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12th November 2012
METAL DISCOVERY: Would you say a lot of so-called prog-metal bands are actually more regressive than progressive?
FREDRIK: To be honest, I don’t keep a hundred per cent track of all prog-metal bands because there are a lot of them, I guess. So I don’t know what to say really because I need to hear them all to be able to say something reasonable about it.
(Fredrik Åkesson on the Opeth frontman's creative sincerity)
"Mikael’s very artistic because he doesn’t care really. He just follows what his heart wants to do which is very cool..."
Fredrik Åkesson backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 12th November 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
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Opeth Official Facebook:
Orchid (1995)
Morningrise (1996)
My Arms, Your Hearse (1998)
Still Life (1999)
Thanks to Michelle Kerr for arranging the interview.
Deliverance (2002)
Damnation (2003)
Ghost Reveries (2005)
The Roundhouse Tapes (2007)
Blackwater Park (2001)
Watershed (2008)
Heritage (2011)
MD: But you know what I mean, though, by the Dream Theater clones where bands play in multiple time signatures, bunging in a bit of jazz or whatever and then presume they’re being progressive?
FREDRIK: It can become a bit boring if it becomes too much music school. A lot of those bands can do very technical stuff and virtuoso solos and amazing drum fills but if there’s no song there…that’s the difficult part, I guess.
MD: So it’s more about the feeling than the technique would you say?
FREDRIK: Yeah. One band… Headspace… the keyboard player from Ozzy Osbourne…
MD: Adam Wakeman.
FREDRIK: Adam Wakeman, yes, yes, yes. I got their album and it was good progressive metal. There are a lot of really good melodies there as well as technical stuff.
MD: I interviewed his dad, Rick Wakeman, a couple of years ago and he said that buying prog records in the 70s was like “the porn of the music industry”. Do you think prog-metal is a marginalised genre in that way?
FREDRIK: No…maybe it’s because there are more different bands now compared to all the Dream Theater clones. That’s at least what I think when I hear the term ‘progressive metal’. You have bands like Mastodon where the songs are very different…in some kind of way they’re prog-metal. So there are more angles to it now. But it’s always difficult when people categorise music.
MD: And having a genre of progressive is kind of a paradox anyway because as soon as something’s identified as a genre then you have rules and restrictions of that genre. If you have rules and restrictions then how can you progress?
FREDRIK: Where’s the limit? When does it become progressive? Is it because you have an extra guitar solo in an odd time signature? So that’s a good question.
MD: Yeah, exactly, yeah. For me, I always define progressive as more of an attitude towards creating music than actually being able to label it as progressive. So I guess it should never be regarded as a genre but more an attitude and feeling towards making music.
FREDRIK: Yeah, with no formula so to speak.
MD: Exactly. You said in an interview earlier this year that you’re “fortunate to be in a band where we sometimes make bold steps aside from the routine.” Has the future been discussed much in terms of what other “bold steps” might lie ahead?
FREDRIK: No, not really. Mike’s written a couple of tunes so far but it’s really too early to say anything about the new album. We’re gonna tour up to the summer, do a couple of festivals, and then start focussing on recording a new album.
MD: And those couple of tunes might get deleted anyway!
MD: So as bold as you like to be as a band, are you ever worried that something might be a step too far or is it always a matter of prioritising band aspirations over audience expectations? Like do you ever think, ‘we can’t do that as that’ll be just a bit too radical for our fans’?
FREDRIK: I thought about it when we did ‘Heritage’. It took me a while to get used to the idea. Mikael’s very artistic because he doesn’t care really. He just follows what his heart wants to do which is very cool and is metal I think.
MD: Yeah, and that goes back to the feeling of being progressive rather than thinking about it too much.
FREDRIK: Yeah but, then again, on the ‘Heritage’ side, I would say there are some riffs there that if we played with a more distorted guitar sound and more aggressive, it would’ve been death metal-ish.
MD: The ‘Heritage’ stuff sounds heavier live as well.
FREDRIK: It’s a bit heavier live because we used single coil pickups when we did the album and now we use humbuckers. An early approach when there was going to be heavier guitar riffs, we wanted to use the neck pickup to get a more muddy type of sound. That was the general idea.
MD: I guess you get a warmer, meatier sound with the humbuckers.
FREDRIK: Yeah, it is, a bit fatter.
MD: I have to ask, you got animated recently for an interview with MK Ondergrond…
FREDRIK: [laughs]
MD: …where you became a cartoon character for the interview.
FREDRIK: I saw it and it was funny.
MD: Were you happy with your cartoon guise? Is that how you envisaged you’d be as a cartoon?!
FREDRIK: I thought they made me look like a little boy or something!
MD: They animated Devin Townsend recently too, that one was quite interesting.
FREDRIK: I didn’t see that, I’ll have to check it out. I went to see his show actually, two days ago in Stockholm and it was great.
MD: What do you think of the new Devin album, ‘Epicloud’?
FREDRIK: I haven’t listened to it carefully yet but the songs I heard live were cool.
MD: It’s fantastic. You shared a stage with Bill Bailey at Sonisphere last year – I gather he became a bit of an Opeth fan after seeing you, is that true? I noticed he was wearing an Opeth t-shirt in an interview.
FREDRIK: I heard some rumours he liked Opeth. But we never got to say “hi” to him. When he had his show it was raining, very intensely, so I didn’t see much but I think he’s very funny. I’ve watched a lot of stuff on the internet.
MD: So are you a fan of Bill Bailey now then?
FREDRIK: Yeah, yeah. So, of course, it’s very cool he likes Opeth… if he does!
MD: Okay, here’s a completely random question…actually, I asked someone else this recently too…Sir Christopher Lee is about to release his second metal album…was you aware he had a first one?
FREDRIK: I was only aware of the stuff he’s done with Rhapsody.
MD: He had his own metal album out two years ago…well, there was a metal band and orchestra on there but he was singing with his baritone opera voice and he’s about to release another at the age of ninety. If you could see any actor transformed into the most unlikely of metal frontmen, who would it be and why?
FREDRIK: He’s perfect, I would say, since he’s Sauron in ‘Lord of the Rings’ and with all his history with horror. I can’t think of anyone better!
MD: Ah, so that’s a good answer then, you’re all for Christopher Lee becoming a metal star?
FREDRIK: Absolutely! I can’t think of anyone else…. there must be somebody… it’s not Tom Cruise at least!
MD: Oh god yeah, like in that new movie he’s in, ‘Rock of Ages’…
FREDRIK: I haven’t seen it yet but I saw the trailer and that’s enough!
MD: The final thing then - Opeth have achieved so much as a band but do you have any goals and aspirations that remain unfulfilled at the present time? Would you like to top the Royal Albert Hall show, for example, and aim bigger?
FREDRIK: Absolutely. I mean, it would be great if you could expand and become bigger and then you can do more expansive light shows.
MD: Would you ever hope Opeth could become an arena band one day?
FREDRIK: You can’t say you wouldn’t mind… I wouldn’t mind at all but I think we’re really happy where we are right now. Absolutely. It would be nice to headline arenas but the first focus is to do what we want to do – focus on the music and if that happens… all we can do, basically, is try to do our best. If it happens, it happens.
MD: It’s simply a bonus if it happens.
FREDRIK: Yeah. It’s not that I’m thinking, ‘ohhh, we have to become an arena band’. The music is always most important.
MD: Very good closing words. Okay, thank you so much for your time, appreciated.
FREDRIK: My pleasure, thank you.