INTERVIEW: Fredrik Åkesson – Opeth

Sweden’s OPETH have become one of the biggest names in metal. Since 1990, the band has pushed experimentation and evolved from their humble death metal origins to the progressive metal juggernauts they are today. 2016 sees the release of album number 12, Sorceress, and continues the band’s evolution. We caught up with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson to lift the lid on the new album; how it was recorded and what they strive to achieve with the record. We also explore the progression and evolution of OPETH as well as reveal some exciting information surrounding the band’s highly anticipated headlining performance at Wembley Arena in November!

It’s been two years since your last record, Pale Communion, how has the band progressed in that time?

Fredrik: Well, we did touring a bit less than with the previous album, Heritage, for that we toured more but I think when it comes to live shows we seem to progress all the time. The more you play, the better you get. But musically, more on this album I guess it is a bit more heavier than the previous one, it feels pretty solid and I’m confident. It is difficult to say really, you just kind of carry on in a way, playing and playing and just trying to do what you do best.

Speaking of Sorceress, the record was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales which is quite legendary. Can you describe the recording process?

Fredrik: Well we started off with the bass and drums and what we have done with the past few albums, since Watershed, we use a demo as a template so Martin Axenrot and Martin Mendez layed down the bass and drums live together. They listened to the backing track so they can get the whole idea of the song, the vocal melodies and the guitar riffs. We started off with that and I think they did it in three days and then continued with the guitars, the main heavy rhythm guitars, then you just kind of build on like a puzzle basically. After the foundation of the bass and drums, we take the demo away and listen to what they have done so it kind of takes a new form, it makes it a bit more breathing, more alive than just playing against a click track.

I read that the record was just recorded in just 12 days, was there a certain pressure to get it completed as quick as possible?

Fredrik: Well basically we didn’t have any more days! I think for the actual recording days was actually 10, then again we saved a lot of time because Mikael [Åkerfeldt, guitars/vocals] kept the vocals from the demo, he spent a lot of time with the demo and he has a really good mic and preamp so these days you can do stuff like that. So that of course saved us some time but in a way you get addicted when you’re in the studio, you don’t want to stress it but we also get addicted by getting the results done. I think everybody was well prepared, I think that’s one of the key things as well, everybody knew their parts and it was more about finding the right sounds and we didn’t have to do too many takes to get it right.

So before you guys went in to record in the studio, did you all have an aim? Did you know what you wanted to make prior to going in?

Fredrik: Yeah, absolutely. We never really rehearsed as a full band but everybody started the demos, me and Mikael sat down and played the guitar parts on several occasions and also through the demo stage, sound wise there weren’t too many things that were open to experimentation, even though we did change a few things. We for instance, the song Will O The Wisp, we didn’t have any drums on the demo so we added that. It’s nice that stuff doesn’t have to be thought out, that some are left for the moment. The basic idea we had was solid before we went in, the type of sounds we wanted to aim for and all that.

In terms of the themes and concepts that are present on the record, what are the messages behind Sorceress? What story is it trying to tell?

Fredrik: Well it is not a concept album, but Mikael wrote the lyrics and it feels a bit strange for me to talk about his lyrics you know? [laughs] But I wouldn’t say there’s any direct messages at all, it is kind of a cliché answer but I think everybody can make up their own histories reading the lyrics. I know Mikael spent a lot of time with the lyrics and put a lot of thought into them, I think it reflects stuff in his personal life in a way and there’s some other stuff too.

When I listened to the record, I noticed there’s a little bit of a jazz influence alongside the progressive and metal elements. What sort of influences did you bring as a guitar player?

Fredrik: Well I think everybody in the band listens to all kinds of stuff, I think with the jazz being a guitar player the way jazz players think is interesting, you can get inspired by that. Yes, there’s lots of different inspiration sources, basically they all combine to something. Actually, when I do recordings of the guitar parts, riffs or solos or something, I don’t really think before something, usually it is just the heat of the moment kind of thing and you want to just do something that suits the song.

And with the record set for release at the end of September, what are you hoping to achieve with this record?

Fredrik: Well I hope it will go down well, we have changed record labels as well, so it is a bit of a new start in that aspect. But also, this time around we are a bit more nervous because we are playing some big venues that we’ve never played before, like Wembley Arena or the Radio City Music Hall in New York, we just hope that people will show up! So that is a big step and I think what we would like to do is get some proper touring done and I’m really looking forward to playing the new songs. I think everybody in the band is really excited about playing them, especially Sorceress the first single, that is going to be really heavy live. It should be a good live track! So a lot of touring I would say and of course you always hope it is going to go well in the charts and all that.

You’ve been in the band since 2007, so about nine years now, and in that time OPETH and the sound has evolved considerably. How have you seen the evolution?

Fredrik: Well, first record I was on was Watershed which still had the more death metal elements to it but also you can tell during that album some of the stuff is kind of in the vein of the past three albums. You can hear hints of it. Basically, I think every album tries to take a new journey, I know that is important for Mikael, to come up with something that feels new and fresh, not repeating the sound of the band. I think everybody has become tighter and tighter as a band and in the live performance as well. You can definitely tell that everybody still tries to improve individually on each of their instruments, so that is nice to know that you can always still develop. That’s the fun with playing as well!

Since more recent albums have just focused on clean vocals rather than the death metal side, OPETH has still remained extremely relevant in metal. Why do you think this is?

Fredrik: Well there are nine albums with OPETH with the growls and everything and I think we still, in a way, are a metal band because that is where we come from. I love heavy metal and I think there is still metal within us, if you listen to the albums it is a bit more freaked out or spaced out but that is one thing that is always been what OPETH is about. To have that kind of freedom and we’re fortunate in that way to be able to experiment as much as we do and still keep a lot of the metal fans. I think people who listen to OPETH are a bit open-minded! [laughs]But when you come and see us live, we are a still a metal band in that sense and I think because we still play a decent 60% of the old stuff, and we really enjoy it as well! I think it matters that a band needs to develop over time but you never know but the future, I don’t think we would think let’s go back and try and do Blackwater Park again or something like that.

And really just to close off, you touched upon it earlier about the upcoming performance at Wembley here in the UK in November, we know that the band is going to be doing two special sets. What can fans expect from this upcoming performance?

Fredrik: Well, it is going to be a long show, extra long! That’s pretty clear, we’re going to be doing the same at Radio City Music Hall in New York as well, but it is going to be a mixed set, like a full on set with a focus on the new album or at least three or four songs from it and then as many as possible from the back catalogue. We always try to pick new songs that we haven’t played before, but some classics you need to keep! But there is also going to be an extra set featuring a compilation of two different albums instead of doing these anniversary things of doing an entire album, it is going to be a bit of a mix between the two albums. So it is a mix of Deliverance and Damnation, that’s going to be the extra set. One song from Deliverance we have never played before ever so it is going to be interesting, we have a lot of rehearsals to do right now basically!

Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, best of luck with the album release and the upcoming performances!

Fredrik: Thank you, my pleasure talking to you!

OPETH perform at Wembley Arena in London on November 19th. Tickets are available here.

Sorceress is set for release on September 30th via Moderbolaget Records/Nuclear Blast Records. Digital pre-orders are available at iTunesAmazon and Google Play. Additionally, the record is available in an array of formats & limited editions including a 2CD Digipak, double vinyl (in various colours at 180 gram) and a deluxe edition wooden box set from (coloured vinyl & box set) or the OPETH Store: (exclusive silver vinyl).

For more information on OPETH like their official page on Facebook.