December 5, 2014 Interview – Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth
Progress is the measurement used to judge our onward betterment of a particular craft. For musicians, the term is essentially apart of their DNA, and Sweden’s Opeth has made it their mantra since their founding over two decades ago. Often recognized as a leader in Progress Death Metal, Opeth’s journey has taken audiences on a variety of twists and turns, as they stay true to their natural song writing intuitions. Sustaining some lineup changes in the mid-2000’s, the band has cohered seamlessly with new members as they continue to produce fresh material and tour internationally. Recently we sat down with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson for a look at his time in Opeth, their new album Pale Communion, touring, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Opeth has traveled an interesting road over the past two decades. Originally an underground Melodic Death Metal favorite, the band rose to international success in the early 2000’s with albums such as Damnation. You personally became a full-time member of the band back in 2007. What has the journey been like for you as a part of Opeth?
Fredrik Åkesson – It has been quite an amazing ride I would say. When I joined the band I had big shoes to fill to learn Mikael’s style of playing and has been very interesting. The first album I played on, Watershed (2008), still had Death Metal elements in there. Heritage was more 1970s’ Prog-Rock. It has been an amazing ride with a lot of touring and laughs.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, the band really has continued a great run in the last few years. One of the things that has always stayed true about Opeth is to expect the unexpected. Is that sort of diversity something you were drawn to when Mikael asked you to join Opeth?
Fredrik Åkesson – Absolutely, I think it, in a way, made me explore different sides of my guitar playing that I would not have otherwise. I know for a fact Mikael likes to push it to try and do something very different every time.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and Opeth has accomplished that. You mentioned you had big shoes to fill. You inevitably took Peter’s place in the band who was a fixture of Opeth for sixteen years. What was your reaction when Mikael called on you to join the band and were you at all overwhelmed with the task of replacing a member which had been part of the band for so long?
Fredrik Åkesson – Yes, I was also very happy. It was a good challenge to take on. It seems it worked out well. I really wanted to pay respect for Peter’s solos and play them the way he wrote them, not to mess with them too much, that was important to me as well.
CrypticRock.com – Right, well fans would agree you have done a fine job. The band’s sound certainly has always been extremely diverse and often throwing their fan base for a loop from album to album. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the band’s career was 2011’s Heritage. Looking back, what was your personal reaction when Mikael came to you with the song concepts?
Fredrik Åkesson – I think for Heritage, Mikael wrote a couple of songs in the vein of Watershed. Then he felt it would be too similar to what we did, so he deleted those songs and started over to rethink things. When he first told me there were not going to be any growling vocals on the album, I said, “Are you really sure about that?” Then we went through all the songs and the growls would not have really fit in with the songs.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it definitely is perhaps one of the boldest moves Opeth has done in their career. You have now recorded three records with the band, including the forthcoming Pale Communion. Being that you have experience recording with other bands in the past, how has your partnership with Mikael blossomed over the years?
Fredrik Åkesson – I think we make a good guitar team. We complement each other in many areas. It is always interesting to play with him because he has very good time signature. It is very interesting to learn his riffs, as well as inspiring. I think it is something that has grown a lot since we have played together a while, which makes sense since we tour so much. I think we toured almost two-hundred-fifty shows on the Heritage album. We are always looking to explore new territories, and you never know what will happen with the next album; it might be extremely brutal, or something else.
CrypticRock.com – That keeps things fresh. Now that you have been with the band, did you feel like you had a higher level of comfort going into Pale Communion.
Fredrik Åkesson – Sure I did. When I joined the band, the guys in the band were really cool; they made me feel very relaxed. Also, I knew the guys since we toured together when I was in Arch Enemy in 2006 in North America. That helped a bit for me to be more relaxed. It was not as if Mikael was breathing down my neck in the studio, but I do feel more confident now playing all these shows, playing a lot of songs from the back catalog. The confidence has certainly been built up a bit more.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and the current lineup of Opeth has sustained for some time now after some changes. It appears the chemistry is working very well. Would you agree?
Fredrik Åkesson – Absolutely. It has to because we live so close together when we are on tour on the bus. There are no bad egos or bad attitudes. That would not work. It has been working great. The most important thing about being on the road is having a lot of fun and I think we still do. On the tour bus, everyone is almost like children.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) That is good that you still maintain a level of fun and sense of humor on the road. That is important, especially when you are on the road so much.
Fredrik Åkesson – Yes, it has to be there. It is an important element when you are on the road so much. We are not partying, but maybe a few beers. Playing the shows is always the highlight of the day while on tour. If you lose that feeling, then you may as well quit. Being on stage is always fun.
CrypticRock.com – Of course, that makes perfect sense. As mentioned, the new album Pale Communion is set to be released in North America in a few weeks. What was the writing and recording process like for this record?
Fredrik Åkesson – Mikael stayed isolated in the rehearsal complex. I was down there and he played me a lot of stuff and I played him some ideas back. I laid down some solos during the demo stages and everyone did their work. Martin Axenort and Martin Mendez did not rehearse, because they were going to record the bass and drums live. All our old favorite albums are not super tight on the grind. A lot of albums now a days are kind of like that, we wanted to try and get away from that. We wanted to make it breath more.
The recording was really focused, we did the album in thirteen days. We recorded at Rockfield Studios with a great engineer named Tom Dalgety. Also recording at Rockfield Studios made it very efficient since we could actually work here fourteen hour days. It was very nice, we were totally into it. We did not stress.
CrypticRock.com – As you mentioned about letting the music breath, it is essential. A lot of modern recordings seem very processed. It is wonderful you wanted to do a natural recording.
Fredrik Åkesson – Yes, we talked about the early 1980s albums, maybe late 1970s, they had a certain warmth to them. We spoke about the first Dio album, Holy Diver, that had an in-your-face sound. Later, the big hairs and big snares became a bit too digitalized and a bit ugly, so we wanted a sort of early 1980s production feel.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, the warmth is something special about an album. It is difficult to please everyone and inevitably you have to stay true to your musical visions. Being that the fan reaction to Heritage was very mixed, do you feel Pale Communion will evoke a more balanced response from fans?
Fredrik Åkesson – In a way, this album goes hand and hand with Heritage. Some songs on this album are a bit more heavy than the last. We did not bring back the growls, but I think for Mikael it is new territories for his voice. He does a more raspy type of singing at times. I definitely think he took his singing to another level. There were actually talks about bringing growls into the song “River” to make it more extreme at the end, but it did not come along, it ended up staying the way it did. I understand fans want to hear the Death Metal stuff, we still enjoy playing that stuff live. When we played on the first Heritage tour in North America, Mikael had a vision we should not play any songs with growls, let’s choose from the back catalog that did not have it. After we did that tour, we decided we were not going to do that again because there are a lot of people that want to hear songs like “Demon of the Fall.” We talked about that, for a future tour we should really think to cover some of the old songs as well. The recent set list we play, it is about 60% of the more Death Metal, so we mixed it up and it works great to combine songs with Hertiage and Pale Communion.
As far as the record, we will have to see over time. Pale Communion will be less shocking, Heritage took the main part of that. It is also very different. The track “Moon Above, Sun Below” reminds me of structure-wise older Opeth because it is a ten minute long song with a lot of different sections. Then again, Opeth did this kind of thing with Damnation (2003), which was way softer than Heritage if you compare it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it seems the record is being received extremely well since it is released. What are some of your personal musical influences?
Fredrik Åkesson – When I was young I was always into guitar solos, the guitar solos were almost more important than the song. I grew up listening to guys like Gary Moore, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Uli Jon Roth, Frank Marino, Paul Gilbert, and Jason Becker; a lot of different players. The list goes on and on. Musically, I grew up with Classic Metal such as Dio era Rainbow, Dio, later on Black Sabbath. Also Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Accept, King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, and Saxon. Early age Kix and AC/DC started my Hard Rock and Metal interest. Later on, bands like Rush as well.
CrypticRock.com – Those are a lot of great Hard Rock/Metal bands. You mention some of those bands were pioneers of the genre.
Fredrik Åkesson – It was different times then. Every band had their own sound. There were not as many bands out there. You had Saxon, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, they all sounded different.
CrypticRock.com – My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Fredrik Åkesson – When I was eight years old I saw The Exorcist (1973) for the first time. It scared the shit out of me of course. I like zombie films as well, but the psychological stuff is more scary. The Exorcist is mostly dialogue, but it creates a special attention. I also like the film the Roman Polanski film The Ninth Gate (2000), I liked the atmosphere of that one.
12/5 – Omaha, NE Sokol Auditorium
12/6 – Denver, CO Ogden Theater
12/8 – San Francisco, CA Warfield
12/9 – Los Angeles, CA Palladium
12/10 – Tempe, AZ The Marquee Theater
12/12 – Houston, TX Warehouse Live
12/13 – Dallas, TX Gas Monkey Live
12/15 – Atlanta, GA Tabernacle
12/17 – Philadelphia, PA Electric Factory
12/18 – New York, NY Terminal 5
12/19 – Worcester, MA Palladium
12/20 – Montreal, QC Metropolis
12/21 – Toronto, ONT Koolhaus