Napalm Flesh: Opeth interview

Posted November 10, 2011 in

It’s Viking weather, darkhearts, and this week, Napalm Flesh entices the winter gloom of Sweden as we chat with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson of the incomparable Opeth about witches, Mellotrons, and “where the fucking metal is” on their newest release, Heritage. And what blog would be complete without some delicious web-exclusive reviews and a live show calendar? Join us…

This week in live brutality:

Tonight is Metal Blood Thursday at The Complex. 21+ fans can come rock out to local acts Burn Your World, Foreseen Exile, Gravetown and Orion’s Wrath. The show starts at 9 and is only $5! That is a hell of a goddamn deal.

Also tonight, Thrones (the solo project of Joe Preston of Melvins/High on Fire/Earth/Sunn o)))) will be playing Salt Lake with Portland stoners and local ear destroyers Eagle Twin. All this weird noisiness goes down at an appropriately mysterious venue, The Warehouse - 930 S. Rio Grande St. The price of the show is unkown, but it promises to be an interesting experience.

Tomorrow at Burt’s, local post-metallers Huldra will be releasing their new EP, Signals From the Void. They play alongside fellow locals Monarch, Dustbloom and Hypernova Holocaust. The show is being filmed for Comcast’s Bandwagon. $7 gets you in and the show begins at 9pm.

Also at The Complex this Saturday the 12, Salt Lake welcomes the Thrash and Burn Tour featuring Winds of Plague, Chelsea Grin, As Blood Runs Black, For The Fallen Dreams, Upon A Burning Body, In The Midst of Lions, Like Moths to Flames and Volumes. $19 in advance, $21 the day of, and doors open at 7 for this all-ages gig.

On Monday November 14, Hull comes to town in support of their new album, Beyond the Lightless Sky. They’ll be at Bar Deluxe with Cave and Jesust. This 21+ show kicks off at 9 pm and $8 gets you in the door.

Cynic brings their brand of technical metalto The Complex on November 16th—read on for an exclusive interview of their new EP Carbon-Based Anatomy. Also on the bill are Scaling the Summit and 3 (even though they are not listed on The Complex website or at Smith's Tix). Showgoers must be 21+, $16 in advance, $18 the day of, and doors on this open at 8pm.

Also on Wednesday the 16th, LA’s “Tribal Grind Crust Warriors” Resistant Culture invade Burt’s Tiki Lounge with locals All Systems Fail, Yaotl Mictlan and Chainwhip. This promises to be one of the best shows of the year, as punk, grind, black metal and hardcore collide with a killer headliner. Tickets are $7 and the show kicks off at 10 pm. 21+ only.

Interview with Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth
To spend twenty years as a relevant band in the metal scene is a feat; to consistently garner huge emotions, outrage, devotion and overall buzz from every album you produce over those twenty years is almost unheard of. And yet the Swedish forefathers of prog-metal in Opeth have done just that, charging through creative barriers and mapping the limits of metal as a genre like half-possessed shamans with a score to settle. With new album Heritage polarizing fans more than any predecessor, Opeth is now in a different sonic landscape than Opeth of even five or ten years ago. But whatever sound their albums capture, fans can always count on endless creativity and deep honesty from authentic musicians. Napalm Flesh was lucky enough to catch up with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson before their show at The Complex on October 24th and find out how the band is fairing with this adventurous new sound.

SLUG: How’s the tour so far?
ÅKESSON: Very good, we’re enjoying the States. We wanted to go see Judas Priest and Black Label Society on our off day in Vegas, but we couldn’t get tickets, so we just gambled and got drunk. I was up maybe $280, but then I lost it. Gotta know when to stop.

SLUG: How have your new songs been received live?
ÅKESSON: It was interesting because in the beginning we did the first show when the album wasn’t out. I think it came out the day after. And people were like , “What is this?” and you could slowly see progress during the shows after the album got released, something got built up and now, at the end of the tour, it seems like people are really familiar with the new songs.

SLUG: You’ve said with the writing of Heritage that you wanted to accomplish something different; how did you express that when writing the album, and how did the process differ from your past work?
ÅKESSON: It was a different approach song wise and musically. We wanted to do a more earthy album. We don’t like to repeat ourselves or do “part two” of something. Part two movies are pretty crappy. Mikael is the main songwriter in the band and he felt like he needed to do something fresh for him and for the band. It took me a while to get used to the idea of not having growls on the album, but that was before I heard the stuff that Mikael was writing, and when I heard it I was like, “Well yeah there’s no room for it on this one.” We tried to do something that was different from each album. We wanted to do a really earthy, organic, honest album. These days a lot of bands do sound replacement on the drums and stuff and it could become a bit static after a while I think. We wanted drums to sound like drums do. We didn’t do any editing.

SLUG: Did it take you a while to get comfortable with the new sound?
ÅKESSON:  No, not really, I was into it. With the guitars we play a heavy riff and we play it with a neck pickup to give it a muddier sound, and to record we used this old studio that’s been around since the ‘60s, Atlantis in Stockholm. They have grand pianos and an echo chamber to use with the reverb that’s pretty significant. But the sound on that studio too is great- if there’s like a lonely guitar part, you put that echo room on there and it’s really cool, it’s the closest you can get to real reverb.

SLUG: Are you guys achieving that sound live, or are you happy with what you are achieving?
ÅKESSON:  Absolutely, it’s pretty spot on. Our keyboardist brought in two Mellotrons and we’ve even got a Leslie cabinet with it, which cost shitloads of money to ship and the crew is bitching about it, but it’s cool, it sounds really authentic. And I think the sounds are a bit heavier live than on the album, a bit more powerful.

SLUG: Did you employ a lot of previously unused instruments or recording techniques? I for one love the flute work.
ÅKESSON:  Absolutely, we had the flute player Björn Lindh, and he is a legend in Sweden, he did orchestrations for ABBA and with musicals and stuff like that. He was in the Swedish prog-rock scene in the 70s and we got him to play that solo. Initially I know Mikael contacted Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull, but he never replied. But this guy’s even more badass in a way I think, because he has a different sound, a personal sound playing. It worked out really cool. Bjorn never took a second take, he was very focused. Also on that track “Famine” we have Alex Acuña playing percussion, and he’s also a legend, 70 years old, played with Elvis, Sting, U2, mostly famous for his work as a drummer in Weather Report. We also used these old tape echoes and our mixing console was an old console from ’73, so we had a bunch of stuff that made it happen.

SLUG: How do you feel about the reception of Heritage overall so far? Do you find fans are connecting to it as they have past albums?
ÅKESSON:  I think so, not everybody. A few of the ones are like, “Where’s the fucking metal?!” but I think this album, in a way, is very metal. Metal for us is to do something that sticks out, and not only go after certain routes.

SLUG: Do you see future Opeth albums maintaining the jazz-fusion trajectory you’ve started on with Heritage, or do approach each project with fresh ears and no preconceptions?
ÅKESSON:  Right now we don’t have a clue what the next album is going to be like. It could be really aggressive. Mike said before that the growling element is not ruled out for the future, so you never know what’s going to happen then. I think we like to be a bit unpredictable as well. It might be super heavy, you don’t know.

SLUG: Aside from music, where do you draw your inspiration from? In particular, “Haxprocess” ripped my heart out, and I’d love to know what made you write that one.
ÅKESSON:  Haxprocess means “witch process,” it’s a Swedish word. I think it’s a bit folky, the acoustic part is something Mike came up with that’s really different. I like it, It’s very dark. The first part is kind of happy, probably some inspiration from some weird ‘70s stuff. Mike has a huge collection of bands I’ve never heard about. It’s cool to play with him because I can always ask him about new bands.

SLUG: Opeth’s sound has a signature that I would best describe as melancholy, maybe haunted. Are you guys pretty serious, melancholy men in everyday life, or do you get that out in your music?
ÅKESSON:  Everyone’s just like a bunch of stupid kids. [laughs] We’re not like sitting around trying to act like a vampire, we’re just normal people with our feet on the ground. I like to read about mystic and occult stuff just to read about it, it’s interesting stuff, but it’s nothing we practice or anything.

SLUG: I love the artwork for Heritage, and you guys have worked with the amazing Travis Smith for a lot of years. Did he come up with this concept or did you bring the idea to him? It is so radically different from your past albums.
ÅKESSON:  It was really cool that he could achieve that even though he did most of the artwork from Still Life on. It started with our manager Andy who said, “I see a tree!” [laughs] Then Mike had a dream, he slept all night and when he woke up the idea just came to him. He collaborated with Travis and made it happen. We wanted to make it look like an oil painting and it really connects with the music on the album since it’s a more earthy 70s sound. It has a lot of symbolism too: the skulls beneath the tree are the exact amount of past band members, Per’s head is falling off the tree because he plays on the album but is not in the band anymore; the burning city is the decline of civilization, and the roots go down to hell which is a death metal thing. I don’t know about the people lining up to the tree though.

SLUG: How do you feel about the current state of metal?
ÅKESSON:  I think there’s a lot of good bands and a lot of shitty bands. I won’t say any names…. I’ll say I like Mastodon, they have a cool sound and are pretty original. I like Devin Townsend, Meshuggah, especially live. I don’t keep that good of track anymore, because I’m so focused on playing stuff. I sit around and play a lot of guitar, so you just listen to what everyone else is listening to on the bus. I kind of like to rest my ears if we’re in the studio, so I won’t listen to any music, apart from us. I need to cleanse my ears.

SLUG: If the devil was real, and you could ask him one question…
ÅKESSON:  What’s your favorite food?

Blog exclusive CD Reviews:

Carbon-Based Anatomy
Season of Mist
Street: 11.15
Cynic = Gordian Knot + Death + Exivious
Florida’s Cynic are a flat-out progressive band; this EP may not even be a whisper of what’s to come on the band’s next full-length. It is a departure from the band’s more metallic leanings, but Carbon-Based Anatomy succeeds in leaps and bounds in being a cohesive, highly listenable movement of music separated into six tracks playing out in roughly 23 minutes of time. The first and last tracks serve as openers and closers and set the tone of an almost strange, alien spacey/airy sound that is the core of the musical direction. The reunited full-length release Traced in Air did have some snarled vocals; this EP contains no extreme elements—what it does contain is a rich package of layered and textured sounds that are unique to Cynic. Some of the same themes from Traced in Air remain, but this as an independent release of material—there are songs that will stick in memory like a warm release of dopamine, but the entire EP is worth it for fans or just somebody looking for something different. The cover art from the now-passed Robert Venosa (who did the cover art for the band’s debut and second full-length) is also something to truly behold in its invitation to imagine, and the fact that it’s the visual artist’s final piece for Cynic. –Bryer Wharton

Born of Shadows
Napalm Records
Street = 10.25
Isole = Solitude Aeternus + Ereb Altor - Ensiferum
Representing a flirtation between gothic melodies and epic doom riff craftsmanship, Born of Shadows is heavy, complex, and more focused than Isole's previous albums. Their slow, methodical riffs are still present, but with a much more involved sound that draws equally from bands like Funeral and early Rotting Christ. Henrik Lindenmo's haunting tenor weaves in and out with  Crister Olsson's chanting baritone voice instead of being overpowered by it, and their songs often break into the stompy, headbanging intensity of classic Candlemass. The album is rather gloomy, but if you like a little high tragedy in your doom metal, this is a great album for it. -Henry Glasheen

Circle of 8
Metal Blade
Street: 11.8.11
Martyr = Accept + old Metallica + Demon Flight
Dutch rockers come back to the gritty millennial metal mix, try to recapture their 80’s glory days, and mostly succeed. Martyr’s blend of classic rock bravado and heavy metal thunder culminates in a powerful attack, and crunchy cuts like “Justified Killing,” “Art of Deception” and “The Uninvited” showcase the dual-axe faculties of Rick Bouwman and Marcel Heesakkers. “Afterlife” swings like a rowdy, vintage Metallica and “Scene of Hell” has enough grime and roughneck gravel to distinguish it from the pack. While, Rop van Haren’s enthusiastic bawling provides the album’s most potent sonic distinction, it’s also prone to muddle things a bit. Controlled bellowing is no problem, and the dude’s got excellent control of his voice most times, but occasionally shambolic squealing get a lil’ bit too drunken David Lee Roth for my taste (“D.I.” is kinda cringe worthy). Still, it’s a strong record, the band clearly ain’t dead and they’ve still got some raw power up their sleeves. Prescient and forward seeking, and not a lame cocaine-memory nostalgia grab. Good job. –Dylan Chadwick

Noregs Vaapen
Dark Essence Records
Street: 09.19
Taake = Darkthrone + Carpathian Forest + Taake
Ulvhedin Hoest's solo project is one of the most exciting examples of Norwegian black metal, a synthesis between furious dissonance and atmospheric majesty that's always pushing the boundaries of the sound. Noregs Vaapen opens with the brilliant "Fra Vadested til Vaandesmed", a harsh, sorrowful black metal song with a truly memorable central riff. The whole album is crisply produced, capturing the full range of high, droning guitars and the lows of Hoest's sinister scream. Every song on the album feels fresh, and fans will appreciate the return of Taake's meandering, restless melodies. -Henry Glasheen

Street: 11.15
Vile = Death + Malevolent Creation (old) + Atheist (old) + Cannibal Corpse
California’s Vile have taken a big risk with their appropriately titled fourth full-length album. It’s a risk worth taking and I definitely applaud it – Vile are known as being a Brutal Death metal band (their first two albums portray that fact) and in an essence it’s been a double edged sword for them—the brutality is inviting, but it kicks the songwriting into less inventive territories. This new album offers the band’s most intriguing songwriting ever and incorporates plenty of goodies to listen too on top of a core of fantastic Floridian styled death metal. Metamorphosis oozes with an enormity of guitar technicalities and styles, incorporating some fantastic melodies into portions of intense brutality. Pacing from fast to mid-tempo to slow creepy vibes makes the album worth spinning again and again. “Shadow Work” is as intense as straight up death metal gets, the introductory part on “Prophetic Betrayal,” just sinks its hooks into listeners to keep on listening – staying on that point every song starts out in way that punches you in the face to keep reveling in the glory of it all. Metamorphosis is a cumulatively dark and ominous album—it does a great job at surpassing the retread realms that so many death metal bands these days fall victim to. –Bryer Wharton