25th April, 2008

Per, Opeth's keyboardist

Per, Opeth

OPETH TOOK a while to get going. They didn’t tour until their second album, Morningrise. But now, thirteen years on, they are signed to Roadrunner records, headlining Metal Hammer Defenders of the Faith tour with Arch Enemy, and are on the bill for Bloodstock 2008. Has Roadrunner affected the band’s fifteen minute songs?

‘No’ replies Per Wiberg, Opeth’s keyboardist. ‘Not at all’. ‘Don’t edit the songs…that would go for every record company in the world for Opeth’. The message is clear. No one will stop Opeth from experimenting, and making some of the most inaccessible but highly rewarding music in the metal industry.

Per joined the band in 2005, but was a fan from the release of Orchid in 1995. ‘It was a fresh take on more extreme metal’ says Per, but it was 1998’s My Arms Your Hearse that really blew him away. ‘I was recording with Spiritual Beggars that year (Per’s stoner rock band), and actually the guy who owned the studio double booked it because Opeth was there to record My Arms Your Hearse’. Per’s move to Opeth wasn’t as much of a change as I expected: ‘a lot of the influences are the same bands…especially from late sixties psychedelic stuff’.

And there are a lot of those influences on Opeth’s new album, Watershed. ‘Every Opeth album sounds a little bit different’, says Per, but with Watershed, ‘this one is a little bit more raw sounding, a little bit dirtier’, ‘a few more twists and turns in the songs’. And Opeth are known for their twists and turns. The new single, Porcelain Heart seamlessly combines brutal death metal with mellow, acoustic sections and almost angelic singing.

Opeth may not have toured for their first few albums, but for Watershed they are embarking on a twenty month world tour. Does this tour-length affect the band’s performance? ‘Travelling can get to you’, ‘and it affects your everyday mood’ admits Per, ‘and everyone hates security’. ‘But as soon as you’re up onstage everything is good again. All you have to do is play the right notes’. Once you’ve done your stretches. ‘Stretch’, says Per. ‘The back and the neck. It would be impossible to play a gig if you didn’t do that’.

Roadrunner records might not have had an affect on Opeth, but mp3s and downloading certainly have. It’s an issue that is beginning to hit all bands says Per: ‘record labels don’t know how to sell records’. ‘Bands have to look elsewhere to finance the touring’. Illegal or cheap downloads seem to be the way of the future, and Per fears that ‘no one has figured out what to do about it. It’s become an attitude towards music’. And in many ways, he’s right; music is now so easy to get hold of that the thrill of saving up for and buying a CD has gone. People’s unwillingness to pay for their favourite band’s music might soon mean that they don’t get to see them live. In the end, ‘people get the music they deserve’.

Towards the end of the interview Mikael Åkerfeldt, the band’s songwriter, wanders in. He wants his laptop bag back, but it turns out he has a few minutes to spare, and so joins us. He starts talking about the motivation behind releasing Damnation and Deliverance at the same time, when someone brings in a large fan, and starts unpacking it. The fan then becomes the center of conversation for several minutes. ‘It’s a beautiful fan’, remarks Per. ‘It was experiment’, continues Mikael, getting back to the albums, ‘but a bad experience’. ‘The band almost imploded, we recorded them at the same time’. And no, for all you Porcupine Tree fans, no news of a collaboration with Steven Wilson any time soon.

Instead, stories of someone falling asleep during gig, things being thrown at the band whilst on stage. ‘He got a shoe in his head; that seems to be an Australian way to have fun’ says Per, pointing at Mikael. Milwaukee gig goers apparently throw cookies. ‘Getting panties thrown on stage isn’t that common’ for Opeth, but Per remembers a bra. ‘I like the bra. It was huge as well, I don’t know why someone would throw a bra…’.

Finally, an attempt to explain Scandinavia’s link to metal music, from Norway’s black metal scene to metal bands charting in Finland. ‘Finland differs a lot from Sweden’, states Per. ‘They are bigger on metal as a mainstream type of music. Norway recognise metal bands a lot better than in Sweden’; ‘they have something similar to the Grammies’. But ‘Scandinavia has always had a good heavy rock tradition, and NWOBHM was huge’. Which would explain why underground bands like Reverend Bizzare and their 15 minute doom-metal epics chart there. And also, why I’m moving to Finland.