their new album.

CoC: There are two things that, I believe, immediately make Opeth stand out from all the other bands of its kind. One, vulgar as it may be to mention it, is undoubtedly the sheer length of your songs, which can end up being highly rewarding for the listener. Why do you choose to make such long songs?

Mikael Akerfeldt: We really like those epic tracks ourselves, and I guess that's the main reason why we have long songs. We don't actually write long songs intentionally; they just "turn out" that way. I reckon we have a pretty different songwriting style: we can't quit until we feel that the track is completely finished.

CoC: _My Arms, Your Hearse_ presents shorter songs than your first two efforts, yet they all merge into each other and try to sound continuous. Did you want to make the album sound like one large piece? The relationship between the continuity of the lyrics (a story instead of separate song lyrics) and that of the songs (linked to each other) was not just a coincidence, was it?

MA: No. It was written as a concept, and that was an idea I had been thinking about for a long time! I feel it made the final result be more in one piece, more complete if you will. As it was a concept, I needed more titles to be able to tell the story completely, and that's why the songs ended up a bit shorter this time around.

CoC: Speaking of the lyrics on _Your Arms, My Hearse_, which I enjoyed very much, would you like to shed some more light on the story behind them? What tale are you telling with these lyrics?

MA: It's basically a ghost story written out of pure fiction. It reaches throughout one earthly year. Starts up in Spring, ends in Winter, as you have probably already noticed. This was just to make it somewhat timebased. As usual, I have chosen to write about death, as it is one of those subjects you can write about that can only be based on what you personally think. Nobody can tell you that you're wrong, you know? It's basically about dying but trying to cling to people and subjects left on earth, and even trying to bring them with you to death. A plain ghost story, I'd say.

CoC: The other extraordinary thing of the two I mentioned above is your voice -- it really is remarkable. I'm not just talking about Opeth, but also your participation in one Katatonia album and one EP and also in Edge of Sanity's _Crimson_. What inspires you to perform such vocals?

MA: Dunno! I just love screaming my guts out, and I've been doing it for ten years now, so I guess I've become better. I caught a really bad cold the day before the recording sessions for _My Arms, Your Hearse_, and it affected my normal voice -- but only to the better, I think. But I can scream even though I am totally ill... no problem, I never lose my voice!

CoC: The length of some of your, shall I say, screams is also remarkable. Do you just have a huge pair of lungs or do you use some sort of effects to achieve those long screams?

MA: I don't use any effects apart from the usual reverbs/delays at times, but the screams you speak of are not fake, if that's what you're aiming at.

CoC: Fortunately, the rest of Opeth's music doesn't fail to complement your vocals. How do your songwriting methods work?

MA: I usually come up with the riffs, arrangements and so on, but I usually write together with Peter [Lindgren, guitarist], as I feel it's important for a band to let everybody say what they think, and Peter's my right hand in Opeth, so...! We just basically hang around at his place banging our acoustic guitars until something comes out!

CoC: Has everything worked out allright with the two new band members [drummer Martin Lopez and bassist Martin Mendez]?

MA: Yes, I am satisfied with them, although we have to work more together. The drummer has done only one album and a couple of gigs, and the bassist has only done three gigs or so. They are good musicians, but I have to work on them a bit to make them become perfect!

CoC: One of the bands you thank in _Orchid_ is Katatonia, a band you have worked with. How was it like to work with Blackheim and the other Katatonia members?

MA: They're my best friends, and I really like their music! But they are so lazy to work with... They just hang around, drinking coffee and tokin' on cigarettes. I've done some vocals for them and played a couple of shows. On _Discouraged Ones_ I ended up doing vocal lines for them, as they had virtually nothing ready when they were supposed to start recording the vox! I ended up being a co-producer, which was a different role. I worked with them at Sunlight studios for a week or so, and it was cool!

CoC: And how was it like to work with Dan Swano on _Crimson_?

MA: Again, he's a very good friend of mine, so I could not refuse! I really like(d) Edge of Sanity [Swano left the band a few months ago -- Pedro] and everything Dan has done. He's basically a great guy and an incredible musician.

CoC: Swano produced both _Orchid_ and _Morningrise_, and I know he enjoys your music a lot. How important was his role in the development of Opeth?

MA: He did more for us than we knew at the time. He became Opeth's fifth member during the recordings. He made many of the basic decisions.

CoC: _My Arms, Your Hearse_, however, was recorded in the Fredman studios, now that Swano's Unisound is closed. How would you compare the results?

MA: I'll put it like this: both are absolutely great studios; the first two albums [_Orchid_ and _Morningrise_] could only have been recorded at Unisound, while the third [_My Arms, Your Hearse_] could only have been recorded at Fredman! _MAYH_ demanded a heavier and fatter sound, and therefore Fredman was the perfect choice for us. I am very satisfied with the results!

CoC: What bands would you name as having influenced Opeth's sound?

MA: There's too many to mention! Basically all good music influences us... Black Sabbath, Camel, Morbid Angel are somewhat mentors to me.

CoC: Were you personally influenced by a specific vocalist in what concerns your usual raspy Opeth voice?

MA: David Vincent [Morbid Angel], Chuck Schuldiner [Death], Quorthon [Bathory] and Christofer Johnsson [Therion] all made a big impact on me when their best works came out, but they didn't really affect my way of screaming.

CoC: What did you try to achieve with _My Arms, Your Hearse_, relative to your previous albums?

MA: The only thing that makes us satisfied after recording a new album is to feel that it's better or at least equal to the last. There's not much to achieve in the world of death metal apart from more recognition and more fans. I don't know, we don't kiss anybody's butt, and we play mainly for ourselves. We are fortunate that some people are on the same wavelength as we are.

CoC: What changes will there be in the future, concerning the direction of Opeth's music and your vocals?

MA: I can't say now. All the new material I've written so far has come out very mellow and calm. I don't know what it means!

CoC: There's a third thing that, if not entirely unique, is at least unusual in Opeth: none of the original front covers of your three albums so far had the Opeth logo nor the album title. Why?

MA: We started this on _Orchid_ because it simply didn't look good to have the logo there, on the cover. Afterwards, we decided to keep that as one of the "special" Opeth things!

CoC: What are your touring plans?

MA: I don't know right now. PHD are working to arrange a European tour for us, but nothing's complete at this stage.

CoC: Is there any final message you'd like to send to our readers?

MA: Yes, check out the new album! I hope to see you on tour!

(article submitted 8/7/1998)

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