Heavier in a Different Way

Opeth

Good evening, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! How are you?

I’m alright! I’m just practicing some guitar. Doing lots of interviews today, so this will be the last for today.

Alright! Well, I’ll be a bit gentle with you then.

*Laughs* well no worries. Just shoot!

How are things in the world of Opeth at the moment?

Right now we are preparing to play our last festival for the summer. We are playing at Pukkelpop this upcoming friday. Also there’s a lot of promotion going on. We’re talking about setlists and stuff for the tour that’s coming up in the fall, first in the US and then in Europe.

Yeah, there are probably a lot of things to prepare, with a new album on the horizon.

Absolutely. We picked a lot of songs, so there are a lot of songs to rehearse. We are trying out different tracks, and we try to play different songs from older albums that we haven’t played, to mix it up.

Do you think they mix well for use in a live set?

Absolutely! I think that the older, more death metal type of material actually blends with the new stuff pretty cool, it has a crazy cool dynamic, even though during the live shows we play around sixty percent of the older growl stuff. It works pretty good I think.

I can’t wait to hear it for myself. I do need to go see you live somewhere this year.

Okay! Are you from Holland?

Yes I am.

We are playing in Amsterdam I believe, no, Tilburg, in the 013.

That’s even closer to me, so that’s even better.

It’s a great venue, one of the best in Europe I think.

I really like it, and it’s been improved a lot since they remodelled it a few years ago.

I heard about that. I haven’t been there since then. The last time we played there was at the Roadburn festival.

Very nice. I just spent the whole day listening to your amazing new album SORCERESS. Can you tell our readers a bit about the new record? What did you set out to do with this album, and did you achieve it?

In the beginning there was a lot of talk that we wanted to make it a bit more heavy, add a bit more guitar, to make that more dominant. We talked a lot about doomy, single string type of riffs, but then it kind of went somewhere else. Still I think, if you compare it to the latest two albums, it’s the heaviest one, even though it has a lot of prog rock influences, but it’s heavier in a different way. A more hard-rock kind of heaviness.

Yeah exactly. The first responses that you get to your first single already say it’s more doomy, more stoner metal.  

*laughs* I think on this album every track is very different, even though there are some very heavy bits, they are quite different from each other. I think that particular song, the first single is quite different from other Opeth songs. It’s a bit stony and doomy, like you said.

Yes. The first responses I saw to the single is that people thought it actually was less heavy.

Okay! *laughs*

It surprised me a bit, but it might be just the single. Just that song.

Yeah. Have you listened to the other stuff? There are quite some intense moments on the album, and some very intricate parts as well. It has a bit of everything I think. For us the sequence of the album is very important. You’re supposed to listen from the beginning to the end.

It builds up really slowly. It has this nice mellow intro to the music, and it really builds from there, I really enjoyed that.

I’m happy with the intro as well, “Persephone”. It was named after this Greek goddess, who was forced to live with Hades in the death realm and all that. Just a bit of Greek mythology there. It has this kind of Quentin Tarantino vibe to it almost, which is kind of different *laughs*. A Spanish, spaghetti, Clint Eastwood type of movie, something like that. Ennio Morricone.

It’s almost cinematic indeed. It sets the tone.

I’m very happy how it turned out. I also think the album has more calmer sequences in the middle of it, with “The Seventh Soldier” which kind of a waypoint for the second half of the album. We have this song which structure wise kind of reminds me of the older Opeth, even though it’s different, the song “Strange Brew” that me and Mikael co-wrote together. It has some bluesy heavy riffs in it, that we really haven’t done before. Also the last track “Era” is quite different. It’s maybe slightly uplifting, compared to the other songs, lyric wise. I think this album, if you describe it, it has some very strong melodies. Some songs are more direct in a way, they grew on from long chunks, instead of breaking it down to heavy verses and more dynamic parts. It’s a bit less of that, but it still exists, of course.

I really like the variety of sounds on the album as well. It’s a really diverse record I think.

I’m glad to hear that.

We already noticed there is a bit of a sound change between SORCERESS and the earlier albums, is there something you did differently this time?

Well technically, for instance on HERITAGE we used guitars that create a kind of strat, Richie Blackmore type of sound. On this album we went back to the Humbuckers and we decided we wanted a more heavy guitar sound. On the previous two albums we only did that for the main rhythm guitars. We only did one on each side, I did left and Mikael did right. This time we overdubbed ourselves. And we used different amps, different guitars, different drums… We recorded in the same room, with the same technician, but lots of details were different this time. Also with the approach with the mix and the production, we wanted to get a bit more compressed, a fatter sound, with the drums louder. Like, the kick-drum up. A bit more fatness overall *laughs*

A bit more fatness, I like that. That’s a good quote! *laughs*

More meat.

Absolutely. Where it comes to your more doomy influences on this album, could it be that those were inspired by your earlier collaborations with Mats Leven from Candlemass?

Well, Mike and Leif Edling have also been great friends for a long time. I think Candlemass has been an influence for all of us in a way. But also of course, Black Sabbath is in our DNA, you know? We grew up with that. But for me personally, maybe! I played a lot with Leif and I love Doom. Also Mikael loves Doom. There is usually a Doom riff here and there on each album. On Heritage you had a couple of Doom riffs as well. That was actually something we talked about before we started. We wanted to make doomy single string heavy riffs on this album. There is some of that on this album, but it kind of turned into something else as well.

Opeth is a band that’s never been afraid of experimenting with styles, influences and sounds. Which styles do you feel shine through the brightest in this particular release?

I think the progressive hard rock type of style, which we were aiming towards. It’s kind of progressive but still hard rock to me. It’s a mix of everything really. It’s hard to describe in a sentence. The soup has many ingredients.

*laughs* of course. It’s Opeth!

Yeah *laughs* it has like so many different layers. We have the acoustic, folky, almost a bit Jethro Thull, “Dun Ringill” from the Stormwatch album. We listened a lot to that one, and the song “Will O The Wisp”, the working title for that song was actually Jethro. There are a lot of different influences on the album. Basically we’re heavy rock-heads, metalheads, those are our roots, but we do listen to lots of other psychedelic stuff. Everything from Jazz to Classical basically, to extreme metal.

In the song “The Seventh Sojourn” I even detect a few Aladdin type, middle eastern sounding influences!

Yes. Also Indian type of string arrangements. I’ve always been a fan of those kinds of arrangements. They use a lot of quarter notes and stuff. Led Zeppelin has been into that kind of stuff before as well. But that’s a bit different, quite oriental sounding, yes.

It was a nice surprise between all the all the other tracks.

It’s like a wavelength between the first and the second half of the album in a way. Also on that track we got to work with Wil Malone, he recorded the strings. It’s a real string section. I think it’s 23 people or something like that and he was the guy who arranged the strings on Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. He also worked on “Sabotage” I believe, maybe “Masters Of Reality”, I’m not sure. He actually also produced the very first Iron Maiden album and he’s done many great works with many big artists, from Elton John to yeah, other pop stuff.

It sounds like he made some nice pieces of history there.

It was very cool that he said yes, and took on the offer to record those strings. It makes a huge difference to go that extra mile, and use the real deal, compared to using plugins that we had on the demo. You can definitely tell the difference. You know it makes it more expensive and all that *laughs*

Well if it’s real music, you always feel it.

Yes, we don’t want to cheap out on stuff, we want to do it with the real deal.

Much appreciated, you can definitely hear the difference in quality.

Thank you!

There have been many discussions amongst metal fans whether or not Opeth is still Metal. We at Metal On Loud that it all depends on how you define the genre Metal. So, the question here is, what is Metal to you?

That is a good question. I agree with you, it’s of course how you define it. For me, when I grew up, Metal was Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but to some people today that is Classic Rock. So I don’t really know any more. If Nu-metal is Metal to you, then count me out, you know? *laughs* I’m more a fan of the classic Metal. I like the extreme Metal from the nineties as well, like Autopsy and Entombed and all that. Morbid Angel and some other Black Metal stuff as well. Emperor, Mayhem. I think that if you come to see us live, I would still consider us a Metal band to some extent, but as I mentioned before, there are so many ingredients in the soup, but we can definitely put out some good Metal when we want to.

I agree! I think the Metal landscape is a very wide one and there are many different little areas in it.

It is. There are so many different genres within the Metal scene. As you said, it’s a big umbrella.

Do you also feel that the genre as a whole is still evolving?

I’d like to think so, yeah. I’m pretty bad at keeping track of all the new bands and stuff. I’m not a huge fan of some of the modern Metal productions, where everything is cut up, cut and paste and it’s very perfect, you know? Someone went in and polished all the drum takes and moved everything on the grid. To us, that’s too sterile, and there are a lot of productions out like that. I get bored pretty fast with those, because I can tell. It’s been dissociated over and over again. I kind of like the more alive, a bit dirty sounds.

Yes. Where you still hear a few rough edges and you can tell it’s real music.

Exactly. I mean, of course you want to nail everything as tight as possible when you record it, but to move everything straight on the grid, it becomes too machinery.

I agree. It becomes overproduced.

That’s one thing that we thought about with this latest album, that’s something we don’t want. If it has a good feel to it, leave it. Not everything has to be perfect, perfect, perfect. As long as you feel the part. Also on many of your favorite albums, you can hear tiny mistakes in the old Sabbath albums and it adds to the atmosphere I think. It makes it more human.  But there are a lot of bands that sound like that as well, newer bands from the stonier era. They don’t polish everything.

I even heard some bands, I don’t recall the names right now, they did one-takers of certain songs. I can appreciate that as well.

Yes, like the old school days, like when you played with James Brown you only had one take, otherwise you would be fired!

*laughs* Exactly. Do it right the first time!

You should have that mentality when you record *laughs* Practice!

I really loved the artwork on this album as well. That’s one brutal peacock! What does it represent to you?

Yes *laughs* That idea came on quite early. Mike had the idea about the peacock, the evil kind of peacock. Some interviewer said the bird is Opeth having a nice meal, but it’s a bit of a joke answer in a way. But in a way it’s like that. The bird has the old chain ring on it’s ankle. Or maybe it could symbolise that after all is gone nature will conquer all, something like that. There are many possible interpretations.

It’s like with all art and poetry, the message depends on the one who interprets it.

Yes, it’s a bit of a cliche answer maybe, but when you read a book you get your own images. We were really keen on this idea and once again, Travis Smith has been working with Opeth since “Still Life”, and like on the previous two albums, “Pale Communion” and “Heritage”, we went for the more oil painting type of vibe. I think it’s pretty cool.  There’s some other artwork inside of it, that you will see later on, especially the band picture is pretty funny. Actually, it’s a bit ironic. *laughs*

I’m looking forward to that! One of the things I thought I saw in the artwork was something that’s beautiful on the outside, that can still be a very ugly thing, it’s eating corpses.

*laughs* yeah.  That’s a good contrast between the beauty and the ugliness. Maybe it has to do with our past as well. The “Heritage” cover had the hell in the bottom and a beautiful tree on top. It both relates, energy wise I would say. Birds can look beautiful, but nature can be pretty raw as well. If a crow finds a corpse, it will eat it, without hesitation.

Absolutely, that’s nature. Lyrically, what’s the new record about? What influenced the themes that were used?

For me, Mike wrote all the lyrics, so I couldn’t go too deep into it. I know some of the lyrics are based around the negative sides of being in love. It’s not just happiness all the time. Some are a bit misanthropic, stuff like that. I guess it’s up for interpretation, another boring answer! *laughs*. They’re usually quite personal to Mikael. I know he put a lot of effort into the lyrics. When I joined the band, when we did “Watershed” for instance, he finished the lyrics in the studio, right at the end. But this time around, when the demo was complete, the lyrics were also complete. They were done in the earlier stages of the writing process.

So you could say that the inspiration for the music usually comes first for you, and the lyrical themes follow later?

Maybe sometimes he has a few notes of a couple of lines, maybe that can be inspiration to a riff as well. It can be both ways, but usually it’s the music; like a riff or a beat or something, a melody line that’s the start of a song. From there it builds on and on. For me personally, I like to read the lyrics in the demo stages. You get the vibe of the song, the depth of the song as well when you record it. If you do a solo on this track and maybe subconsciously if you read the lyrics, you color it differently. I don’t know. It sound a bit hippy perhaps.

Well, I can see that. I think with good music that the instrumentals and the lyrics should always complement each other. It’s not just, we write something and we put some music under it and it will work out. Usually they influence each other.

Yes, that’s the optimal situation I think.

You joined the band back in 2007. At that point the band already had quite the track record. But then again, so did you. Was it hard for you to blend into the band at that point?

No, it was really smooth actually. Of course it was a challenge music wise, to learn all these complex arrangements and these very long songs with many different riffs in them. Sometimes we stand on stage and we look at each other like how can we remember all this? It’s all muscle memory I reckon. Also, going into the more acoustic parts, I had to put a lot of time and practice into that. But chemistry wise it felt gut right from the start. We knew each other a little bit earlier because we were on the same tour in 2006, when I was in Arch Enemy. We toured together in America, so we spent quite some time together. Especially me and Martín Méndez and Mikael Åkerfeldt, during that trip. Maybe that laid some kind of chemistry foundation for what we didn’t know was going to happen after that. Also, it’s been a pleasure, because I still feel that the band develops all the time. I think we play better and better shows, we are performing really good live shows. It feels like a solid unit. It feels like we have a new territory we can reach, even after this album.

If you listen to the album you can hear it’s a good unit. You play well together.

Thank you so much!

The first album you did with Opeth, “Watershed” in 2008, you already wrote one of the songs on that, “Porcelain Heart”. How big is your influence in the creative process, and who does what

creatively?

I think Mikael has always been the main pilot of the band, but I always record lots of ideas at my home studio and present them to Mike. He enjoys listening to it and there were several ideas that he liked. On this album, the song “Strange Brew” is a collaboration between me and Mike. I kind of had the seed for the theme for that song that I recorded, then I went down to the studio and we kind of did it very different from what I recorded *laughs* It went somewhere else. It’s really interesting with Mike when he has ideas. He can just change the drum beat completely backwards than I was thinking from the beginning and create something like, well, you’re a bit crazy, how did you come up with that. I really enjoy collaborating with him, even though he’s a bit of a lone wolf and does a lot of things on his own. During the writing process, I live pretty close, so he asks me to come down many times. He wanted some feedback, so I listen and lay down some guitar solos. We actually started working on a second track that was just half done, we didn’t finish it in time for the album. So it’s fun. He always welcomes ideas. It’s not like he’s a dictator and wants to write everything, but he always comes up with a lot of interesting stuff. He is a very focussed songwriter, when he has a vision he has the strength to throw away stuff. Me, I can have lots of riffs laying around where I think, that’s kind of cool, I’ll leave it for a while. But he doesn’t hesitate the slightest bit, he throws it away. He just deletes it.

Kill your darlings *laughs*

Yeah. *laughs* So yeah, he’s a very disciplined, focussed writer.

He knows what he likes and he goes for it.

Yes, and he doesn’t compromise at all.

That’s a very good quality to have!

Yes, and it’s very inspiring to me. Since I joined the band, the way I look at coming up with riffs, I see more freedom in that. It doesn’t have to be the traditional way of building songs, you know?

Stay off the beaten path a bit!

Yes, even though I think on this album some songs are more, it’s not just a pile of riffs stacked on each other, it flows like a song, but there’s always something that’s going to surprise you.

I agree. In what ways is working as part of Opeth different from your earlier projects, like Krux, Talisman and Southpaw?

With Opeth we work so hard, and we work a lot, and it’s a privilege to be able to focus on a band that’s serious, and tour a lot. Just the luxury of being able to just survive on playing with one band, it’s one of the goals I had early on. Even though it’s fun to play with different stuff. The other bands you mentioned never worked on this level before, so it’s a huge difference really. When I played with Arch Enemy, that was just touring. That was also very aggressive touring actually, that was a good school before this, to do those 150 shows in one and a half year, but if you’re talking about hard work, that was the most similar previous band. The other bands never really toured properly. A couple of weeks here or there, but no going to South America, or the United States or Australia, or stuff like that.

Real tours are tough to do.

Yes, but we have cut down a little bit. A few years back we did these seven week long tours in America, but now we cut down, so we only do three and a half weeks maximum in a row, then we need to go back home for at least ten days. However, this fall we start off in America now, playing the Ozzfest with Sabbath, Megadeth and Disturbed I believe, and then we do a European tour. We only have five days break in between. So it’s a pretty tight schedule this autumn.

Busy, busy!

Yeah, it’s good. I mean, we’ve been off since November last year, touring wise. We did the album, and the first show we played was in Sweden, opening up for Iron Maiden in front of 55,000 people. After nine months of no touring that was like, wow, good start.

That’s a nice big crowd, absolutely. That’s like diving straight into the deep end.

Yes, it’s almost a bit scary. The important thing if you’re nervous is to just relax and have fun, I think. To have your mind set that way. Not jumping around, smiling or anything like that *laughs*

Just be content and happy with what you have to do.

Exactly. Just don’t think too much, just go out there and do it.

Where it comes to your new record, “Sorceress”, what parts of it are you most proud of?

I like the sequence of the entire album, the way it starts and ends, and all that’s inbetween it, but guitar wise I’m pretty happy with all the solo’s actually. I think I got to play a bit longer solo’s, in “The Wilde Flowers” for instance. I also explore a more mellow side, like I did for “Will O The Wisp”, where I went for some Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour type of sound, an attempt to sound a bit like those guys maybe. I also like the fact that we do some trade-off leads on the album. Joakim in the song “Chrysalis” or me and Mikael in the song “Strange Brew”, we play more bluesy type of stuff. There is some diverse playing, and I’m proud of that it has a lot of different flavors. But I’m really proud of the song “Sorceress”, for a single. I think it’s going to be a great live track.

I think so too!

It’s not so complicated, it’s just a heavy track. A good headbanging track I would believe.

Do you already have a shortlist of tracks that you will be playing live?

Yes I reckon we will play at least three or four songs off the new album. But some, if we play for instance “Sorceress 2”, that song is only three minutes long, so it’s easier to squeeze in some more, compared to the older material. That was really long. Ten, twelve minutes. We have a long list of songs we’re going to rehearse now, and we try to pick from the older albums as well. And some stuff we haven’t played in a while, to keep it fresh for both us and the people coming to see us.

Isn’t that like a bit of a challenge, if you have a live set to do and you have mostly ten minute long songs, that’s like five songs and your set is over!

Yeah, I mean, playing some festivals, the big ones where we get 45 minutes, that’s not many songs. Maybe four songs or something *laughs*. It could be tricky, I mean initially we tried to cover a song from each album, usually when we go on tour. Now we focus on the new album, three or four songs, and then we try to pick one song from each album, but there’s not time enough for that. But we do play pretty long sets. We usually play a little over two hours when we headline. There are still going to be eleven or twelve songs.

That gives a bit more room, but it’s a luxury problem.

We’re putting in some effort into the live show for this upcoming tour. We are going to use this new type of lamps, they call it twin panels or something. They have both a LED screen and a LED lamp on the other side and we can rotate them 360 degrees. We are going to have a bunch of those, and me and Martin Mendez are having a dialog with a light designer, so it’s kind of fun to be a bit more on top of stuff like that I think. Before, we have done tours and had screens, but we never really knew what was going to be there, but now we try to be on top of everything a bit more. I think that’s a good progression for the band as well.

So you’re bringing new opportunities of technologies into your live sets and have a few new surprises for us.

Yeah. That is the goal. I think it’s going to be very cool.

Where it comes to your sound, the Opeth sound. If you look at the current album and you compare it to the earliest Opeth works, what elements have always been there, and what elements are new?

I think the Opeth sound, if I look at the music from before I was in the band, it always had the aggressive part meet the more mellow part. It becomes like a Yin and Yang, one energy feeds off the other in a way. Like if you have a really aggressive part for a long time, and then come into something more folky, acoustic guitar picking with clean vocals, it creates a demand for both kinds of energy. I think it keeps you on your toes, you become a bit more interested. Your ears don’t become tired as quickly. I think that element is still here, even though it’s different. You don’t have the growl, really, but you still have the more heavy stuff meeting the more dynamic. That’s one thing I think is still there, and it has been there from the beginning. In a different way though. I also think that the way Mikael writes songs, the band has developed a lot if you compare it to the earlier albums. It were a lot of 6/8 beats and octaves and scrumming type of riffs. It are definitely more difficult riffs now than some of the older stuff, even though there are a lot of tricky riffs on “Deliverance” and many on “Still Life” as well, some really intricate parts. I still think the riffing is developing in a new way.

Well, as we live we get more influences in our lives, and that shines in your music as well I think.

Yeah, that makes sense. You don’t want to repeat your stuff over and over again, that is not what Opeth is about. Some bands you kind of demand them to be like that.

Certain bands perhaps, but it must be very tiring.

*Laughs* yes, but also maybe relaxing.

Maybe. You know what you have to do *laughs*

Yes, you can drink beers before you play, but we don’t do that. We save that for after the show.

Exactly. Well, I’ve asked all the questions I need to ask, except for one that we always end with. Do you have any last words for our readers?

I hope you will enjoy the new album. We are certainly happy with it, and we hope to see you in Tilburg at the 013!

Yeah! Well, our audience, our readers are from all over the globe. We are an international magazine. There are a lot of Americans, Europeans, they are from all over.

In that case my message goes out to everyone! We hope you will enjoy the album and hope to see you on tour! We are going to play America and Europe now, but next year we are going to Australia and Japan, I reckon we might go to South America as well. Lots of touring ahead! We hope to see you there.

Thank you very much! Metal On Loud!

Randy Gerritse