A month or so ago Opeth came to New York’s Nokia Theater as part of an awesome (and diverse) package with High on Fire and Nachtmystium. It was one of those nights; a Monday or Tuesday, I was fucking exhausted from having traveled cross-country the night before, partied too many nights in a row, just worked a full day, interviewed the band before the show… and yeah, I was fucking beat. Being psyched to see Nachtmystium for the first time (they were AMAZING, by the way) and having seen Opeth before, I figured I’d stick around for a few songs of Opeth’s set and then high-tail it home. So when Opeth started, “One more song,” is what I kept telling myself. Until the next one… and the next… and the next. And before I knew it, two hours later, the show was over; Opeth were just so fucking phenomenal that I couldn’t bring myself to leave! I shouldn’t have expect any less.

But before the show, I got the chance to sit down with mainman Mikael Åkerfeldt and new guitarist Fredrik Åkesson to grill them about their Progressive Nation Tour with Dream Theater earlier in the year, their new album Watershed, how the band has managed to stay relevant and interesting over such a long career, and, naturally, Metallica. Our conversation, after the jump.

MetalSucks: You guys are into the 3rd date into the tour. How’s it going so far?

Mikael Åkerfeldt: Good.

Fredrik Åkesson: Good. We’re starting to get into the right cycle for the time and all that, and getting rid of the jet lag a little bit.

How’s the chemistry with the other bands? You guys have probably toured with High on Fire before but maybe not Nachtmystium?

MA: No, we’ve never toured with them. We never met those guys, so we’re just getting acquainted with them. They seem like nice people, but we haven’t hung out that much yet. We’ll have time because this tour goes all the way through October, but not with Nachtmystium; they’re leaving in the middle of the tour. [This interview was conducted before Nachtmystium were kicked off the tour, but even at this point Baroness were scheduled as support on the second leg. -Ed.]

Have you had a chance to watch the other bands yet?

opeth - mikael akerfeldtMA: Yeah I saw a little bit of them yesterday. High on Fire I’ve seen before of course.

FA: I see the first 2 songs from High on Fire each night. I like them.

MA: Nachtmystium is cool.

They are cool. You guys did the Progressive Nation Tour with Dream Theater earlier this year; how was that tour?

MA: It was a good tour. It was a long time in coming in a way. We’ve been meaning to tour with them before, and we got offers to tour with them but nothing really happened [before Prog Nation]. We were quite happy to finally be able to do it. They’re one of those bands that I still listen to. It was cool to finally tour with them and get to know them a little.

FA: I had a jam off with John Petrucci for an hour, and that was pretty cool. We traded some licks. For us it was good because we got to try out some new songs from the record before it was released. So I think it did us some good to do that tour because a lot of people showed up.

[To Fredrik] As the new guy in the band, how has it been for you getting acclimated to the whole live routine and jamming with these guys on stage?

FA: Oh, I feel I’ve really grown into the band. I knew all the guys before I joined with them so it made it easier in a chemistry way. I was acquainted with the music, but it takes time to get warm.

[To Mikael] And from your perspective?

MA: Well, it feels like we’ve been playing for a long time together. He’s only in the band for a year and a half, but it’s effortless. We kind of bust his balls; well, I do, especially on stage. It doesn’t feel like it’s us and him, it’s just us. We never had any problems really.

opeth - fredrik akessonFA: We never got to the point where I’m like “Are they talking behind my back? What are they saying?” It hasn’t been like that from the start. I feel very comfortable and relaxed with these guys.

Have you guys been playing a lot of stuff from the new record on this tour?

MA: Not a lot. We do 2 songs because we know we’re going to come back to do another North American tour in support of this album so we want to have some exclusive songs for that tour. So we’ll do 2 songs now, and we’ll switch them around and add songs. We also feel like not only are we promoting the Watershed album, but we’re also promoting our other albums. So we want to play some old stuff as well and cover as many albums as we can.

Have the fans been generally responsive to the new material when you play it live?

FA: Yeah, it’s very good.

MA: Well it sounds better than the old stuff.

FA: When we did the Progressive Nation Tour, for instance, we tried out “Heir Apparent,” the second track from the record. I would say the reaction was louder than the old songs.

MA: We’ll see stuff on forums and E-mails we get through Myspace “Oh I want to hear the new songs.” I seem to recall when I went to gigs for like Iron Maiden or something; I was like “Oh, that’s that new song.” That’s a good thing that people seem very anxious to hear what we’re doing now as opposed to what we did before.

[To Fredrik] Is it more exciting for you to play stuff that you worked on?

FA: Absolutely. It makes you feel more involved. I was in Arch Enemy before this, and if I compared that era to this it was very different. All I was doing was playing the old guy’s stuff. I feel much more involved now.

But at the same time you still have to play the old stuff.

FA: Yeah, but I love it. I like the mixture that we’re doing now with a couple of new songs and old songs.

It’s interesting that you say that a lot of people are E-mailing you saying that they want to hear the new stuff. Usually it’s the other way around; people want to hear the old stuff. Do you feel sometimes like “Oh, I have to play this song for the 1,000th time.” Do you get tired of that?

MA: No, we don’t really get tired of that. We played songs like “Demon of the Fall” for like a thousand times I guess, but when you play live it’s different. We even like that we have the new lineup now that it’s even fun to rehearse them. It used to be like back in school, but live any song is fun to play even if you played it a million times before.

FA: The songs are quite long, some around 10 minutes. You don’t get easily bored with the songs being that length.

opeth - watershedDo you worry about alienating the old fans because of the change in sound?

MA: No, but I think what we’re doing is actually the only way to keep all types of fans. To be honest even though people have their favorite records and eras of the band, I think generally somebody might be wishing for another Blackwater Park, but I don’t think that would please them. I think we have to basically take our pasts with us but try to develop something new. Once you try to please the fans, you come up with something shitty or gimmicky.

Speaking of that, do you guys agree or disagree as it applies to Metallica? Have you guys heard the new album?

MA: I heard one song.

One song? What did you think?

MA: It started like Load or something, but then it picked up and became really fast. I thought it was cool and definitely a step in the right direction. I think it’s a bit like a desperate move in a way for them. People want the old stuff, so it didn’t sound like a step forward more like a step backward. I still think, from what I heard, people are saying that it’s the best one since the Black Album which I don’t think is far from the truth. I didn’t like the Load or Reload albums. I didn’t like St. Anger either.

I don’t think anybody did.

MA: This one, I could definitely see myself buying the album. I haven’t yet, but I could. I am a big fan of Metallica, but I haven’t heard a good album from them since 1991.

FA: Have you heard the entire thing?


MA: What do you think?

My kind of view is basically like his. It’s definitely a step forward rather than trying to recreate something. At the same time, some of it does seem a little desperate, but it’s definitely the best since the Black Album.

opethFA: More thrash metal now?

There are some thrash elements on there. There is some Load kind of stuff on there.

MA: The stuff I like most with Metallica is the progressive stuff. Like And Justice for All, I love that album and more of their orchestrated stuff like “To Live Is To Die” and stuff like “Orion.” I love that stuff, and I think in a way they haven’t done anything like that since the Black Album. Like the first time I heard “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” I thought it was beautiful. That is something I think they missed I guess.

So to bring this back to you guys, how do you try to stay relevant without trying to recreate the past or seem desperate? How do you balance that?

MA: I don’t know. I think a lot of people think we’re desperate and that we’re clutching at straws or something like that. There are more people who think we have developed and are turning into a better band with each release. It’s all different from person to person. So far I never felt while writing music for an album that I was struggling. The songwriting for this last album was all there. A lot of people probably hate it, but a lot of people love it. You can’t please anyone but yourself, and that’s what we try to do. I think you can tell with our music that we’re not trying to kiss up to fans of a certain record or era. We’re just trying to please ourselves. I hope it shows.

It’s all you can do. Cool, so you guys have this tour with Baroness on the second half of it. What’s happening after that?

FA: European headline tour. We’re taking a couple of weeks off, and then the European tour starts. I think we’re playing 35 shows and then it’s Christmas.

Any last words you want to let the fans know about?

FA: We’re happy to be back touring, especially headlining and playing longer sets.

MA: We missed it. As much fun as it was doing the Dream Theater tour, we only played for an hour. We did a few off dates where we played our own headlining shows.

FA: And we can do proper sound checks too.

Cool. I’m looking forward to the show tonight.

MA: Cheers.


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