Swedish progressive metal legends OPETH return to Australia following the release of their latest album Sorceress. The band has recently wrapped up a massive series of shows throughout Europe and the States with the five-piece playing iconic venues including New York’s Radio City Music Hall and London’s SSE Wembley Arena. Now, the group take centre stage on an Australian tour that includes a recently sold out seated Sydney Opera House show and a date with Perth’s Metro City this Saturday, February 11, supported by CALIGULA’S HORSE. LIAM YAPP caught up with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson to discuss the tour, new album and Perth weather while he and the band recouped in Stockholm recently, gearing up to take on the southern hemisphere.
What was the process in putting the new album together? I understand singer and guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt writes most of the songs?
Yeah that’s right. We had a meeting before we started working on it. What kind of direction we wanted it to head in. We wanted the drums to be more massive this time around. We talked about making a heavier album compared to the previous two. More guitar driven. Sometimes I believe it’s a bit heavier in comparison, with the title track and (The) Wilde Flowers. There’s a lot of talk about us doing a doomy album, but it didn’t really turn out that way. But there is parts that way.
I was writing a lot of ideas at my house that I presented to Mikael and one of those ideas turned into Strange Brew that we collaborated on. Mikael pretty much wrote everything else except for the guitar solos. Martin Mendez (Bass) and Martin Axenrot (Drums) came up with a lot of fills and colours. Mikael wrote a lot of stuff and I live really close to him. But Mendez lives in Barcelona and Axenrot lives in the woods. So I went down and played some stuff and I put on guitar solos in the demo stage and it carried on like that. We’ve been working like that since the Watershed album.
Do you think the songs changed much between the drafts Mikael presented to the group and the final studio recordings?
Not in terms of melodies and chords, but in the foundation absolutely. And that’s a good thing; otherwise it would be pointless for us being in the band (laughs). We are blown away by the demo quality. These days you can make good sounding demos. Luckily enough when you’re hearing the final thing, the difference between the real deal … It’s like wow it really comes alive. One thing important about the album is that everything needed to be, as Mikael put it, very different from one another, and I think we achieved that. There are also some songs on the album that are different from the previous catalogue like the title track.
I understand you joined the group since the album Watershed. How easy was it for you to gel, both musically and personally with everyone in such an established group?
We got along really good. We toured together when I was still in Arch Enemy on the Gigantour. At the time we were hanging out a lot, I was hanging a lot with Axenrot and Martin Lopez (previous drummer), playing guitar a lot. We went to Vegas and gambled a lot. We kind of just clicked.
Since day one it has been a really relaxed environment. You know when meeting new people and new work situations it can take time to dial in, but it has not been an issue. It just kind of flows. We are still all good friends after ten years and I hope we still have more good albums to come from us in the future.
You have a massive tour on the go with some impressive venues booked in, how have you found the tour so far?
It’s been great. We’ve done about 41 shows. We started off in North America and Canada, and then a European run. It feels good. We’ve had a break for about two months now. It feels good to have the 41 shows in the bag and now coming down to Australia. It’s been really good shows for us. Bigger shows for us in the States, we played the Radio City Music Hall (in New York). Some of those shows can be a bit boring if it’s all seated. There’s been a lot of interesting shows. I feel like we’ve grown as a live band from these last tours.
Do you change your set list’s when playing venues like the Sydney Opera House?
No, no we don’t compromise, were still going to play a bit more death metal, heavy stuff in those more posh places. I think usually these venues have great acoustics and they are of course built for classical music which is very different. But they can change the acoustics and dampen stuff if they need to. In the Opera House we will play a longer set. We play the regular set and also a compilation of Damnation and Deliverance songs on top of that. We did that at the Wembley Arena and also did that at Radio City Music Hall and also one show in LA. Sydney will be the last ever show like that.
Does the band have much input into the design and production of the live show?
Actually this time around we have been working with a new light designer from Norway. He works with Dimmu Borgir and Mayhem and other Norwegian black metal bands. He’s a very young and enthusiastic guy, and this time around we were more involved, especially Mendez and I. Before, we never paid much attention to this, but we’ve tried to step up our game with it. We also got some film material from director Jonas Åkerlund (who had a short stint drumming for Swedish black metal band Bathory and is a music video director).
Not only has the style of music changed across the albums but also the production and mix in terms of drum and guitar tones. When playing live do you try and match the tones heard from the album or are you limited by your gear?
We kind of got that going from Watershed to Heritage, we actually used the same kind of distorted tones both in the old metal stuff and the new stuff. It’s mainly that some of the riffs are played on the neck pickup instead of the bridge pickup. It makes a muddier sound. It’s still the same amount of distortion actually. That’s a good question. So it’s not like we use two different rigs for the different eras. I still think the later material comes across heavier live than the album. When it comes to guitar tone it’s more blown up.
Are there things you’ve learned yourself or as a band from previous tours that you keep in mind for this and future tours?
Yes absolutely. I learned you have to be on top of things like your gear. I’ve been in situations where you rely on someone who works for the band to keep track of everything and then you stand there and you go, “oh, there are three guitars missing!” That can be very frustrating cos it’s the band in the end that stand there with their pants down. So I always spend time control freaking, double checking stuff. Which is quite demanding, but, that’s what I’ve always been doing. Taking care of my own gear. So that’s one of the things that I’m pretty obsessed with.
It’s hot in Perth, bring some bathers.
I will bring some sun cream. Last time I went swimming in Perth I got badly burnt. I had the guitar strap on me when I played the show and my back was red. The tour manager walks up to me after, takes a towel and whack on my back. Not as painful as I was about to punch him in the face.