Sep 022013

Today one of the online imprints of Sweden’s Espressen newspaper published an interview that writer Martin Carlsson conducted with Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth. It included some questions and answers about Opeth’s next album, which you will see in a moment.

Coincidentally, I and a few of my current or former NCS comrades engaged in a lengthy debate about Opeth during our Seattle get-together last week. The debate was spawned, of course, by the band’s last album, Heritage. It went on for quite a while, and beer was involved, but I think it can be summed up, in part, as follows:

Point:  Heritage was a huge ripoff. It wasn’t Opeth. If Åkerfeldt wanted to do what he did on that album, he should have done it through a side project, something like “The Mikael Åkerfeldt Project”.

Counterpoint:  Mikael Åkerfeldt can do what he wants. He’s earned the right. Besides, his voice probably can’t handle live death growls for more than a song or two any more — you can’t tour in support of an album that you can’t perform live, night after night. And the other guys in Opeth need to eat, so he did right by them in making Heritage an Opeth album. Also, it’s possible he was under some label pressure to make this kind of album — don’t forget that Heritage was a Roadrunner release.

Point: Whether it’s his voice or just getting tired of death metal, it still wasn’t an Opeth album, and he didn’t need to be so dismissive of the genre and the fans in talking about Heritage. If you can’t growl any more, just say so, and don’t say you’re bored with the genre that made your name for you. What does that say about his feelings for the fans? And I don’t buy that Åkerfeldt would ever lock himself into a deal where he had to change the music to suit a label’s preferences.

Counterpoint: Heritage was good for what it was. And besides, Heritage may prove to be just a temporary diversion.

Point: If Heritage turns out to be a diversion, and the next album again incorporates death metal, all will be forgiven. If the next album is more of the same, that may be the end.

Okay, with those thoughts in mind, here’s the interview (I found the translation at Blabbermouth):

“This coming Friday, September 6, Swedish progressive metallers OPETH will set sail on Melloboat 2013, a two-day cruise between Stockholm, Sweden and Riga, Latvia featuring performances by a number of progressive cult bands and heavy hitters, including Morgan Ågren (featuring a guest appearance by Devin Townsend), SAGA (Sweden), CRESSIDA, ICECROSS, TRETTIOÅRIGA KRIGET, ÄNGLAGÅRD, PANTA REI 2.0 and BADGE.

“The cruise will mark OPETH’s very last show in support of the band’s latest album, “Heritage”, which came out in 2011. The group will spend the remaining months of 2013 putting the finishing touches on the writing and recording process for its next studio effort, which will be released sometime next spring.

“According to OPETH frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, four songs have already been written for the upcoming CD and three others are in various states of completion. “We’ve been looking at [tracking the next album at] Rockfield Studios in Wales where QUEEN recorded ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, but we haven’t made a decision yet. But it will be an expensive album. There’s a lot going on, lots of string arrangements that we haven’t had in the past.”

Will it be heavier or softer than “Heritage”?

“Maybe a little bit heavier. Not death metal heavy, but hard rock/heavy metal heavy. There’s also lots of progressive elements and acoustic guitars, but also more sinister-sounding riffs.”

Who’s producing?

“I am. I love the way DIO’s ‘Holy Diver’ sounds, this early-’80s sound where you can still hear the ’70s, but the production is heavier. Right now I’m into having a similar production that isn’t retro but it still sounds like real instruments and it’s heavier than ‘Heritage’.”

Reading this, I have a feeling that those fans who were disappointed by Opeth and who hoped it would prove to be a temporary diversion from Opeth’s “classic” sound are going to be disappointed again. A heavier production may ease the pain a bit, but the pain will not be relieved.

Your thoughts?


  1. My thoughts are that Opeth probably lost a bunch of fans when they added a full time keyboardist, they will probably continue to lose fans no matter what they do next… I think people get caught up on the “death metal” elements of their music and forget that their whole discography probably couldn’t be summed up with that term. Expectations are a funny thing and people are going to want Opeth to sound a certain way, but the fact remains that they probably won’t be “redeeming themselves” anytime soon.

  2. Considering Opeth are far and away my favorite band ever, I’m still going to give them a chance. While Heritage wasn’t the Opeth album we were hoping for, I like to think Akerfeldt has read that lukewarm/negative reaction, and will at least incorporate some death metal elements. Considering that he said that this album is going to be expensive, and that Opeth is still at its base Akerfeldt’s business, he’s going to have to incorporate some death metal elements if he is to recuperate those costs. He’ll probably never incorporate as much death metal as he did on, say, Deliverance, but let’s not forget that he also said in that interview that he has “more sinister-sounding riffs” up his sleeve for this next album.

  3. I’ve never quite understood the logic that if a band wants to change their sound they need to change their name, especially for a so-called “progressive” band where fans should be expecting new changes and developments from the artists anyway. I absolutely love Opeth’s entire body of work, from Orchid to Blackwater Park to Heritage…as far as I’m concerned Mikael & the boys and do whatever they want and it’ll probably be good because they’re artists who are making music for the right reasons (read: not to please their fans).

    Besides, If you want more “classic” Opeth style metal, there’s a growing number of really good bands picking up the style and doing great things. Check out Spires, Ne Obliviscaris, Persefone, or Gwynbleidd to name a few.

  4. This is my two cents; Opeth hasn’t been the “Opeth” that people froth over since Peter Lindgren left the band, and I wasn’t ever a huge fan of Ghost Reveries(Lindgren’s last record with Opeth). I respect Opeth and Mikael is an individual, not just because he’s a talented songwriter but a very kind person. As the band continues on progressing and changing, they’re bound to lose more close minded so called “elitists” but it will be those elitists loss. What the next album from Opeth holds? Another opportunity for fans of Opeth to open their mind and scope of music even more is my guess.

  5. Somewhere in Norway, Ulver is like, “Whatever, guys,” while somewhere in Sweden, Katatonia is nodding and raising a glass in salute. And the Beatles just sent a telegram from 1968 saying, “We did it before most of you were born.”

    By comparison to any of those examples, Heritage is more of a shift in focus than a real departure. I get being disappointed that they left part of their sound behind, but I don’t see how it would warrant a name change.

    Anyway, the bottom line is that bands should do whatever they’re passionate about. When you cater to your fans, you end up making soulless music. Nobody needs more of that.

  6. Even though the death metal was gone, I thought the riffs and songwriting on Heritage still sounded a whole lot like Opeth, so I always found the “it isn’t Opeth” argument to be hogwash. It wasn’t their best work but I do like it, so I’m still super excited for a follow-up. And Mikael’s description of the new stuff does nothing to temper my enthusiasm.

  7. Heritage has some good songs. Slither is great but it needed a real wailer like Ian Gillan, Mikes clean vocals are too nice for such a barn burner. Wasn’t a fan of Watershed at all so I kinda thought it was the beginning of the end and was a bit surprised by Heritage. It’s not something I listen to much but it isn’t at all bad.

  8. all of Opeth’s albums are amazing, from a technical stand point. they’re obscenely talented musicians. but yet i still find myself bored after only a few tracks. i don’t think it has anything to do with how heavy the music is.
    maybe it’s just Åkerfeldt’s voice, he doesn’t exactly emote. he just sings in a very one tone technically proficient manner. but the music just kind of feels lifeless to me, as well. how do they make metal sound so mellow?
    but on the other hand there are quite a few people who worship at the altar of Opeth, so it’s most likely just not my cup of tea.

  9. Am I the only one that thinks that a return to death metal would make me respect Opeth less? I didn’t like Heritage, but I respect that Heritage is the music that Akerfeldt is interested in making now. If he switched back to stuff he has said that he thought was boring and didn’t want to do anymore, it would seem dishonest. I don’t like new In Flames, but I respect that they are genuinely making the music they want to make. Its bands like Cryptopsy, who switch their sound back to their old sound after fans complain that I don’t respect. You just can’t claim that the new direction was genuine and then switch back to your old sound and still seem credible in any way.

    • You’re not alone. I think you can always hear it in the music when the songwriter/musicians aren’t in love with what they’re doing. I may be alone on this one, but I found some of the heavier elements of Watershed to be re-hashed, lazy, and in a word “filler.”

      It was almost as if Akerfeldt composed the progressive elements with his traditional passion, and said “I’ll just go back and put in some metal riff later, and growl something about the devil, the woods, and october”

      It was good enough to complete the album, but much of the death metal elements from Watershed left zero lasting impression on me.

  10. I am a huge fan of Heritage. In fact, reading this article I think it’s finally time I set up my record player, it’s been more than 9 months since I moved house…

    Meanwhile – @Craig: I think you have it right. How many “death” metal albums have Opeth released? How long can/could they tread water? In fact the sort of experimentation that resulted in Heritage is something I’d like to see more of. Imagine if Cannibal Corpse, utilising Webster’s experience of non-standard tonal arrangements (twelve tone theory etc) went totally sideways and did a jazz album.

    Likely will/can not ever happen but a radical re-interpretation of the core sound filtered through a completely different genre would be amazing. Morbid Angel failed. Metallica continue to wallow but sometimes, LIke Opeth on Heritage, Altar of Plagues’ latest album etc it just works. Oh, Ulver.

  11. I am the only who never was a fan of Opeth to begin with? It’s one of the few progressive death metal bands I just never really got into..i never quite understood what all the fuzz concerning this band was about. That said, I did enjoy Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries and Watershed, and I dreaded Heritage, so I’d prefer a heavier approach I gues. Not that I really care that much though.

  12. WOW! Did Axl or Vince from MetalSucks guest write this one? Not only is it a negative review (something I thought was avoided here) of Heritage, but it is also ill informed. Mikael did plenty of growls when I saw him on this tour and he seemed to be able to do them effortlessly.

    • Ouch! Well, I did say beer was involved.

      At least in the US, on the first Heritage tour, there was no growling at all. On the second one, they appeared for the first time only in the last two songs of an hour-long set — “Demon of the Fall” and “The Grand Conjuration”.

      And for our actual review of Heritage, see this:

      • Here’s the setlist from when I saw them:

        Growled vocals were performed on Ghost of Perdition (50/50), White Cluster, Deliverance, Hessian Peel (50/50), Harlequin Forest (a few verses) and Blackwater Park. That’s probably somewhere between 1/3-1/2 the set being done with growled vocals.

        • Well, I guess that puts paid to the unnamed NCS staffer who ventured that opinion about vocal limitations. Apparently it is simply a matter of choice and a desire to explore more intensively a particular style of music, one less intermingled with the heaviness of extreme metal.

          • Actually I’d like to step back from initial reaction, as it was pretty kneejerk-y. With an album as divisive as Heritage, some negative opinion is to be expected, even on NCS. And like you said, beer was involved. My apologies.

  13. Having listened to Fantomas and Strapping Young Lad as much as One has, the heavier elements of Opeth’s music don’t seem very extreme anymore; they are now just another Progressive Metal band with Classical Music and Death Metal influences to One. So, whether or not their next album has Death Metal bits, One shall only concern oneself with the question “Is this a Prog Metal album I would listen to repeatedly?”

  14. I hope you forgive me for pimping my website. I really am not the kind of guy who jumps onto other peoples’ websites and pimps my own, but I reviewed Opeth at AMG and I had a very, very different opinion than everyone else (apparently). My issue with Heritage wasn’t that it wasn’t an Opeth record—it most definitely was. It was that it was a _bad_ Opeth record. The writing was mediocre, scattered, uninteresting. It showed moments of genius, but the songwriting was so hit-and-miss. I love prog. If Opeth had done something that sounded like Heritage, but that had way better songwriting, I would have give it a high score any day. I don’t need Opeth to be a death metal band to enjoy them; I just want to see Åkerfeldt use his amazing ability for transitions to write the best music possible.

    • You’re always welcome here. I have to say I found the album dull, but because I’m not a huge fan of prog (or at least the kind of backward-looking prog that Opeth channeled on Heritage), I’ve never thought my own opinion was going to be worth very much to anyone except perhaps the kind of fans who already shared my metal likes and dislikes. Or, to put in another way, I had doubts about my competence to judge the album for what it is. Or to put it a third way, maybe I do need Opeth to be, at least in part, a death metal band.

  15. First, it’s not like Heritage was a shocking record. They’ve plainly been moving in that direction for years. I’d be willing to bet they keep moving and evolving their sound from album to album.
    Second, I don’t think anyone should be holding their breath waiting for another Still Life or Blackwater Park or whatever you think their landmark album was.It seems those are in the past and I don’t think Opeth is looking to recreate anything they’ve done before.
    Last, I wasn’t a fan of Heritage. I always loved the mix of light and dark in Opeth’s albums. It’s not a novel approach anymore, but they always did it exceedingly well. It felt like removing the death metal took some of the unpredictability out of their music for me. I’m holding off on the new album. I’ll read a few reviews and, if they seem positive, I’ll check out a few songs. Then I’ll decide to buy the album or not. I’m not pissed at them or writing them off. They made a stylistic change and it didn’t click with me. No big deal. They might win me back yet.

    • You’re admirably philosophical about the Heritage change of course. Although I’m not as pissed off as some people I know, I do understand the feeling of frustration. When you care intensely about the kind of music that Opeth used to make (that fabulous mix of light and dark), it’s tough to see it disappear. Doesn’t mean that a band like this owes it to fans to remain rooted in the past, I’m just saying that the emotional reaction (which I share to a large extent) is understandable.

      • I’m not saying I don’t understand it. Replace Opeth with Metallica and set the time machine for the release of Load and you’ll find a younger, angrier me swearing off Metallica for good and flipping off Lars Ulrich through the TV every time I see him. They will never earn back my fandom, no matter what they do. Opeth, on the other hand, still has some goodwill with me, in spite of Heritage. Eventually, they could morph into something I’ll enjoy again. Until then, Enslaved has moved into the #1 slot.

    • I agree with your assessment of Heritage, and of the band’s general trajectory. For me, the problem with their ongoing direction is not where they’re going to, it’s the fact that they seem to be choosing to leave out elements that might seem regressive from their perspective, even if the songs would be improved by incorporating those elements.

      Opeth without death-ly parts is like a painter who has chosen to eschew red, orange and yellow from his work. Sure, there might be some fascinating work in the purple and the blue-green parts, but when something really needs to jump off the canvas, the means are no longer in the palette. There was a particular song (whose name currently escapes me) on Damnation that was desperately trying to get heavy, but it was continually pre-empted just as it would have gone into satisfyingly death metal territory.

      I will always enjoy new Opeth works; they’re great at what they do. But the proscriptive writing mentality leaves me feeling that the result is always lesser than it could have been.

  16. As someone who loves everything Opeth has done, from the first album to the last (my favorite album actually being Watershed) I think Heritage was amazing. The lack of growls didn’t bother me at all, in fact I didn’t miss them because the songs themselves didn’t call for it, while still being really cohesive, interesting, wellwritten songs. The second half of Folklore for example is pure genius. From a standard Opeth-sounding beginning to compleatly shift gear into something that sounds like a bastard of krautrock and TID (

    And like others have siad, it’s not like this change came out of nowhere. Mike’s a well-kown retro-nerd, writing a recurring column about obscure music for a Swedish metal magazine and has voiced his vaning interest for death metal for years. When Opeth refers to themselves as “heavy” in the future, I think it would be wise of us to anticipate Uriah Heep-heavy, not Morbid Angel-heavy. Whether you like that, is a completly different question.

  17. I think that at this point, Opeth’s problem (well, not really their problem) is the mixed fan base; you have those who want the death metal, those who want the prog and those who like the mix of both. Damnation was a different kind of album when it was released, but it had also followed not too long after Deliverance; Heritage didn’t have that advantage or an album immediately after that to satiate the fans. Ultimately, it worked out for the band. This was also a decade ago and Opeth has progressed since then, for better or worse.

    Few bands can get away with making the same kinds of albums all the time. Opeth is no exception. Heritage may have been a divisive album, but I doubt they can make an album at this point that’s going to please everyone. All or most of one side is going to disappoint the others, while a balanced mix of the two may appease more fans than albums at either of Opeth’s musical poles, it would still leave a lot of fans wanting more/all of just one kind of Opeth.

    Heritage wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad. And though dripping in 60’s and 70’s prog influences, it still sounded like Opeth. Personally, I wouldn’t mind a heavier prog album from Opeth (and as Johan alludes to, there’s more than one way to do “heavy”), even if Mikael leaves the growls behind again.

  18. I think they are just doing their thing! People forget Damnation did happen before. Even if they don’t include full on deathmetal elements, it will be good to amazing in the Opeth way. Åkerfeldt does like to mix things up.

  19. While I might have come to appreciate Heritage a bit more, I didn’t really enjoy Watershed either, so for me they haven’t been on top of their game since Ghost Reveries. And to be honest, neither have many bands. Mastodon, not that great since Blood Mountain; Isis, breaks up after a lackluster concluding album in Wavering Radiant; Tool hasn’t been heard from in eight years, though I hope for the best; Nightwish (yes, I like them as well) has been on a sharp decline since they released Once; HIM hasn’t been great since Love Metal; you could go on more I’m sure, I’m not really into the backwaters of the metal scene, I know the most visible bands and enjoy most of what I hear. But as for bands that we consider to be the most widely appreciated, it’s difficult to find a truly great album in the last five-six years, from what I’ve seen anyway. But as they say darkest before the dawn.

    • “Mastodon, not that great since Blood Mountain”

      What? Crack The Skye is one of their best albums. I constantly grapple with whether it’s better than Leviathan, though I usually give Leviathan the edge.

  20. Honestly I believe opeth should do whatever they want to do. I’m not into opeth because of the metal. I’m in it because of the music. Mikael akerfeldt is an awesome song writer and he has written awesome music. But yet again there is a lot of people who only listens to metal while I listen to king crimson, pink Floyd, supertramp, or anything that’s just progressive. Either way I believe opeth’s next album is gonna be amazing.

  21. I would like to say that i am so happy to see the direction opeths music has taken. They are constantly the example i use when talking about a band that makes the music they want to make. After a cirtian point of maturation, (very early on), they have consistantly put out amazing music. From the first time i heard them i was drawn in by their progressive style. As the albums went by, i realized that opeth and i have very similar influences. Anyone that likes them for the reasons i do can see the continuity plainly. You cant write the music opeth makes without tons of 70s prog in your soal! If you dont understand the stuff they’re doing now i really dont think you were fully apreciating what they were doing when they were much heavier. At the end of the day bands with this level of talent, origionality, and passion, will always leave a diverse discogoriphy behind. Bands bound by gonre have no place in prog. I dont care if the next album is trumpet piano and xylophone. You’ll know its opeth when you hear it and it will be heartwrenching! Thats what i had to say right now. Ill write a real review when im not drunk, and not on my phone (sorry for the spelling!)

  22. These comments are as dull and unprovocative as the band has become…my own comment included. At some point, going further into intellectual ideas turns into mental masturbation. And then we’re just jerking off. Keep the passion alive and fuck shit up.

  23. I saw them this year. And Mikael can very much still growl, just as well as he did 10 years ago.

  24. Like many of the previous commenters, I too am a massive fan of both Death Metal and 70’s Prog Rock. I value Nile/Gorguts/Immolation and King Crimson/Comus/Gentle Giant equally. I am a massive Opeth fan. I don’t enjoy Heritage. Why? I hate to be critical but when I listen to the songs they don’t provoke my emotions…

    ((especially not compared to the way previous Opeth would. This could be misinterpreted as myself ignorantly only being capable of emotionally connecting to extreme music, don’t get me wrong I do get off very much so on extreme, fast, dissonant, dark music, but with Opeth it was always more about the depth, progression and musicality. The journey on which the music would take you, never simply the extremity or intensity of the music))

    …I feel as if many fans found this with Heritage. I get where Mikael was coming from when he said he wanted to step away from the techniques used to create modern metal, it can feel unsatisfying hearing a recording back knowing it’s not ‘really’ you playing, soulless, but if you are going to go for the organic 70’s sound; you got to write the music that will suit that style of recording. (Imagine what Devin Townsend would sound like without his ‘wall of sound’, multi-layered approach, I’m not saying it would be bad, certainly different), When I listen to Heritage I hear an album lacking atmosphere, atmosphere which would have been captured if only the allowance of modern production and editing techniques were permitted (*see Storm Corrosion), but given the simplistic / raw and stripped back production of the album, for it me it’s lifeless, falls flat and is forgettable (are we still talking about Opeth here?!!), which is a real shame given the monstrous talent of the band and their momentous back catalogue (asskisser).

    BUT… given this was their first attempt at writing music more along the lines of Camel and the alike, it’s not terrible and quite frankly what did we expect? Are we not forgetting how difficult it is to write prog rock. King Crimson had a couple bad albums along the way, Robert Fripp for goodness sake! You can’t suddenly go from the top of one genre to another, you have to work your way up the ladder again (practice, master the techniques of the new style you’re going for), so as a first attempt I say not bad, but I am very much so anticipating the next one to be a bit further up the ladder.

    Cheers Opeth

  25. the guy who wrote this shit shows how limited he is..dude,you have no clue about music!

  26. I grew up on Death Metal, but I’ve also grown out of it a bit too. Still the occational listen, but I’ve ended listening to more and more modern prog. Heritage turned me onto Opeth. Wasn’t keen before, but loved that album. Particularly amazing in 5.1 mix. For me I don’t believe a band should stand still and if they’ve gone as far as they can doing what they used to do then it’s time to move on. I get why people were pissed with them as Heritage was so different. It must have taken nuts of steal to change direction like that, but people change as they get older and musicians should always be faithful to themselves or else all artistic integrity is lost. That for me is what makes the big difference between real musicians and these music industry creations that seem so popular at the moment.

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