Interview with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth


Reigning from Stockholm in Sweden are Opeth, one of the forefathers of Melodic Death Metal. Upon releasing their seventh album Pale Communion and celebrating their silver anniversary, the band are returning to Australian shores for the first time in several years.

Vocalist and guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt is far from feeling anxious for upcoming tours and is simply ready to get up on stage. “We just did a few shows in Greece and Turkey around two weeks ago and we have the setlist ready for Australia” the front man says with confidence – “we might squeeze in one or two rehearsals and then we should be ready to go.”

Opeth never rehearse much according to Akerfeldt. “We might play the setlist a couple of times and see if there are any songs in there that we find completely boring or dull to play and then we might switch it around.”

The growler come singer is unsure of the last time the band came to Australia but suggests the period to be around December 2011. “We toured twice in Australia for the Heritage record and tour cycle.

“We have been offered to play both Big Day Out and Soundwave over the years but we’ve always decided to do our own tours.”

Though the Swede’s time machine is imperfect, his memories of Australia are more grounded. “The last time we were down there we did a few obscure songs and one [in particular] that barely anyone throughout the entire tour worldwide really knew.” The guitarist giggles under the circumstances. “It was a song that I wrote for a game called God of War [and released on a] compilation CD so we decided to play that song and nobody really knew it.”

Akerfeldt transitions to a less amusing memory in Sydney when the band were playing a setlist heavily populated with recent material. “We weren’t doing any of the screaming songs there, and people were like ‘what the f*** dude? Play some f***ing  heavy s*** dude’ – so that was challenging for us” he reveals.

Similarly, the front man has dealt with a select few outraged fans’ who have not digested Opeth’s musical maturity too well; he shares an anecdote.

“I remember in Sweden a drunk guy came up to me and he was like ‘what the f*** are you doing? You’re so talented, you had the best voice for it and now you’re doing this s*** (referring to clean vocals)’ and I responded ‘well I just felt that I couldn’t write good stuff with that style for now and I couldn’t come up with anything that I found interesting’. He looked at me and paused for like ten seconds, which felt like an eternity and finally turned to me and asks ‘but why don’t you do heavy s***?’ (the front man laughs hysterically).”

The example above is the epitome of the band’s fanbase minority who do not fully understand the musicians’ intentions. “They have a hard time understanding that they don’t call the shots for the band and perhaps they don’t know what is best for the band.”

The 40-year-old goes on to explain that Opeth are not a sell-out band and will continue to do what they feel is right at any given time. “On a strictly commercial level, if we wanted to avoid any type of confrontation, we would do music that we think that the fans want to hear; records like Blackwater Park and Ghost Reveries came about on those same premises, so that’s how we still want to work.

“We’re not a corporation, we don’t treat this band like a money making machine or as a plan to dominate the world; we’re not business men, we’re musicians and artists, we’re the very pure kind of interest in music.”

That being said, Akerfeldt respects his fanbase too much to entirely indulge in the music experimentation he itches for. “I don’t want to scare people off even further (he laughs), but of course there are styles of music that I love but I haven’t really taken them in yet.”

Upon reflection of his influences, the metal musician draws on his opinions of musical styles that are popular today and that the majority is too reliant on perfection. “So much music I listen to at the moment has perfect recordings, is all auto-tuned, is really strict and boxed into a category; it makes me restless.”

The vocalist derives the element that is missing from music these days – “these releases don’t have any rough edges, I mean we’ve done some records like that ourselves and they are not my favourite records either, but I want the vocalist to sing out of pitch and I want to feel that it’s human playing” as opposed to “a sound of computers playing.”

The Scandinavian admits that even death metal has discoursed to this undesirable route. “I like the rough bands from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s like Autopsy and Obituary; those bands didn’t at all linger on perfection at all.

“I don’t want death metal to be too slick and too perfect.”

These statements might contradict many Opeth fans’ perceptions of the band who may argue for the band’s musical perfection, but perhaps in a different way.

Australian punters are looking forward to the band’s musical perfection treating us in May. “We’re playing for longer than two hours and we’re doing songs from every record apart from the first one” due to time restrictions and venue curfews.

“I think we’re at the right time limit for people. When the show is over, I want people to feel like ‘that was a nice f***ing meal. I’m full, I don’t really want more but if they will play another song to go with that chocolate mousse I would go for it.”

Ricky Aarons