Sweden’s death metal kings, Opeth, have solidified their legacy by consistently creating musical majesty that is abounding with atmospheric keyboard textures and a mixture of soft and growled vocals that emit pure emotion. In celebration of their twelfth studio album release, ‘Sorceress’, and fresh off of their North American tour, the effortlessly mysterious musicians are heading on tour to dominate European stages and create a musical and visually mesmerizing memory for fans that’ll last for ages. I caught up with guitarist, Fredrik Åkesson, to discuss Opeth’s latest release, tour, tattoos, and more.
Congratulations on the release of your twelfth studio album, ‘Sorceress’. Tell us about the recording process this time around.
We went back to Rockfield Studios in Wales for the second time. You know, it’s like living on a farm. They have horses, cows, and different facilities. They have two different studios; one that was built in the late ‘1960s and one somewhere in the ‘1970s. A lot of legendary bands recorded there like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Rush, Queen, Motorhead; the list goes on and on. The place definitely has a big legacy. It’s really great because you live there and you have your own kind of apartment. You get breakfast, lunch and dinner meals served and it really helps to focus on the recording. We did it all in 10 or 11 days, including setting sounds, so it’s very efficient going there with no distractions. You have to walk 25 minutes to the nearest village. Apart from that, you are just mainly hanging there and recording.
I would assume that would enhance the creative process and ultimately influence it. You know, being around the energy and culture that has been left behind by so many historic musicians.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s totally inspiring and we worked with Tom Dalgety again who engineered the last album and this time around mixed the album as well. He has been there a lot so he knows the room and that of course helps and saves us a lot of time. It’s just pretty convenient there and we started to get to know the owner of the place better. It’s run by a man by the name of Kingsley Ward, and he is probably around 80 years old now. He is still up and rockin’ with his wife and his two daughters are mainly running the place now.
Wow. The history of the studio is remarkable. I have noticed that you guys have a history of creating visuals that are really aligned with the conception of each album, and the visuals for ‘’Sorceress’ in particular are quite an immersive and striking artistic expression. What artist did you guys collaborate with to provide the visuals for this album?
Travis Smith. He is from the US and he is in San Diego. We have been working with him since the ‘Still Life’ album. Travis and Mikael are really close. We had the idea of the peacock cover this time around at a very early age and when Mikael brought that up to Travis, he just kind of nailed it immediately without any tweaks and even better than we could have imagined. He is great. He is like the sixth band member or something. It’s really nice to work with the same guy and he managed to come up with different stuff along with Mikael who plays a really big part in the cover art. Mikael has a lot of ideas and he is very into that.
Yeah and it serves to provide further inspiration for the conveyance of mood that you guys generally emit through your music. There is such an emotive response within listeners. It’s particularly dark at times, but it’s also very inviting. Have you guys been aware of that and has that influenced your creative process over the years?
That’s a good question. Things aren’t necessarily planned. I mean, of course all of the lyrics and songs are well worked out, but it kind of just evolves on its own. Mikael does throw a lot of ideas away. Sometimes he throws away ideas that I consider are really good, and he is very good at deleting stuff. [laughs]
You are gearing up for tour throughout the US with Gorija. What intrigues you about Gorija’s music and why?
I think they are great band. I actually buy some of their albums and I remember when I was in a band called Arch Enemy before Opeth and we toured in Europe, and that was the first time that I heard about Gorija. They opened up for us and that was when they probably did their very first album. I remember that I thought they had something special and they have grown alot since then. They are a really big band now.
Yeah. I’ve seen Gorija at many festivals and the energy that they bring to the stage is powerful.
Yeah. It’s going to be a good mix with Gorija and we’re happy to come back to the states. I mean, the last album we did, we only did one tour with In Flames in the states apart from a couple of anniversary shows in LA and New York. It’s nice to come back and play a couple of festivals and also doing this in between with Gorija. It’s great, you know?
Yeah, and you guys are just getting off of your European tour as well, correct?
Yeah, we just got back about a week ago. We have done 41 shows now for ‘Sorceress’ since it came out. We are going to Australia in February and we are playing in South America later. The US tour is also coming up and we are also playing a bunch of festivals in the summer. We will probably do some stuff in the fall as well. Not totally clear yet, but we’ll see what happens.
Opeth has built a legacy abounding with consistency over the years. There are times when listeners and fans watch you play and it seems sublime. Do you feel that same way when you play? How do you guys prepare to bring that to life before each and every show?
You know, sometimes you can be really tired before you go on stage. But as soon as you get up there, something happens. You kind of switch into something else. For everyone in the band, it’s important for us to try to always evolve and become better musicians on an individual level. So, after we have done this tour now, I think that we actually told ourselves that we are playing really tight now. We feel like we are a strong unit and we felt that we even notched up a little bit since the last tour. It’s a nice feeling when we actually feel that way ourselves. Sometimes you can be really tired with jet lag, blah blah blah. And there’s a lot of waiting. I tend to just sit around and play guitar all day. But, you get something back from the crowd when you get out there and see that people are excited to see you. That really helps.
And I’m sure that it beats a day job….
Absolutely. I mean, when people start complaining, which does happen sometimes, I’m like you need to pinch your arm, ya know? You could be flippin’ burgers, you should be happy.
Let’s talk tattoos. Tell us about some of your favorite personal pieces and the artists that brought them to life.
I got my first tattoo pretty late when I was 35 or something. I started out with an evil version of the phoenix bird, which looks more like an eagle, but I was in a dark hole with a bad relationship and divorce and stuff. I started off doing that one and after that I did two skulls with smoke coming out of their faces which resembles something in the tour bus [laughs]. I have a raven from one of the Odin’s ravens, the viking stuff. It’s all kind of all tied up in this branch and it’s all the same artist called Sara Lou. We got to know her and she also did a couple tattoos on Martin and also did one of Mikael’s. She is from Australia and she was a good friend of the band and she asked me if I needed to do a tattoo and she did the bird first. And then she and her boyfriend moved to LA and we kept in contact since then. Whenever we are in LA, we try to get inked by her. We didn’t have enough time last time. It’s not really finished, it’s just from the shoulder down, but then again everyone wears sleeves now. I don’t know if I am going to continue. Maybe I will just do some single stuff on the forearms, you know?
Each piece, I would assume, is reflective of the frame of mind you were in at that moment. Do you ever perceive each tattoo from a reflective standpoint or get nostalgic feelings seeing those tattoos and reflecting upon what you were experiencing when you got them done?
Yeah. That’s pretty deep. Tattoos are deep in a way. But yeah, absolutely. When you look at them you kind of get a flashback of that time when you did them. It’s still over a span of six or seven years. Yeah, absolutely. It brings back memories and stuff. It’s kind of cool that I kept with the same artist for all of it.
It is. You don’t come across that often these days. Especially with how well traveled that you are.
It’s pretty cool. We are good friends and her boyfriend and I are pretty good friends. We hang out a lot. Maybe I’ll get some more. I’m thinking about doing something on my calves or my legs like a compilation of my guitar heroes, like my top five or something like that….
That would be super cool. Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?
We are certainly excited about coming back to the US. The last tour that we did in the US was a blast, truly. Amazing support with a lot of good memories and a lot of good shows. We are really thankful and hope you enjoy the new album. Thanks a lot.