A new Opeth album is always a cause for celebration as, along with the usual selection of surprises from the Swedish progressive maestros, there’s always a feast of great electric guitar tones, searing leads and lush harmonies to be found within their unique compositions.
Thirteenth opus In Cauda Venenum (latin for Poison In The Tail) has all that and more. Recorded in Stockholm late last year before being mastered at Abbey Road Studios in London, it also offers fans the added twist of being available in Swedish and English language versions. We spoke to the band’s mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt to find out more...
Was your first instinct to write and sing the lyrics in Swedish and was that a new impulse for you with the band?
Mikael: “No, I just came up with that idea one day taking my kids to school... We hadn’t done that before and the idea worked as a catalyst to get going with the songwriting really.”
Do you still have your songwriting space that you go to?
“Yes, it’s the same place as it’s been for the last two to three records. Just a little grotto of sorts. I hang around there when I’m writing and it’s messy but inspirational somehow. We have so much gear there. I don’t know what half of it all is. But it works for me. It’s a simple setup I use. But again, it works. I just go there and start playing some instrument and see how it goes. And I drink coffee. Lots of coffee. Lots of Swedish tobacco; Snus.”
Single-coils, going steady
You’ve brought single-coil tones into the last few records; how did you approach the tone this time?
“It’s more my decision than Fredrik’s [Åkesson, guitar]. I wanted to get away from the heavy typical metal tone and hear the human behind the instrument. I am sick and tired of the heavy standard guitar tone. It sounds too slick and un-metal to me these days... The single-coil puts you in the position where if you can’t play it will sound bad.
"You have to grind deeper into the neck of the guitar and play with more feel. Otherwise it will sound like it’s your unmusical grandfather playing a guitar for the first time. So there’s a lot of Fenders; mixed with guitars that have P-90s. There’s humbuckers too of course.
"I love a good sounding humbucker guitar but then we hold back on distortion. Combined with a thin single-coil a humbucker in the other channel will give a really nice and distinct sound.”
How did Lovelorn Crime’s (Swedish title Minnets Yta) outro come together? It’s the greatest Opeth guitar solo to date, surely!
“I agree. It’s great! I had the song which is an evocative simple ballad with some Imagine complex.
"I had Fredrik come down to the studio one day and had reserved a rather long piece of the song for a solo in the vein of Comfortably Numb. I wanted stuff that would bring tears to the eyes. A different voice. A heartfelt solo devoid of all the newest tricks and technique. So just soul.
"I told him this. I also said that, ‘If you ever will be remembered for a solo in your life, this has got to be it’. Then I hit the record button. He more or less nailed it in the first take. Just improvising. It was magical.”
You’ve both switched to Synergy amps live - what prompted that?
“All new gear is mostly Fredrik buttering people up or the other way round... I’m lazy and loyal and wouldn’t change a thing if Fredrik didn’t constantly search for something new. I was sceptical about Synergy to be honest but they sounded great!
"We have tried so much stuff and this is up there with the best shit we’ve ever had. I love it to be honest. I am about to switch my main rig and go all in with Synergy. I have yet to sit with it and see exactly how great it is.
“We had a trial by fire with it on stage in front of 4 or 5,000 people. It was daunting but everything worked perfectly and I got lost in the music. As it should be. I didn’t think of anything else rather than enjoying playing with this band. That stuff is great. I tell you. Makes a world of difference for a band of our dignity and who tours as much as we do.”
Opeth's new album In Cauda Venenum is out now via Nuclear Blast. They tour the UK in November.