Three years is just about the longest period between Opeth studio releases in recent memory. Perhaps ever. After releasing Ghost Reveries in the summer of 2005, the band had been on a nearly constant touring schedule right up to this time last year, when they finally took a break to write and recuperate for their next record.
The extensive touring, their longest to date due to support from their new label Roadrunner Records, wore on the 20-plus-year-old band, however. Shortly after going on tour for Ghost Reveries, drummer Martin Lopez had to sit on the sidelines due to illness and was eventually replaced by Bloodbath drummer Martin Axenrot. And after the completion of their tour cycle, longtime guitarist Peter Lindgren said goodbye as well, and his position was quickly filled by Fredrik Akesson, formerly of Arch Enemy.
Most bands would probably play it safe during such periods of transition, but the internal turbulence instead helped spur a change in the end result, Watershed. Any expectations of evolution from the last album are met, and likely bested, by not only the reinvigorated lineup, but also the longer time spent by frontman Mikael Akerfeldt writing and rewriting the material.
All these elements coalesce in a body of new music stands well out in front (and maybe a bit off to the left) from the band’s previous material in songwriting and direction, and it could be argued as their most detailed offering yet. The Aquarian Weekly sat down with Akerfeldt and Akesson to discuss this leap for Opeth.
This is really your first lineup change in about 10 years, with the exception of adding Per on keyboards.
Mikael: We’ve had complete lineup changes before, so it seems the same as back in ‘97 when Anders [Nordin], the first drummer, left and Johan [DeFarfalla], the bass player, was fired. It was just me and Peter all of a sudden. This kind of reminds me of that.
I don’t know how many albums we still have in us, but it feels right now that I’m eager to do another one, you know (laughs). We’ve been a band with Peter and Lopez and everything, and Mendez. You kind of get used to each other. With Lopez and Peter, they lost their edge, so to speak. Their love for what we’re doing. I guess we got a little bit jaded in a way. Now with Axe and Fredrik in the band, it’s clichÃ©, but it feels new and fresh. Those guys, they couldn’t stop playing in the studio. We haven’t had this kind of atmosphere in the band in ten years. That made me feel really good and made me feel pumped up about doing this album and also about our future.
With Peter and Martin [Lopez] taking off, was it a tour-related stress? You toured more around Ghost Reveries than any other record.
Mikael: Yes, we did. It certainly had a lot to do with the touring that we do, because it’s not easy for anyone to be away from home that much and working all the time. The idea about metal music for me is I love it, I love playing. When you’re doing gig number 200, sometimes you feel like, ‘I don’t want to this.’ I guess it got them a little bit. Also, Lopez, he was ill. He definitely needed time off of everything. Peter had additional interests as well because of his education. I don’t. My education isn’t worth anything. I don’t have anything else than the music. He [Fredrik] bailed from school or whatever.
Fredrik: I didn’t bail, but when you’re 15 years old you usually go to high school. I never did that. I went to work in a factory to buy amps (laughs). All I’ve got is my pick and guitar.
Mikael: Same with Axe. He was about to leave his love for music because his bands weren’t going anywhere. He was going to get a job in a sausage factory or something (laughs). Per’s been a professional musicians for years and years. Mendez is the same as me. He moved from Uruguay to Stockholm to be in a death metal band. Says a lot. So we don’t have anything else. There’re no other interests pulling us other than what we’re doing. And Peter is working now, based on his education. History, science, physics, I think, and literature. He’s well-educated. And to some extent I can feel that he was wasting his time with us in a way, even though I loved the time we had with Peter and we’re still good friends and we did some really good albums together. We always had a good time. Parts of me felt that, you have all these kinds of things going on, what are you going to do with that? You’ve just wasted those years in school. Because I remember when I was writing the My Arms, Your Hearse record, he was going to school, studying and all that stuff. He never made the same commitment to music as I did, I guess. Because I just left everything and ventured into poverty, basically. And he, because when you study, you get money from the government.
Mikael: Yeah, well in Sweden. He always had this additional interest that stemmed from his years in school and as we were going off tour for Ghost Reveries he got a job. Like, a extra thing, consultant, IT, programming, whatever it is. Mendez was going to play tango music. Per was doing his solo projects. Axe is going in to do Bloodbath, doing Witchery. Myself, obviously writing. Peter started working, and it seemed like, ‘You’ve got a job.’ Obviously he was dipping his toes in the water of something else. Eventually, I think the spark wasn’t there anymore. In retrospect, even though it’s devastating and I’m always going to be sad about that, it’s for the better.