"It was kind of like being in a Def Leppard production with Mutt Lange": Opeth's Fredrik Åkesson talks playing guitar for Ghost and avoiding a blood explosion in the studio

Fredrik Akesson and Tobias Forge onstage
(Image credit: Per Ole Hagen/Redferns/Getty Images and Ketil Martinsen)

Fredrik Åkesson has found himself in an unusual position – we know him as the longest-serving member of Opeth outside of Mikael Åkerfeldt and bassist Martin Mendez but he's got this whole other low-key claim to fame now in a commercially bigger band; he plays guitar for Ghost.

He's no Nameless Ghoul but it seems Fredrik has been Ghost mastermind / eternal Papa Tobias Forge's go-to studio virtuoso lately and plays the guitars (including rhythms) on Ghost's barnstorming and chart-bothering 2022 album Impera and the 2023 covers EP Phantomime. 

Ghost - Spillways (Official Music Video) - YouTube Ghost - Spillways (Official Music Video) - YouTube
Watch On

We can see why he gets the call – just listen to that sublime break on Spillways. Fredrik is a monster player who knows how to channel the classic feel of '70s and '80s glory, but moreover he's very good at taking direction when required in whatever project he's doing.

With Tobias it's different

"I like it you know because sometimes they have might have a melody idea or rhythmic idea that I wouldn't think about," Fredrik tells me as we meet for a chat in the artist area of Norway's Tons Of Rock festival in Olso following Opeth's triumphant set in the afternoon sun on 27 June. Fredrik's enjoying a well-earned glass of wine and, always the affable host, he offers me a beer. 

"I do get directions from Mikael," Fredrik points out, though he does have a pretty free reign with his Opeth leads in general. "He could say, 'I'd like you to start something like this' or 'I want you to go crazy in this solo and go for it'. Sometimes he might have an idea about an ending that he knows he really wants me to handle. With Tobias it's different. We've done two longer recordings together – the Impera album and also the covers album Phantomime with five songs. With Phantomime I was improvising more." 

This is a surprise to hear considering that was a collection of covers, but Tobias didn't want Fredrik to mimic the past. 

"We did a Tina Turner song, We Don't Need Another Hero, and there's no guitar solo in it but there is in that version. Also, the Iron Maiden track Phantom Of The Opera – Lars Johansson from Candlemass came into that one, we played a guitar duel. And I did two solos, one before that and one at the end if I remember correctly. That was was a fun recording but when we did Impera Tobias also had producer Klas Åhlund – it was kind of like being in a Def Leppard production with Mutt Lange."

Ghost - Phantom Of The Opera (Official Audio) - YouTube Ghost - Phantom Of The Opera (Official Audio) - YouTube
Watch On

There were so many layers of guitars

As Hysteria fans may know, the level of detail and multi-tracking the band and producer Lange went into on that 1987 multi-platinum masterpiece set a whole new level on dedication to the cause. 

"There were so many layers of guitars," remembers Fredrik. "On some tracks I did 16 layers of guitars. The rhythms were four tracks but if there was an extra riff I would play it in a brighter voicing on top of the regular one. It was a learning process for me that you can stack it up like that production-wise. So you might play the barre chord with distortion, you might play the riff with the three lower strings and you might overdub it with the three higher ones and that's probably like a Mutt Lang thing I would say."

Opeth guitarist Fredrik Akesson

Opeth's Fredrik Åkesson trying out the vintage SGs on the guitar stand in the artist area at Norway's Tons Of Rock festival  (Image credit: Future)

Fredrik wasn't initially down to perform rhythm duties on Impera. He'd been called in following his work with old friend Forge on Ghost's contribution to the Blacklist collection of covers included with Metallica's Black Album anniversary reissue; a version of Enter Sandman. Åhlund and Forge were impressed enough after hearing Fredrik's rhythm work on a test song to ask him to track the rest.  

Solos were another matter. Fredrik recorded demos for "pretty cool' versions of the solos on Impera on his own but they're not what appears on the album. "We worked on them together," he says of the leads that appear on the final recording. "Some stuff I came up with myself… they were very picky with very specific ideas."

It's the work ethic and dedication Forge and Åhlund drove the project with that probably accounts for why it's such a wonderfully crafted album. Fredrik was putting in the hours with them too.

"I was there for six weeks, ten hours a day," he tells me. The direction from multi-instrumentalist Forge often taking the shape of suggestions to "go from there to there" on the fretboard. "He explains it, he doesn't play it," Fredrik summarises. And it's different to any way the guitarist has worked before.

"I kind of love that," he admits. "It's a challenge because it's a different thing. That's a great thing and compared to what I do with Opeth it's very different. And I also play very different solos with Ghost than I do with Opeth."

Ghost - Call Me Little Sunshine (Official Music Video) - YouTube Ghost - Call Me Little Sunshine (Official Music Video) - YouTube
Watch On

Both Forge and Åhlund are guitar players themselves which further thickened the stew of creative ideas on the album.

I thought, if I tap once more it's gonna explode

"He had many ideas and he was very picky," remembers Fredrik. "And he wanted Impera to be guitar-orientated. He had a lot of Jake E Lee references in the rhythms.. And also some solo and tapping stuff that wasn't super fast but kind of awkward. 

"I remember it was also kind of funny, because we were working really hard to nail the last solo and we were going to have a listening party for everybody involved at the studio in Stockholm. And there's this tapping lick I did – a string-skipping thing. And I got a blood blister. It was so big – red. I thought, if I tap once more it's gonna explode – there's gonna be fucking blood everywhere. And I managed to do the solo without it!"

  • For more information on the 2025 Tons Of Rock festival in Norway visit tonsofrock.no
Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.