31.5.2011

Hagalaz' Runedance interview from Qvadrivivm #2 (2000)


Urd - That Which Was

Interview: Arkadin

Chants, atmospheric sounds and tribal drumming paint a picture of a natural landscape, unmarred by the din and corruption of modern industry. Both soothing and energetic is the music of Hagalaz' Runedance. And it's anything but metal. This is to be emphasized. Placing her music alongside something like Darkthrone would be ridiculous. No, my friends, we are not talking about guitar-oriented musical aggression with a history rooted somewhere in rock n' roll. The opposite, really. In order to shed some light on the personality behind the work, I contacted Andrea for a brief, if incredibly uneven chat. Maybe I'm to blame for it turning out that way? Evaluate for yourself…

Since the Urd mcd was released only recently, and I've had quite mixed emotions ever since I first heard it, I decide to begin by focusing there.

How has the response thus far been to Urd - That Which Was. Are you satisfied with the outcome of the techno tracks, and if so, will you be experimenting more with that sound in the future?

Andrea: "The response has been both very positive and also negative. Of course the two new songs got generally positive attention. Some really like the re-mixes, others claim they are shocked about hearing Hagalaz' Runedance doing techno sounds... [Read my review in this same issue to hear my view on the matter - Yury] Yes, I am satisfied with the outcome of the techno tracks, especially with the industrial track by Kris. I personally like industrial music and also some trance/techno stuff. I love stuff like the Platinum CD by DJ John Kelly, for example. No, I do not have any intentions of techno songs on the new CD, but I will have some trance elements in some of the songs."

Happy to hear that. I understand you are involved in the ancient northern practice of sorcery and shamanism, known as Seidr. What does this practice entail? And can anyone involve him or herself in it?

"Seidr was practised mainly by the wise women and often in connection with fertility-rites, making use of intense emotions and natural substances."

I have a hint she's not talking about tea leaves. She continues: "Seidr practise involves entering a trance, allowing the mind to travel to other dimensions of reality. There the practitioner would communicate with spirits, totem-animals or the gods…Shamanism is the oldest form of magic, practised since the dawn of human consciousness. Travelling between the worlds, in other words between the consciousness and subconsciousness, has been practised in every culture. I think every person has by nature the ability to travel to his or her inner self, and communicate with nature's hidden realms. Yet for the ability to work magic effectively, I think, some individuals are more gifted than others."

Fair enough. And how do you feel about the rapid incorporation of technology into the worldwide economy? Do you feel that this will corrupt the spiritual element of life, or can it be reconciled? Take in consideration the fact that more than half the people on the earth have never spoken on a telephone.

"I do think technology is a threat to spiritual thinking, yet not alone. I think what mostly destroyed spiritual thinking, in other words, the ability to understand nature's mysteries, is caused by the patriarchal monotheistic religions, who have destroyed the ability. The dogmas of these middle-eastern religions closed our minds in order to control them. They have created the 'western mind', the up-side light, white, male, so called 'logical' way of thinking that leaves no space for the feminine side: the mysterious, magic, imagination, understanding and spirituality. The combination of the western way of thinking and technology is responsible for the loss of spiritual thought, I think."

You've stated yourself that you 'personally don't believe in any gods in the universe and… don't believe in a life after death.' But in order to pursue these hypotheses, isn't it necessary to study matters in science (cosmology, neurology, etc) to come to any real conclusion? Is science of any interest to you?

"Today's science has evolved from ancient myths and ancient knowledge. [That's incontestable - Yury] The ancient people were studying the earth and the planets and they knew probably a lot more about the cosmos than we do today. [Now that's contestable - Yury] They had scientists in ancient times, who often were magicians and there were also many women scientists, who combined knowledge with understanding. They knew about the stars for example, but they knew without any fancy machines as we have today. So I don't think science is opposed to the ancient way of thinking. It was in fact the Christians that attempted to destroy science and philosophy. I think if the Christian missionaries had not burned the scientific notes the Incas had written down for example, science could have come much further today and could have been understood much better. I don't say that I don't believe in any gods or an afterlife [But she did say she didn't believe in any gods or an afterlife in a letter I read on her official web site. - Yury]. Pagan Gods and Goddesses are energies and symbols. They represent the natural forces and the different human qualities within the man and the woman. The tales of northern mythology only tell the story of life as it is, reality on earth and human relations, their strengths and weaknesses. I further believe in the circle of life of course, which means that life itself goes on after death. I just don't know what form it will take after the pass over from this life."

Realizing that Asatru is a religion constrained to early Germanic pagans (please correct me if I'm wrong), I'm curious about how you feel about the rapid homogeneity or, less elegantly, dilution of so called 'pure blood' species across the earth? I'm curious of how you feel about anthropological facts today that lead to the direction that most modern human beings have evolved through interbreeding and have originated from somewhere in Africa some hundred-fifty thousand years ago.

"Yes, the early humans have moved around the globe, which explains also why so many ancient mythologies appear to have similar influences. Yet one important thing to remember is that paganism is the worship of the nature that surrounds the people, the nature to which they have adapted to live in. The northern religion is based on the mysteries to be found in northern nature. The traditions have been passed on by the people that became a part of that nature."

Well, there's something to extrapolate from.

Now switching to a more sentimental route, I know that you are very concerned about the survival of animals in nature. How do you feel about experimentation with animals in labs that is active on a daily basis? Before you respond, consider the circumstance of suffering a debilitating or life-threatening disease, and the only hope of survival depending upon the testing of vaccines on animals, or a means of improving the standard of living.

"I think testing on animals is not only ethically wrong, it is meaningless and has given many false results. There are many herbs that have been used for thousands of years for healing purposes. [Let's find a herb for AIDS and Lou Gerrig's Disease, Andrea! - Yury] These do not have to be tested on animals. To try out a new cure, one should test it on sick individuals who can benefit from it, not on healthy animals that have different systems than we have."

One must ponder, however, upon the fact that over 99 percent of natural plants and vegetation is poisonous to human beings. It's interesting to note, at this point, the general misconception amongst many people today that the more natural something is, the more, consequently, beneficial it is to one's well being, as it is more 'pure' and so on. I certainly don't mean to be flippant, but this is often quite far from the truth. Animal testing, the basis of my question, is often justifiable considering the alternative of testing on human beings, sick or healthy. But to test new medications on sick people! What a diabolical notion! Did Andrea actually give any thought to what she wrote?

I close my gaping mouth and next ask: Well then, to continue in this controversial direction, how about vegetarianism? What are your thoughts on this? In the United States there is an increasing trend towards vegetarianism now that point to college students and young adults gravitating towards this direction. Could it be from a spiritual basis or another manifestation of mindless herd-mentality?

"Well I think it is a good choice to be vegetarian in today's world. And to me it shows that more people start to think more about what they eat and that they are opposed to the industrial livestock-factories that are unethical and unhealthy."

But isn't the rampant overpopulation of animals just as threatening? A shame I couldn't get an answer this time around. I conclude with a question on many peoples' minds:

How do you feel about the madness that so many people have underwent due to the Y2K 'bug' and so on? Is this Christian obsession justified in your opinion? Does the year 2000 have any relevance to you?"

"No, as far as I am concerned pagans have passed the year 2000 long ago. Even the Christian calendar is wrong, the year 2000 would have been last year. Whatever, I don't care if the man Jesus was born or not, it is not my mythology and I don't see any dooms-day coming with the Christian 'millennium change'. I don't even think the computers will be any problem. Yet, one thing that pleases me is that on all food products the expiration date reads now 00: in other words age zero. I see this as a new beginning perhaps and the end of the Christian era and considering that the Church celebrates it's 1000 years jubileum in Norway and Iceland, we heathens here like to state "A 1000 years of suppression is enough…the next 1000 years are ours !!"…"

Allow me to become pedantic once more: the 21st century officially begins on January 1st, 2001, unless you think a millennium is equivalent to 999 years. The Gregorian calendar, in use today, was, as far as I understand, instilled by Pope Gregory VIII in 1582 to rectify some of the minute details that weren't accounted for in the Julian model. In what way could it be incorrect when it has been accurate in gauging the seasons for so long? Maybe my friend Stephen Hawking could help us put a decent final stroke to this interview? I'll end with a quote from one of his famous speeches:

"Whether we like it or not, the world we live in has changed a great deal in the last hundred years, and it is likely to change even more in the next hundred. Some people would like to stop these changes and go back to what they see as a purer and simpler age. But as history shows, the past was not that wonderful. It was not so bad for a privileged minority, though even they had to do without modern medicine, and childbirth was highly risky for women. But for the vast majority of people life was nasty, brutish, and short. Even if one wanted to, one couldn't put the clock back to an earlier age. Knowledge and techniques just can't be forgotten. If we accept that we cannot prevent science and technology from changing the world, we can at least try to ensure that the changes they make are in the right direction." …

We can all learn a lot from Hawking. Thanks to Andrea Haugen for her time...

25.5.2011

Esoteric interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)


Praise and Argue

Interview: Kuronen

Those of you who have been with us from the beginning may remember the enthusiasm for Esoteric voiced in the very first issue of Qvadrivivm. “Find Esoteric. Kill yourself” was one of the lucid phrases in the interview initially motored by the greatness of The Pernicious Enigma and substantiated by an admiration for the fresh Metamorphogenesis.

It has been more than a decade since The Pernicious Enigma, an all-round classic of narcotics, hatred and misery, but Esoteric finally graced us with another double release, The Maniacal Vale. More refined and intricate, it is certainly an A-level studio experiment of psychedelic oppression. More interesting than talking about that album as such, however, is to hear what lessons Esoteric learnt from The Pernicious Enigma. Enter Greg Chandler, the humongous brute making humongous music in the post-steel storms of
Birmingham.

“I see that album as it is,” founding member
Chandler relates. “Everything we do as humans is flawed in some way.  Hindsight offers us the chance to evolve and progress with new achievements and creations, but for me personally, it is impossible to be completely satisfied with anything I do in any case.  It is only possible to try my best.  Each album we do is always a monument of the time in which it was written and recorded.  An expression of that time, bound by whatever constraints were upon us at the time. In some ways that album was extremely influential to the direction my life was to take back then.  Being so disillusioned with the work of the sound engineer on that album, I started training as a sound engineer myself so that I could work in studios and gain enough knowledge and experience to record our own albums. I spent a year in training during 1996/97 and have been working full-time in professional studios ever since. The songs and ideas are strong on that album, though the recording, production and mixing did not do much justice to the sounds we had created.  We knew what we wanted, but not how to capture it.  The engineer/producer didn’t understand or seem to care about the music and we were using a studio that wasn’t particularly well maintained or proud of the service it provided. Several problems with the mix automation (quite typical of soundtracks mixing consoles in my experience) and the limited number of audio tracks (24) and the shitty recording medium (ADAT’s) meant that we were really pushing the studio beyond its capabilities, despite the fact that it was a commercial studio that had actually recorded quite a few rock and metal albums over the years.  We weren’t really bitter about the experience; we just took it as a valuable lesson.  Back then, no one would really have had a good idea of how to approach our music in any case, but clearly we should have tried to find an engineer that at least had some interest in our music or some understanding of extreme metal at least. Our albums fail and succeed based on whether the music does what it is supposed to.  At least, that is how I see it. If the music is a good representation of what it is trying to express and is also evocative to our own senses and emotions, then it is doing what is intended.  If others like it then it is a bonus, but the cause is always our own inspiration. For me, that seems like the best way to make music unique and real. It is hard to listen to the album subjectively, because I know and hear in my mind how it could sound, yet the reality is far different.  Had we also had a better drummer for the album, the overall feel would have been a lot better. I can pick it apart until night becomes day, as with most things, but at the end of the day, it is what it is.”

Another interesting point is to elicit a justification for a dubious fact proven by some comparative research: albeit not visible in the previous answer, Greg Chandler is one of those artists who like to copy some of their answers from one interview to another. A perilous enterprise, seeing as the questions which he offers precisely the same answer to differ quite a bit, and there is oftentimes a space of years between the answers. Explain!

“My life is extremely hectic, so I save time where I can,” reasons Greg. “And if I might disagree, often interview questions are the same or very similar. I would never answer a question seeking new information or a clever, original question with a “copied” answer. My views and answers are fairly consistent in any case.  I often remember what I have said.  I want to spend as much time as possible with the music when I have spare time.  Not thinking of new ways to answer generic questions if it is the case that my previous thoughts are still relevant. Esoteric is a band that puts a lot of time and energy into what we do. Most people without the same kind of lifestyle have no idea how much time it takes to maintain a good standard of musicianship, compose, rehearse, record and play music live, in addition to having to earn a living. Break down our music into its individual parts and you will get a clearer picture. That is where my heart is.”

Esoteric interview from Qvadrivivm #1 (1999)


Interview: Kuronen

Not so long ago, someone inquired me what has been the strongest moving experience with metal I have gone through. I don't remember what I answered, but one substantial contestant would be the moments spent with The Pernicious Enigma, the second album of the UK-based orchestra Esoteric. It is not necessary to tell you how it blew my fucking socks off when I first heard it, but heck, it definitely did. Now they are proceeding on their pathways, with Metamorphogenesis, the band's fourth official recording. This interview veers on the past of the band, since, by the time of the interview, the new effort was not yet available.


Many of our readers haven´t yet heard Esoteric but are interested so could you give us a brief history of the band ?

-ESOTERIC formed in July 1992, after the gathering of five individuals, inspired to create dark, innovative music that was evocative to and expressive of the contents of our psyche. The lyrics and music are reflections and transpositions of our thoughts, philosophies, emotions, experiences and so on. The Demo Esoteric Emotions - The Death of Igorance was recorded in 1993 and was well received by all that experienced it. Aesthetic Death signed the band shortly after it's release and work began on the First Double CD Epistemological Despondency (1994). Two years later, the Second Double CD The Pernicious Enigma was created with a slightly different line-up. I replaced one of the guitarists but we were unable to find a suitable drummer due to the intense diversity of the music. Two tours later we lost another guitarist and Greg (vocals)took over in his place. We have recently finished recording the new CD Metamorphogenesis with a new drummer, Keith York who works well with the band having worked with a diverse array of bands including Pitchshifter. The music still captures the essence of the word 'esoteric'.

I´ve had a few discussions about different sides of music lately and I´ve used Esoteric as an example, because Esoteric represents to me something that many others can´t achieve. In my own opinion your music isn´t rational in the common meaning of music, more like a feeling with an ongoing soundharmony in the background. Very innovative music, in other words. How do you view the music yourself ?

-The music may sound irrational but it is logical. The timing structure of each track can vary immensely from start to finish but is always calculated to precision. There are sections which require thought, understanding and even a little effort to listen to, and others which wash over you in a dream-like way. There is always something new to hear in the music, no matter how many times it is listened to. We are all very creative people and the music reflects this.

Your kind of music isn´t maybe the best king to be played live, but you have been playing live. How is the 'usual' live show ?

-I'm not sure that we have a usual live show as each one has been very different. My favourite shows are the small gigs with just a few dedicated listeners but the energy that we dispel in the bigger gigs is also very satisfying. We are very limited in terms of venues as our music requires a good low-end response from the PA which, unfortunately, is very hard to come by.

You play the songs faster ?

-Absolutely not. We are not entertainers so audience satisfaction isn't our primary goal. Our music is created entirely for ourselves and we assume that anyone who visits our live performances have at least acknowledged this. It would be wrong to play all the songs faster as that is not how they are intended to be played. The tempo varies greatly through the course of each song to portray the content of the lyrics so slow sections tend to be a little slower and the fast sections are played a little faster, but as a rule, we try to keep it as close to the recorded arrangements as we possibly can.

How does the audience respond to it -I bet they do not mosh too much ! ?

-The response, in general, has been very good. People who know the music tend to enjoy it more as it is not the type of music that you can easily get into. As for moshing, there are a few idiots who like to jump around a bit but we soon put that to an end. Our audiences tend to vomit more than mosh.

Esoteric is now on Eibon rec. and you´re going to release your third album quite soon, if I understood correctly, could you tell us something about the record ?

-The new CD Metamorphogenesis consists of three tracks and is about 45mins in length. It was recorded, engineered and produced by ourselves and mastered by Tom of Paradigma (who also contributed vocally to one of the tracks). The noticeable progression between Epistemological Despondency and The Pernicious Enigma is also evident in the new CD as we take the music to a whole new level of complexity and majesty. It is a little less psychedelic than the last release but it is so diverse in emotional content, it is impossible to describe. It is aggressive and hateful yet majestic and beautiful. No, I can't describe it.

The artwork on Epistemological Despondency is very mesmerising and I´ve always appreciated the fact that you create your own graphics. Was this something intentional from the very beginning and who came up with the idea ? Also, why is it important to use your own graphics and layout ?

-The demo and 'Epistemological Despondency' were illustrated by Simon, the guitarist, who is a very talented artist. He also contributed the cover artwork for The Pernicious Enigma. I was responsible for the booklet design on the second CD which has attracted quite alot of attention due to it's originality and complexity. 'Metamorphogenesis' is illustrated by my brother Chris who has always been in contact with the band even before I had heard of Esoteric. He has managed to convey the content of the music extremely well under my supervision and I am proud to include it in our work. We have moved away from the Op-Art theme that Simon introduced as he is no longer in contact with the band and there is no way we could mimic his style of design. The Pernicious Enigma booklet was entirely computer generated using various 3-D rendering applications and photo-editors. Metamorphogenesis is a mixture of photographic imagery and electronic editing which suits the new tracks perfectly. It has always been important that we use our own graphics and layout as no-one else could possibly know how to illustrate the sound of the music.
-Recently, we have turned to using computers as a matter of necessity. The studios available to us are not designed to cope with the techniques necessary to record our music so we set up our own recording environment. Computers and hard-disk recording suits our music perfectly as we are not limited to a 24 or 48 tracks. We invested in the technology to allow us to create Metamorphogenesis and now that the studio is in place, we can develop it to suit the music we want to create. Technology has always been a part of Esoteric and the Digital Effects that we use has helped establish a definite 'sound'. There isn't an effect type that we don't use, there is no other band that uses effects in the way that we do (at least none that I have heard). Our guitar and vocal effects often get confused as being keyboards or synths.

The first album had it´s "Fuck off and die" -list which practically forced me to ask this question: What is Esoteric´s ideology ?

-I cannot speak for the entire band on this, as we are all individuals and we encourage each other to be individuals. The easiest way to put forward our collective ideology was to produce the Fuck Off And Die list (Which is now at least five years old). It is still relevant but no longer appears on our releases. I have never analysed the ideology of Esoteric as it is not relevant to do so but in simple terms, we are who we are and anyone who tries to impose any different views or beliefs on us without exception will be told to fuck off. We are open minded, and welcome intelligent debate but if the opposition is not convincing it is generally ignored.


What would be the three best musical styles in the world, and why? Can three or more music styles be mixed with each other without the result being chaotic ?

-I am not aware of three different musical styles. Music is always intended to provoke some sort of reaction, to laugh, cry, uplift, depress, to think or even to dance. If the music succeeds in provoking these reactions in me, then I will acknowledge it as being of worth.
-When something is consciously constructed, the result can never be chaotic. Only the onlooker can see chaos, the creator sees beauty. Chaos can never be created, as is the nature of chaos. It is assumed that because we create something new, we consciously mix styles, but there is only one style of music and that is our own.

You have released two albums up to date, Epistemological Despondency and The Pernicious Enigma. How do you see these albums today, still as good as the day they were made ?
-I don't think a day has passed since I first heard Esoteric that I haven't listened to or thought about the tracks on these albums. The music is, and always will be, a part of me and my lifestyle so I will always appreciate the content.

One difficult and quite irrelevant question I´d like to ask you is how would you categorise Esoteric´s music ? I´ve had a little discussion about this and I promised one guy that I would ask it from you. He said that in his opinion you´re doom/death which I didn´t agree because to me Esoteric isn´t just doom/death, it´s something bigger. So how would you comment this ? Is it 'drug influenced doom' or something else ? Your opinion ?

-We have been described in many different ways over the years. People have mentioned ridiculously long descriptions in reviews/interviews etc. The most amusing of which was something like Doom, Death, Grunge, Industrial, Sludgecore, Black, Ritual, Noise or something. I have never subscribed to the labelling of bands. Make your own mind up, It is none of my business where in your CD collection our music sits.

The three most important elements of the Esoteric creation ? How would you express the proportion of these elements ?
-Narcotics, hatred and misery in equal proportion. There is nothing that influences us except our will.

Is demand for progression the biggest aspect that drags Esoteric to release albums, and to continue working with music? If not, what is and why ?
-There has never been any demand for us to create music, we do it because we like to explore and record our thoughts. Music and art is the natural way for us to do this and we will continue to do this until we die. We may even die as a result of our creativity but that is a whole different topic. Music is our chosen medium for releasing our thoughts and emotions. Others choose various methods but this suits us. The music is strong enough to prompt labels to release the CDs, but this is just a bi-product. We would continue to make the music we like regardless of whether it is to be publicly heard or not.

Since I´m a Finnish guy and we´re talking about extreme doom musick here, I would like to know if you are familiar with bands like Skepticism and Unholy ? Opinions on their music ?
-I am familiar with the music of these bands, although I'm not really a fan of Skepticism's music. Unholy on the other hand have always had my support as they are a truly innovative band. Unholy and Autopsy are probably the only two metal bands that I choose to listen to.

Yes. Disembowel is art where most death metal fails. Not to say many a word about Critical Madness demo. Reader, if you are aware of better death metal, get in touch...  Memorium?
-Visit our website. http://www.bereft.demon.co.uk . There are MP3 samples, lyrics, and artwork for all of our music, about two hours in total. Your support is much appreciated.

Slicky guitar solos suck. Thanks for the interview.
-Cheers Mikko, I hope the zine is successful.

"As the night stalks revenge. The moon is culling for blood, so will it be! This soulless light. Shall feel the pain of my suffering." -Allegiance, from The Pernicious Enigma.

This is the closest we can get to the symmetry of rapture. Find Esoteric. Kill yourself.

18.5.2011

Opeth interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)


A One-off Disclosure

Interview: Kuronen

Similarly to Steve von Till’s brilliant If I Should Fall to the Field, which makes ethers ascend and swathes of sea mist search into the eye like bumblebees unwittingly following their queen to inevitable doom, Opeth’s Damnation is a record to be experienced on piercingly luminous summer nights. Like that of If I Should Fall, its wash of sound nurses the plight deep within the pores of the mind in a mystically comforting fashion.

I am fully aware that the more discerning reader will be ready to turn the page at this point; this is, after all, the third time Opeth appear in Qvadrivivm. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s enthusiastic opinions garnered the first issue, Peter Lindgren helped to bring out what one zine maker deemed ‘the best Opeth interview, ever’ in the split issue with Cair Andros, and now the latter is here again, this time to dissect the sins and virtues of Damnation. Those of you who have quite understandably overdosed on Opeth stories in recent times are advised to move on to the next article. Farewells bidden, etc.


Damnation
is a seductive, mesmeric work. Whilst it is perhaps odd that such an unorthodox album could mark the get-your-act-together record for Opeth, that is what Damnation emerges as. From innovation’s perspective, it totally snatches the sun from the band’s previous three albums.

Escaping definition and eluding terminally stabilised blueprints—there you have in a nutshell what Opeth have often been about. Semi-progressive music, y’know? With their latest efforts, and with the dull Laundromat-grunts, floppy arrangements and mediocre, emotionless songs on them, Åkerfeldt, Lindgren and co. have done nothing to scratch open the hard surface that has blocked them from having a gaze at genuine advancement. This is why Damnation sounds distinctly more Opeth-y than anything they’ve done in the last decade. It goes places.

“We were supposed to record an album after
Blackwater Park, which was from our point of view a pretty successful album,” Lindgren recalls. “I guess a lot of people wanted or expected us to record a Blackwater Park II, but we didn’t have any inspiration to do that at all. So we decided that we should put out a heavy album, a really heavy album. That’s how we started everything. But then Mike said he had a lot of acoustic and mellow parts he didn’t know what to do with. Somebody came up with the idea—I think it was Jonas from Katatonia—to release two albums. Once we decided to do that we had a lot of inspiration to put everything together, and it was the same thing in the studio. We offered the record label to do two albums at the same time when we usually record one, and they didn’t think it was a good idea. So the albums only count as one in the contract, but this is just because we wanted to do them so much. When things broke down in the studio with technical problems we still managed to struggle in order to get everything done. But I guess it was just all about how inspired we were.”

The entrancing songs, or better, lullabies, on Damnation are both obscure and starkly pneumatic. In addition to totally destroying all the new material live, as was witnessed by the Jyväskylä leg of their first-ever Finnish tour, they seem almost purposely to deny entry from those who only enjoy the raving death metal intensity of Opeth—even if that intensity has become debatable of late. They are seamlessly pop-like and accessible; finely patterned and certainly capable of appealing to a whole range of punters not yet in on the secrets of Opeth. Writing and recording Damnation undoubtedly demanded a good sense of imagination and an iron-cast work ethic from the band.

“For us it’s hard because we haven’t really done it before,” admits Lindgren. “We’ve mixed mellow parts in our music, but that’s been like small interceptions. It’s easier that way because all you need is one minute of good mellow riffing or a good vocal line. It’s harder when you write a whole song, and especially if you write a whole album! First of all, for us it was hard to make the songs short enough, because even though they were verse-chorus, the songs turned out to be eight minutes long anyway. And listening to the same scheme for eight minutes gets really boring, so we had to struggle to cut them shorter. That was one thing, another thing was to make the album interesting as a whole. If you have eight songs that are mellow, how do you combine them or make them different from each other in order to make the album interesting? I don’t have any good answers yet; we probably know more about death metal or the music we usually play, which is easier for us because we know exactly what works and what does not work, whereas Damnation was an experiment. We probably learned a lot. We’re not confident enough to say that we know the genre or anything. We’re still newcomers, haha.

“We tried to get a 70s kind of feeling to everything. We recorded the drums for Deliverance first and we had this great drum kit with kick drums and everything. After doing that we recorded the drums for Damnation and then we just had one kick drum and not a lot of toms—we tried to strip it down a bit and build it into a jazz kit. We did that with everything, with every aspect of the recording we tried to narrow it down a bit in order to get it more down to earth. So the production is a lot—simpler, maybe that’s a good word. It’s more direct; it doesn’t have a lot of effects and stuff. That’s the sort of feeling we wanted to get, to have it sound like it was recorded in the early 70s.”

In the end, obsequious expansion is a funeral procession. A tenfold pleasure in comparison to its counterpart release, the flaccid Deliverance, Damnation does a good job in bringing a set of quieter, more contemplative rays into the court of metal’s current Roi-soleil. It also hinders the band’s progression of growing more sumptuous by the day. However, Damnation will not be the new main street of Opeth’s musical orientations, as Peter reports.

“I would say that for us it is a brave thing to put this album out. It could ruin our careers; people could call us sell-outs or whatever. But it’s not a sell-out, it’s just an album we’ve wanted to do for a long time. If it goes really well with this record, if it sells a lot of copies, that won’t affect us because we’re not going to do this again anyway. This is just a one-time thing we wanted to do. If we sell a million records we’ve already done it so there’s no point trying to do it again.

“We try to never go back to where we were a couple of years earlier. I don’t know what’s going to come next because we’re going to do a lot of touring but we’re not going to head in the Damnation-only direction. We won’t abandon the death metal vocals because that’s what we’ve done for such a long time and we’ve liked it. Let’s say we gained a few new fans with Damnation—they might be surprised if we put out an album with kick drums and screaming vocals. But still, if they think about it, we’ve done it for ten years so it’s not that much of a surprise.”

If I were in the guitarist’s boots, I would rethink that last sentence time and again. Judging by Lindgren’s departure, maybe he did.

Those of you who were left wondering about von Till, let’s proffer a little praise on
If I Should Fall to the Field. The metaphorical bells of the album toll in demandingly heavy tones. If there can be a clear-cut get-go to such a crucially aural, metaphysical experience as this recording, then I am trapped from the beginning, the very seed of it. Supported by admittedly graceful yet quite minimalist acoustic prose on the musical side, it is the Neurosis front figure’s authoritative throat that dictates the rules and regulations on this opus. His trombone of a voice, with its tremendously unique sound and calm fury, will undoubtedly have some compare the album to the less abrasive concoctions of Neurosis. Be warned though: that is not nearly the whole truth. There is a much more ambient and laid-back twist to If I Should Fall to the Field, quite reminiscent in its few-loose-shreds-like compositions of traditional singer-songwriter music, with von Till himself calling to mind a sullen, gloomier edition of Nick Drake or Leonard Cohen. “You hear the thunder but can’t get out of the storm.” Sentences go amiss; words almost ruin the experience. This music is soul-searching, haunting and beautiful beyond expression. A  true summernight record.

Opeth interview from Qvadrivivm: Five by Four (2001)

Interview: Kuronen

For me there are few bands in the field of metal that rise the infamous ‘head and shoulders’ above others. I would consider it unacceptable to be regarded as a regressive punter, for that is about as far from the truth as one can get, but still these loved ones tend to fall on the relics’ side. Black Sabbath, Darkthrone, Bathory, Celtic Frost and King Diamond are groups that came into existence well before I started to take a passionate liking to them in the 1990’s. So, essentially, a band of my time and one that I can best relate to would have to be Opeth, the Swedish ensemble conceived in 1990 that brought into being a whole new chameleon concept of spiral death metal armadas smoothly unified with acoustic passages flourishing amid. After three perfect albums, Orchid in 1995, Morningrise in 1996 (still standing as my all-time most cherished album), and My Arms, Your Hearse in 1998, there came a valley in the form of Still Life in 1999 and Blackwater Park in 2001, two good albums that yet did not quite live up to the gargantuan expectations. Coincidentally, every time that doubts have loomed into the mind’s eye, I’ve come to interview a band member and re-discover the depth and content of this band. This happened with Mikael Åkerfeldt a few years ago and now with Peter Lindgren in 2001. After numerous mind-boggling hassles in getting schedules to match with either Mikael or Peter, things started to look rather bleak when Peter missed the call at the designated time of 12 October. However, it was to be the next day, a Friday afternoon clothed in the calm might of an obsessively silver-grey weather, that Peter calls, catching me during my ‘beauty sleep’ (you can’t stop trying, eh?), apologising his miss the day before and explaining that there’s still some things to be confirmed from Music for Nations’ side (if I remember correctly, that is). He then says he will call again in a few minutes, giving me the time to straighten my sleepy wonderland thoughts and hastily look out for the question sheets I had put aside earlier with the firm belief that the entire effort had been in vain. Well, we didn’t found Rome built in a day, did we? All the work wasn’t destined to fall in the bin, as hopefully is proved by this lengthy conversation transcribed into an interview, done in anticipation of life being worth living once again. As the text is so plentiful, I didn’t have the energy to put it fully in appropriate article form, so what you can read is pretty much how the discussion proceeded, with the order of questions kept intact et al.  Enjoy, or at least try to.

From what any sensible person has been able to see within the last eight or so months, the response to Opeth’s fifth album
Blackwater Park has been anything but unrewarding. Says guitarist Peter Lindgren as I push the rec. button on the recorder: “People respect us for doing what we’re doing, and we’ve got a pretty good reception for the past albums, too. There have always been loads of people saying that they don’t like what we’re doing or whatever, but this time it seems everybody liked it and respect what we are doing.”

Then, is Peter personally satisfied with the album and the recording session?

“I think this is probably the best album we’ve done. The old albums are my favourites too, but I think I’m really satisfied with this album.”

Despite not at his eloquent best, it can be felt in his voice that he means what he says, that he is genuinely excited about the album, even now that eight waning moons have passed since its release.


The last three Opeth albums have been quite subtle in the beginning before progressing into a full blast, so I can’t help wondering if this is because Opeth are endorsing people that have patience and a large amount of time to give to the music, and on the other hand, if they are intentionally discouraging the ones who don’t?


Obviously, the question is not a masterpiece of brevity, so I have to rephrase: the way how for instance in My Arms, Your Hearse there is a quiet part going on for a minute or so from the beginning, as well as on Still Life; how everything seems so subtle at first.

“I think this is coincidences,” Peter says. “It’s just the way to start an album. At the time, we have been thinking that maybe we should start a song, for example The Leper Affinity, directly but then we’ve thought that we could also have this short intro. I haven’t thought about it, that on the last three albums we do have these subtle intros, until you say it now, haha. So next time I guess we will have to start off properly. But there is no particular point behind doing this way or the other, it’s just one way to start an album.”

By now the intensive start has worn off rather badly, I add.

“Oh it has, yes, but it is also pretty worn up to have a sort of intro. So, I guess we’re stuck whatever we do, haha!”

Now, to continue discussing trivialities, Still Life and
Blackwater Park are the first Opeth albums adorned by the logo on the covers, and the two covers themselves are also a bit different from the previous ones, so one would assume there is a specific reason for this alteration… Is there?

“There are reasons for it,” the guitarist says. “The main reason for the logo being on the cover is that we noticed that for the three first albums we didn’t have a logo on the cover, whereas on the US version they put it on anyway, and they did it in the wrong colour – for example on Orchid they put an orange logo on it. Those colours didn’t match, so we thought it’s better that we do it correctly from the beginning than have someone else do it on their own.

“Also, we figured that as we had not put the logo for the first three albums and people knew this, maybe it was time for a change. We also thought that as we had released three albums on Candlelight and Still Life was the first on a new label, Peaceville, it was kind of a fresh start for us. In addition, we thought that we should hire someone to do the covers since we had done the first three albums on our own. We thought that it was time for a change there, too, so we got in contact with Travis Smith and he did Still Life and
Blackwater Park for us.”

Change is imperative for Opeth, as one notices from almost everything they do. The band is constantly evolving, and one form of this was having Steven Wilson sit behind the table in the studio. Peter sees his role as valuable on
Blackwater Park.

“He is important for us on some things. Nowadays, when we record an album everything is written and ready when it comes to the basics of the songs. We know the song structures but we leave a lot of space in the songs to experiment in the studio. Steven was with us when we recorded the guitar leads and vocals, and he had a great impact on those things. He had all these ideas on sound and different vocal lines that we didn’t think of. Most of his ideas were really good and his whole impact was very big.”

So then, in his own words, how would Peter describe the sound of the album, what does it stand for?


“I would say it stands for darkness, and heaviness maybe. It’s a typical Opeth sound anyway, even though it has changed. We tried to have two things in one; it should be Opeth but also surprising. I think all our five albums sound really different, whereas there is always also this clear Opeth tension about them.
Blackwater Park is darker and heavier than all the others, except maybe for My Arms, Your Hearse which is pretty heavy, too. But this is the darkest album anyway, and we tried to have dynamics with the acoustic and everything.”

In interviews I’ve seen the band have had to convince people that
Blackwater Park is a natural progression for them. Does Peter think people still expect Opeth to take something else than natural steps with their music?

“People seem surprised at
Blackwater Park being such a great album and they’re all ‘where did that come from?’, whereas to me it has been a natural progression. I think this is our best album but it didn’t come out of the blue, if you know what I mean. We’ve been doing sort of the same thing all the time: long songs with changes from hard music to soft acoustic guitars and everything. There have always been questions like ‘can you do short songs?’ and ‘can you do only clean vocals?’ and so on, so maybe people fear we will leave the death metal focus out of it, and maybe fans fear that we will cut our songs to pop songs. But natural progression is pretty important. I don’t know what people want us to do but we know what we want to do.”

Some of the riffs on the album seem rather neutral in the sense that they don’t really invoke an emotion on the listener, and to me this was one of the main negatives about the album, and also a reason why I initially found the album a bit weak. Peter replies with a sharp ‘oh!’, so I take it that he can’t find any connection to this.


“No, I’d say you’re wrong of course, haha! I like all the riffs, but sometimes we’ve noticed that a riff doesn’t necessarily have to be really exciting if you just put something else on it. For example the song Harvest is pretty easy riffing but when we added the vocal lines the song grew to be exciting. For the four of us in the band each one has to like everything we do, otherwise we change it. It’s hard for me to say that some things don’t wake up people’s emotions. This time, as I said, it’s a darker and heavier album, and that means maybe different emotions aren’t awaken. It’s a bit hard question for me to answer because I don’t think that way… It’s hard…” he struggles.

Well, as Peter brought up Harvest, aside Bleak that is my absolute favourite song on the album. What can he tell about the background of these songs?

Harvest was actually influenced by Seal, the artist,” Lindgren tells to my surprise. “It was just about the idea of having a simple background riff with vocals that are – if you listen to it carefully – in two lines that go on at the same time: low vocals and the high-pitched ones. When those are added together it sounds like a totally different song. The acoustic guitars and the drumming are really simple. But I think that when adding the vocals it grows to become a pretty exciting song. But it’s really simple – when it comes to our standards at least. We always have these several time-changes and so on, but this time we didn’t.

“As for Bleak, when we were in the studio we had this tape of Arabic music and we sort of got influenced by it, so we used some of the drum beats, which you can hear especially in the beginning of the song, the Arabic influences. Otherwise that’s a heavy slow song; we haven’t done it live yet but we are going to do it and it’s going to be pretty interesting to see people’s reactions to it. Many people say that is their favourite song.”


On the album there is also a song called Patterns in the Ivy, which sort of reminds me of Requiem out of Orchid. What is the goal you intend to pursue with these short interludes?


“It’s the idea about the song list that there should be a sort of a breather,” Peter says. “If we have songs that are so long, maybe when you listen to the whole album it’s nice to have a pause, if you know what I mean, sort of a soft part when you can relax, you know go like ‘phew!’, haha. So the intention of the songs on this album is that there’s two massive songs and then there’s Harvest; then there’s another couple of songs and then comes Patterns in the Ivy. There are sort of three blocks of heavy songs and then two pauses in between, that’s the idea.”

On My Arms, Your Hearse Opeth changed from being this highly melodic Swedish death metal outfit to favouring more unusual traits of the genre, such as disharmony, groove and certain roughness. Were there any controlled reasons for this change of heart, I ask.

“Yes, because between Morningrise and My Arms, Your Hearse there were lots of changes in the band,” Peter answers. “The bass player (Johan DeFarfalla) was kicked out of the band and the drummer (Anders Nordin) who had been in the band since the beginning left the band and moved to Brazil. At that time we had the studio booked five months later and we didn’t have any songs, rehearsal room or guitars. So we were actually close to quitting the band with Mikael and I left, but we thought – hell no, so we tried to get new people in the band. And we got Martin, a drummer who was different from Anders, more aggressive. We thought Morningrise was a good album but it was a bit too melodic and happy. There was the thought that we should do the opposite with My Arms, Your Hearse, a hard album with disharmonies and everything. We had this aggressive drummer so we strove to make a heavy and fast album. If you consider all these problems we had, for me, that’s the favourite album because of personal reasons. I like the songs because they’re really short and heavy.

“Another reason we wanted these heavy songs was that we did a tour with Cradle of Filth in 1996, and we realised that when playing all the old songs we seemed to enjoy playing the fast songs more. So we thought we should write a couple of songs we could also play live: that’s one reason for the album being disharmonic and fast.”

It’s quite odd how a lot of people seemed not to really like My Arms, Your Hearse.

“Yeah, I know. I think there are still a lot of people who hold Morningrise as their favourite album, and those people probably don’t like My Arms, Your Hearse.”

Hmm. Morningrise is pretty much my favourite album…

“But you like My Arms, Your Hearse…”

That’s true, I do. Then to change topic a bit, how important is competence and being competent to Peter Lindgren personally and Opeth in general?

“You mean like…?”

The ability to play without intentionally displaying the skill so much in the music.


“It’s important. Although no one in the band is like Yngwie Malmsteen on the guitar or whatever, we’re competent enough musicians to do what we are doing, and we’re competent to sort of… It makes it safe in the band, because we can go sort of where we want to go, we can do almost anything. There’s no hesitation like ‘can he do this?’ or whatever. But we also know our restrictions; we cannot do all this gigantic stuff on the guitars. It may look like fancy stuff but it’s not actually. Everything is just – like most of the guitars – very simple. But when they’re put together it seems like we’re doing these things all at the time. That’s just a question of memory, haha. We have to remember what to play. Still, there are parts that are hard to play, but that’s about one out of ten. So I think competence for us is just being safe without the guys in the band. We can rehearse once or twice before we go into the studio and know everything is going to turn out well anyway.”


You aren’t one of the bands who just like to wank off in their music.

“No we aren’t, none of us is really this jerk-off guy. We had an old bass player guy actually, Johan, who was one of those guys. He was a funk beat player and he showed off all the time and that’s why we didn’t like him.”

There is an anecdote about him wanting his bass sound up on Morningrise so that it would be more audible. Is there any truth to that?

“Well, sort of,” Peter says. “It’s more or less true because he wanted the bass to be really mid-frequency and high-frequency, and to me the bass instrument should be in the low frequency. The sound guy Dan (Swanö) said that ‘well, if you want it that way I can put it that way’ but he didn’t like it, so there was this argument between the two. At the end of the day Johan got his wish through, and if you listen to Morningrise especially, you can hear the bass a lot. That’s another thing we heard of afterwards with My Arms, Your Hearse – people were wondering where the bass had gone, whereas it actually turned into what it’s supposed to be. I think the bass should be like a bass instrument, but on Morningrise it wasn’t – it was more or less another guitar. Johan liked it that way but we didn’t.”


Then Mikael played the bass guitar on My Arms, Your Hearse.


“Yes, and we’ve been receiving criticism for the bass on that album being just gone. We didn’t have a bass player; Martin Mendez was in the band but he had just started so there was no way for him to be involved in the music. On My Arms, Your Hearse the bass was supposed to just push the music forward, it was not supposed to stand out much, so I think the bass suits the music on that album well. But if you had put those bass lines on Morningrise, it wouldn’t have sounded good.”

The songwriting process of Opeth has changed from Mikael and you working together to both of you working separately. Can you imagine that this has altered the nature of your music in some way?


“I think so,” the guitarist reflects, “because it’s easier to write some types of riffs on your own. If you sit together it’s easier to be writing something that both persons can understand immediately. It’d be easier to have some guy start writing something and just jump on that, and I think that would narrow your mind a bit. Nowadays we write more or less separately, and this being the case you can think of the composition more before you present it to the other guy, and you can have some basic drum bits ready. Then as you present it to the other, he can come up with ideas that come really ‘out of the blue’. I don’t know if it’s a better way but it has turned out that it’s easy. Also, Mikael writes more now than I do or did before, so maybe it suits him well, haha! It’s easier to write the basics, at least for me it is because I like listening to the whole with drums, bass and everything figured before I present it to the others. If I only think about the guitar, Mikael’s ideas may ruin mine. You should have it all prepared when you present it to the other guy.”


One would also assume that you have to be very unaware in the songwriting process and not consciously try to push through some particular idea, as otherwise you might just be subconsciously repeating a pattern from some music you have heard before. Does Peter ever think consciously about what he is composing? Does he find this a problem?

“Exactly,” the man relates. “Sometimes it’s like ‘hey, this sounds like something else’ – it could be a guitar riff or a drum beat – but in our case when you add everything else to it I think the plain influences go away, haha. But you can always find things that remind you of something that has been written before by somebody else, I guess. I think that should be the case with any band, since everybody’s influenced by music, and if you write something, it’s going to be subconsciously something that you have not necessarily heard before anyway. The things that you’ve heard before influence you to write whatever you write, and I think that’s good. All bands have some parts that resemble something else, and that’s not a problem unless you take it so far that you do everything like some other band, which is really bad. There are all these great bands that have been doing great music – do not copy them but be influenced by them.”

It’s a fine line between copying and being influenced, and often the merit of doing one or another is measured solely by the standard of the music, not putting emphasis on whether the material is actually stolen or not. At any rate, Peter finds it a positive thing that Opeth have such a diverse range of music they listen to and may take influences from.

“We have this freedom to do almost whatever we want. It’s nice because most bands might say that ‘oh, we have to have a blast beat here, we’re a heavy band – there’s no way we could do an acoustic part’, whilst we can do more or less what we want to; we can, you know, add a flute if we want to, haha. As long as we make it like the Opeth thing I was talking about earlier – if we still sound like Opeth – we can do it. Well – maybe a funk beat wouldn’t do, but we’ve already added Arabic drum beats and acoustic guitars with high-pitched vocals – we get away with everything. But that’s freedom for us, it expands our territory.”

From a musical aspect to a literary one, Peter describes Mikael’s lyrics on the new album as divergent.

“He wrote the lyrics differently this time because the last two albums were concept albums and this time he didn’t want to do that, so, as he told me afterwards, he sat down for two weeks and just wrote whatever came upon him. When he finished the work he thought the lyrics was pretty dark and he was a bit scared of what he had written.

“I like the lyrics on Blackwater Park because they go really well with the music. The music is dark and almost disgusting at times, and the lyrics are full of hate and darkness, so they go very well together. Also, if you look at the cover of the album, it’s very dark too, so the whole thing is pretty much about darkness and that’s something I like.”

The lyrics seem better now also in the sense that they’re a bit more abstract and not just moving from point A to point B as was the case with e.g. Still Life.


“Exactly, you’re right,” Peter agrees. “When you write music or a book, whatever you do, it’s a fact that you get better by doing it. When we recorded the first album Mikael hadn’t been writing lyrics for all his life – he had only started when the songs were supposed to have lyrics. If you look at the first lyrics he ever wrote, those weren’t that good. But they’ve grown better and better, as you can add things, think more and at the same time some parts become more natural to you. I think the lyrics are getting better all the time, and that’s important too, for the lyrics are a half of the whole deal.”


Aside being a band name you’ve stolen, do you use ‘blackwater park’ as a metaphor for something?

“Yes, but it’s not a very clear metaphor that just means one thing. When I hear Blackwater Park I think of a dark place – and that doesn’t necessarily have to be a park in London or whatever, haha. It could be inside anyone, it could be inside me or inside you, but I think that it’s a dark place, and it could mean ‘in a dark place’, but at any rate it’s just a proper title for the album.”

To close the part on Blackwater Park, how would Peter like the album to be listened to, are there any ideal surroundings or times of day?

“Um, yeah: if it’s a bit dark outside, that would probably be good. It probably differs from person to person. For me, if I want to listen to it in the perfect way, it should be with headphones and nothing disturbing around me, but that’s probably the way I would listen to any album. But headphones are good, and if you can turn the lights down a bit – it doesn’t have to be dark or cold if you just turn the lights down or close your eyes with the headphones on. Then you’ll only have the music.”

He does not think one should have the lyrics sheet in hand at first.

“Not the first time. First time I think you should listen to the music, just listen without reading. Maybe the second time you can read the lyrics. If I weren’t in the band and got the album and wanted to listen to it the way that Peter does, I would probably listen to it with closed eyes and just concentrate on the music, the whole album and not turn it off in the middle.”

To go into Opeth’s past a little… You joined the band in 1991 for the gig in Akalla (which I incidentally have a tape of), is this correct?


“The gig in Akalla, yeah, that was my first gig… You have a tape of that?!”


Yes.

“I heard a tape of that, and the sound was really awful!” Peter chuckles.


True. But to go on, originally you came into the band for bass player duties, but went on to guitar instead when the guitar player (Kim Pettersson) left the band soon after in late 1991-early 1992, right?


“Yeah I did. I knew that Mikael was playing in this death metal band, and he asked me to join because Johan – who played the bass then and later on for the first and second album – left after just one gig. Mikael asked me if I wanted to join the band as a bass player. I said ‘yes, why not.’ I rehearsed in another band (Sylt i krysset) that shared the rehearsal room with them, so it was pretty easy for me to just bring my stuff over. That gig was a pretty cool event, actually, because even though I wasn’t very much into death metal at the time and knew we didn’t do the best gig, I was pretty much impressed by the aggressiveness. I thought Mikael liked me as a band member as well as a friend, so we figured we should continue with the band, stick together and get rid of the other people in the band.”

…Which, incidentally, isn’t quite how former vocalist David Isberg recalls the early steps of Opeth, as evidenced by an article he has written on the topic. In fact, it’s quite interesting how much his version differs from e.g. how Mikael has traced the beginning of the band. Mr Isberg seems rather big-headed, to say the least…


“You’d have to know David to understand why he is saying this,” Peter tells. “He can still come to us and say, ‘it’s cool to see what’s going on with my creation’, whereas he’s got nothing to do with it these days, there is nothing left of him in the band except for the band name. He’s big-headed, yes…”


One amusing thing I found in the article was how he says it was pretty much on his demand that Mikael started to write the Possessed-styled riffs.

Peter laughs. “In his opinion it’s probably his influence that’s still going through Blackwater Park! I didn’t even know David at the time, he was just one of those guys in the band. Opeth was his band first, he had founded the band, and we thought we wanted to re-found the band but keep the name. So we thought we couldn’t get rid of David unless we leave the band ourselves, but he actually quit just when we were thinking of doing this. It was really appropriate, and we just asked him if we could keep the name, haha. He said yeah, so that’s the story. It was the same thing with the guitar player at the time, I wanted to be the guitar player of the band and Mikael wanted me to be the twin guitarist with him, as we wrote together and all. So we thought alright, we’ll have to get rid of Kim, but he also left, so we were lucky.”

By listening to some of the early Opeth recordings I have from 1991, it’s quite unbelievable how professional the music was then, and equally amazing how coherent the band has stayed in style throughout the years. What do you think is the secret behind this, if there is one?

“At the time we were, and there are also some recordings of this, influenced by At the Gates,” says Peter. “They were doing the same thing and we got a tape of At the Gates rehearsing, and that was pretty much the tightest thing I had heard, and we were really thinking that okay, we have to rehearse more. In 1992 we rehearsed almost six times a week, just Mikael, Anders and I. And we actually rehearsed the lights out with totally dark in the rehearsing room, just to do it perfectly. We don’t do that any more, but from that period there remains a certain feeling inside the band. Even though Anders isn’t in the band any more, we have this great band feeling; we know each other, and I think recruiting Martin and Martin we have got them into the same feeling. We don’t rehearse as much but sometimes we can meet for a cup of coffee to create this band tension. I think that people who see us play live see that we never fight or argue inside the band and if we do we’re always able to solve the problems, as it’s not only about music for us, we’re more like a small family. It can sound ridiculous, but it helps because we’ve been through a lot of stuff.”

Do you think this family feeling also contributes to the fact that you’ve always stayed quite uniform with the musical style of the band; that although your music has at times been quite chameleon-like, you’ve never really went stylistically off the path, so to speak?

“Actually, that could have something to do with it. The thing that makes the style pretty coherent is that we all have to agree about the music. Mikael writes most of the music and I write the next largest part, and it’s not that the two of us have to be content with the music – everybody else in the band has to be satisfied as well. Everybody in the band has his say as to what we’re doing in the band; for example, if Martin Mendez doesn’t like this cold riff, we try to change it until everybody likes it, or then we have to get rid of it because if we start having music that not everybody likes, the guy who doesn’t like it is not going to play it in the perfect way live. We want everybody in the band to have a good time all the way. So maybe it’s the fact that everybody in the band likes what we’re doing that is the reason for staying quite coherent. We also like the same kind of music, more or less. Maybe when Martin and Martin started the band they didn’t know about all these obscure 70’s bands or they couldn’t listen to Seal, heh, or Michael Jackson, but we tried to talk them into it and now they love all that kind of music. That also makes it easier to create music that everybody in the band likes. When we recorded the drums for My Arms, Your Hearse Martin wanted to show off because he knew that Anders was a pretty good drummer and he didn’t know that we wanted the drummer to be like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. He doesn’t do the fanciest stuff but he’s a great drummer anyway, so we had to slow him down and tell him to just do the ordinary and easy stuff. It seemed he had problems with that because he had been doing all these fancy fills all the time, so we had to slow him down a lot. But I think he learned from that too. It seems we have this family feeling and appreciate the same kind of music, and maybe that’s the reason for us doing stylistically similar stuff throughout the years.”

It seems Mikael and you don’t appreciate Morningrise that much anymore… How come, can you analyse?


“The most important reason is that I don’t like the sound,” Peter laughs. “It’s too clean, crystal-clear. I think the soft parts on that album are very good but I think the heavy parts are a bit weak. I wouldn’t say I don’t like it – just that I like the other albums more, haha! I mean, the crystal-clearness of the guitars is good at some parts, but it’s turning the music a bit too weak. Also, I almost hate the sound of the snare drum, and I don’t know if you have been thinking about that.”

That’s true, it’s a bit… loud.


“Yeah, and maybe the sound on My Arms, Your Hearse is a bit too muddy.”

No no no no.

Laughing. “I also like the difference between Morningrise and My Arms, Your Hearse because these two albums are the albums that differ most within our albums. It’s pretty interesting that they came after one another. Also I think that when looking at it nowadays, the twin guitar leads that we did at the time were maybe a bit too much to fill an entire album with. But I think what we’re doing now, using the twin guitars for chords and disharmonies, makes it all a bit more interesting.”

Do you think that, as some of the people that liked Orchid didn’t like the mellower Morningrise, you somehow had to show people with My Arms, Your Hearse that you still are a heavy metal band?

“Not at all,” Peter replies. “As for me, I was under the impression that people like Morningrise the most of all our albums. It’s just a personal thing that we wanted to be more heavy and we were a bit fed up with the twin guitar style and we wanted to do a darker and more aggressive album. Maybe that was stupid from a commercial point of view because I think we had been starting to get people’s eyes opened and people were really starting to like the things that we were doing. The idea of playing more aggressively was just a personal thing – if you look at it again, maybe it was stupid at the time. But it was just us wanting to do more aggressive stuff.”

How do you look upon Orchid these days?

Orchid is sort of a… how should I say, it’s a child… The first born child, that was our debut album – it’s like we have the same feelings for it. When I look at it I get these really nostalgic feelings because that was done seven years ago, and the songs were old – we had been rehearsing some songs for almost two years at the time. For me it’s still a strong and great album, especially keeping in mind it’s a debut album.”

To change the aspect a bit, these days it seems Opeth has appeared in almost every magazine and fanzine. Do you ever feel tired of incessantly doing interviews?

“It depends,” the guitarist says with a sense of relativity to his voice. “You know, we have been doing loads of interviews throughout the years, and it’s not that bad actually. With the release of Blackwater Park we did a trip to the Music for Nations office in London and we did almost all interviews in one week, which was a really intensive session and everything. But that’s a good way to do it anyhow because you can sort of build up for it and you can take it as a football game, concentrate on it beforehand and have it done. I do interviews – if I remember to call to people, haha! – just occasionally, and it is fun to do interviews now because the one week in February was very intensive – I didn’t want to speak on the phone for eight days after that – whereas when it comes occasionally, it’s okay. Doing interviews is as important as releasing albums, as that’s the way you communicate not only with the journalists but also the fans. So it’s important and we understand the essence of doing it. Doing interviews is not a hate thing or anything, sometimes it can be too much, but for example now I haven’t been doing interviews for a couple of weeks, so this is really good actually.”


During the most intensive days like the ones you mentioned, do you reckon you ever craft certain phrases to use?


“Um, sometimes, for example in February Mikael and I were sitting in the same room and there were these occasions when we said the exact same thing and then looked at each other laughing because it was a moment we had basically given an answer to the same question at the same time. It’s easy to talk freely when you do occasional interviews but when you do twelve in a day and they ask the same questions like ‘how was the recording of Blackwater Park?’ (spoken in a somewhat parodying voice) you start to give standard answers after a while because you have good formulations and everything. Most interviewers ask these fifteen questions, and if you have just released an album, seven or eight of the questions are the same. But the rest of the interview can be totally different, and that’s the interesting part. Questions like ‘how was the recording?’ are the ones that you have to answer but the more interesting ones can be like the one you had about the reasons why our music has remained unchanged throughout the years, which is definitely an interesting question.”

In Opeth you’ve always had a special relationship to criticism, what with a lot of people dismissing you just for having long tracks, the assaults from grind fanatics and so on. Can you define in general terms what criticism means to those in the band? Are you perfectionists?

“Yeah we are, but just between the four of us. For example when we enter the studio we want the result to be perfect. Everything should be supervised, and if someone plays something, he should do it properly. We have been receiving criticism for loads of things throughout the years; the long songs, the soft parts, death metal vocals mixed with clean vocals and everything. I think it was harder in the beginning because when we released Orchid it was in the middle of this black metal boom, and people thought that our music was pussy metal because others were, you know, playing blast beats and wearing make-up. At the moment it’s like nu-metal or whatever that’s prevailing, but we still do the same thing and people respect us for that now as they realise we have been doing it even though there have been bandwagons to jump on. We haven’t been paying attention to the bandwagons, and I think people currently sort of respect us for that. We can always receive criticism for having long songs because they are long, but I don’t hate people for doing three-minute songs, it’s just a matter of choice. Criticism is pretty interesting, for if you look for example over a review of an album – I can understand and appreciate someone giving us 1/10 if the review is motivated. Just saying ‘this is boring’, that’s not enough. But when someone has got interesting things to say I really appreciate being sacked in a review. It’s sometimes more interesting to get 1/10 if people can motivate their choice, instead of just having 7/10 saying ‘this is a pretty good album’ – then there should be more to it. But criticism is interesting.”

To my giving the album 6/10 and writing something of a 500-word review, Peter says:

“That’s great, because you probably don’t have the time to write a 500-word review on every album. But just slagging off the album and saying it’s boring is weak. I mean, when you have been recording an album for seven weeks and you’ve been writing the material for two or three months you want more than ‘this is boring’.”

It has come rather obvious that Opeth are in the industry for the music solely and not for the business side, so one is inclined to think just how much music means to the band.

Peter takes a deep breath before answering. “Music is… it means a lot. Almost, I wouldn’t say everything because it doesn’t mean everything; you have families and friends and everything. But I listen to music almost all the time, at all occasions, on the subway or before I wake up I put on an album, I record compilation albums, and with my friends we discuss music almost endlessly. So music is sort of a lifestyle. It’s really important, I spend so much time thinking or speaking about music, or listening to it, or looking for new albums, or buying albums, or selling albums: whatever, haha.”

Do you then buy a lot of albums?

“It changes from time to time. Sometimes I buy loads of vinyls and it takes a tremendous time to listen to the stuff I’ve bought. At times I don’t have money. It comes and goes.”


Do you have a large collection of music?


“Well yeah, I don’t know how much I have, it could be about 1,000 vinyls and about 500-600 CD’s. I try to get rid of things that I don’t like. I like all my albums, all of them, haha!”

About the music business side: apart from the monetary aspects, how highly do you value the contract change from Candlelight to Peaceville and Music for Nations? What are the differences between these labels?

“Candlelight was really good for us at first,” Peter says. “At the time they were an independent label and we got great contact with Lee (Barrett) who was in charge of the label. So it didn’t mean much to us in the beginning, as Lee could introduce us to the music business and everything. He was the bass player in Extreme Noise Terror so he was in a band too, and he had seen more than we had and could just say ‘try to avoid this and that’ and so on. After a while, though, we had learned what he knew already, so the label turned out to be a bit unprofessional. Lee was more of a band guy instead of being a business man, and the rest of them at Candlelight didn’t turn out to be professional enough for us to sign for another contract, so we left for Peaceville. Peaceville were a bit of the same thing but slightly bigger and more professional, and they had been going on for a longer time than Candlelight.

“The change to Music for Nations was done a bit above our heads because Music for Nations owned half of Peaceville, and they decided to go separate ways. Before that Music for Nations said ‘before you sign anything else, you have to give us Opeth’. So there was an argument about us, and we were asked if we wanted to change to Music for Nations, to which we said no, but they took us on anyway. But when I look at it today I think that was probably a good thing for us because Music for Nations is like a real label, haha. They are super-professional and a classic label, and all of a sudden things have started to roll for us. We’ve been doing tours like we’ve never toured before and the album is selling better than all the albums have done before. So I think Music for Nations is perfect for us where we are right now. If we had signed with Orchid for Music for Nations that would’ve probably not been a good thing because we would have not understood what was going on and the band itself would have been too unprofessional for the label. It’s like a symbiosis all the time, and Music for Nations is good for us now.”

Two domineering matters on Opeth albums have always been nature and death. How come, Peter, if I may ask?

“I’m not sure actually,” he muses. “There’s probably one more thing to it, which is love. Death and love, to me those are actually really basic things. At least they should be. Death is apparently for everyone, you know… everybody dies. And love is sort of one of the most important things because it makes everything not only easy but can be mean and cause trouble as well. Love could be worth living a life, if you know what I mean.


“The third aspect is nature, which could and should be more important than it is if you live in a city, for instance. I’ve always enjoyed nature and being in the woods and everything. I grew up where there were always these big woods behind the house and I loved being there, even though I love living in the city too and wouldn’t like to live in a house in the middle of nowhere because I would probably go crazy after a while. I have to be out in nature to feel it every now and then, because nature has been there all the time, at least since the world was created the way we think. There weren’t houses in the beginning; there were seas and woods, you know. It’s a basic thing. I’m not sure though if that’s the reason.”


On The Leper Affinity there is this line, “Draw murder into art”… If Opeth were to draw murder into their art, where and how would this murder manifest itself?

“We’re not one of those serial-killer bands…”

I don’t mean it in that sense but more as a symbolic thing.

“Well, that is probably the answer for it; it’s just a symbolic thing. The lyrics are for a large part about hate and despise for other people, and murder is one of those things that are a reaction of hate and despise. It’s just a symbolic thing, and I think it has to stay that way, too.”

Seeing as Opeth are regarded as a very innovative band, one would assume you look highly upon progression and creativity. How important do you think it is that people are after originality and uniqueness in their music?

“I think that’s the most important thing,” Peter says. “I guess that when you start up a band it’s easy to do whatever your idols did. I wanted to be Metallica when I started a band. After a while it was like, ‘hmm, maybe Iron Maiden is a good thing too’ and all of a sudden there were all these influences, and at some point you have to understand that what is important is not those bands – because they’re just supposed to push you to a start and influence you – but that in the end it’s all up to yourself. Most of the bands in my record collection – they don’t have to be innovative and they don’t have to be the best musicians, but they have to be personal. The most important thing is to be yourself and do personal things even though you are influenced by other kinds of music, people, films or whatever. As long as you make something of your own out of it, that’s the most important thing, and I think that in Opeth we do so.”

But you can’t argue that for instance the metal scene of today doesn’t really offer too much of that originality any more.

“Yes, that can be said. To be honest, I think the metal scene today is pretty stagnant and boring. I’m not really up to date with today’s death metal or metal scene. The reason for this is that I think it’s just really boring. There are of course bands that are innovative and all, but they’re so few and far between, and everybody wants to be Slipknot or whatever. Just take the fact that bands like Limp Bizkit and Slipknot can do so well – they’re not innovative. If you look for example like the most aggressive guy on the planet or you look like Nine Inch Nails, how come you don’t play outrageously hard music? These bands play music similar to pop music, but they look and talk strangely. It’s just image and acting.”

Opeth’s music has often been seen as particularly beautiful, especially the first two albums. Is this a positive or a negative thing to you, Peter?


“I think it’s positive. Beautiful music is… beautiful music. I like to listen to beautiful music and if people think our music is beautiful, I’m really proud of that.”


Do you think musicians should strive for making beautiful music first and foremost?

“Not really,” the guitarist argues. “Although it depends on what you consider beautiful. I could say Morbid Angel sounds beautiful but that’s something else than playing beautiful music on acoustic guitars. If you look at it that way, maybe people should strive for making music that is beautiful, yeah. But I wouldn’t say people should do, like, nice beautiful music.”

Do you find any particularly beautiful moments on Blackwater Park?

“I think so. The most beautiful parts are probably the acoustic parts, but a hard riff could also be beautiful – not the Morbid Angel way that I was talking about – but a hard riff could also be like one that you listen to with tears in your eyes… For example, have you heard the new Katatonia record?”

Yes.

“They have parts that are really beautiful even though they’re not acoustic or anything, they can have a guitar tone or a lead that you can feel. That’s the emotion creating beautiful music.”

That’s quite the point I meant; how on for example Brave Murder Day you have got the same emotion portrayed as on Last Fair Deal Gone Down even though the music is entirely different.

“Exactly. So yeah – if you look at it that way, beautiful music is something to strive for. But I still say Morbid Angel are beautiful in a different way that Katatonia is, in the beautiful way, heh. But, you know…”

At this moment the tape cuts off for a minute or two, as I didn’t notice the cassette had run out. Hence, a few questions/answers are wiped out – incidentally, they were of the more interesting end, further discussing this ever-interesting theme of beautiful music, conversing the beloved PJ Harvey and what have you.

But then, Peter, Opeth songs have a trademark imprint of being very long; I presume the fascination for complex arrangements comes from progressive music, but do you personally have a more comprehensive explanation for your infatuation for the long, painstakingly crafted songs?

“We write songs that are sort of an adventure,” he says. “They start somewhere and they end up somewhere else, and in between there is more or less a story taking place. In the beginning we spent a lot of time writing music and it took us a while to find our musical identity, but it was pretty clear soon that we wanted to do long songs and incorporate loads of things in the songs. It’s still the same way actually, as we have these hard parts and we think it’s maybe nice at times to slow down and play acoustically, and think in terms of ‘what if you do this and that’, and all of a sudden we notice the song is eight minutes long. That sill happens, and I think we would actually have troubles writing a three-minute song as we would probably want to do so much with the song. In the beginning we were clearly influenced by the progressive bands, for they taught us that a song doesn’t have to be limited on being hard or soft, it can be both. That’s how it’s done and I think it suits us really well to do this kind of music.”

After all these years, do you think you can still reach the point of unpredictability within your music?

“We’re trying but it’s becoming harder and harder,” the guitarist laughs. “If we do an album we don’t have to have a ballad on it but we want to break new grounds with each album. So in order not to be predictable we want to give people some surprises when they listen to the album; however, it’s becoming harder all the time. We don’t think about that when we write the songs, though – we only write music to please ourselves. When we write music for the next album we don’t have to think about if we are going to do a better Blackwater Park album; we’re just going to leave that album be and do what we feel like doing at the time.”


To go on, I’ve heard there are plans for an Opeth home video. Can Peter give any specific information on this?


“We actually recorded the studio session of Blackwater Park, we had this guy filming us all the time. He also filmed a small gig we did in Borås, Sweden in March, and he edited everything and sent it out to Music for Nations. They weren’t really pleased with it. I’d really like the idea of seeing my favourite band work in the studio – like Metallica on their Nothing Else Matters video – but Music for Nations thought we should have more to the package, so they wanted us to do live footage too. In the end everything was sort of put on ice. I think that’s a bit sad because if there are fifteen people that want to see us doing this, I think we should release the video, just for the fifteen people’s sake. I don’t care if a home video we release isn’t going to be seen on the MTV or anything, it’s just that people can see how we look like as normal persons, and if you’re a fan that’s really interesting, too. Nothing is happening with the video now because they want to have live footage on it as well, but maybe we can talk them into releasing it before we release a new album. It’s going to be out of date after that, anyhow.”

Speaking of live performances, what of the tour in America you had earlier this year?

“We did seven or eight weeks in the U.S. in April and May this year. First we did a sort of ten day tour with Amorphis; I’ve never met them before but they were really nice guys, we had a great time, we shared the same bus. Then they unfortunately had to go on, so we were on this second tour which was five weeks with Nevermore. We had done one gig in the U.S. before that – I forgot the name of the festival…”

The Milwaukee Metalfest?


“Yeah, the Metalfest in Milwaukee. Now we had an extensive tour, and we didn’t really know what to expect… We had heard all these stories of the U.S. being really rough on bands – I think At the Gates still owe money to their old record label for their U.S. tour – so we were expecting the worst. But  gig after gig we had a very good reception from people who told us they had been wanting to see Opeth for all these years, which felt great. We noticed that people really like us there, whereas in the beginning we thought that they maybe like us in Chicago but who the hell has heard of us in Toronto. Then as we arrived in Toronto everybody liked us there, too. That was sort of a success for us, and now we’re about to tour Europe for the first time in five years. I really look forward to that, because Europe is our home ground more than the United States anyway, so it’s going to be nice.”


Are there any confirmed dates for the tour as of yet?

“It’s going to start on the 8th of November: just four more weeks before we go. We’re still trying to get Scandinavia in there, but so far there is nothing concrete. But we’re trying, we have this Swedish agency called Motor and they say it could be problematic and all, but we want to do at least one gig in Finland, one in Sweden, one in Norway and one in Denmark. We’re going to try to talk them into having these four or five gigs.”

As far as home turf goes, Opeth are not quite the order of the day in Sweden.


“Sweden is really our worst market. We did one show in Borås before the U.S. tour and we did the Huldsfred festival this summer. Those two gigs were the first ones in Sweden in five years. So we don’t play much in Sweden. I think it’s a result of us being lazy and the market in Sweden not being the best for us. We don’t sell many albums and people don’t pay attention to us because they’re all into In Flames and the Gothenburg stuff. I think we’re sort of aside of everything here, and we feel that if people don’t care about us, we don’t care about them. This should be our home ground and people should like us here, but no one seems to pay attention, so it has been sort of a spinning wheel: no one wants us, therefore we don’t want to play here. When we played in Borås and Huldsfred we understood that there are fans that really like us here, that’s why we’re trying to put Sweden in the calendar, too.”


During the release of Still Life there were rumours of Opeth coming to Finland with My Dying Bride, but that never came through.

“Yes, that whole tour didn’t happen, and I think it was because of us going from Peaceville to Music for Nations. We we’re supposed to do a whole European tour with My Dying Bride and The Gathering. That didn’t happen because of the record labels and them telling us that if we go to Music for Nations we can have the tour, but that’s blackmailing so we said no. We thought that we could do the tour anyway, but all of a sudden it was just gone and My Dying Bride had left for the tour with someone else on our slot. It has happened twice, as we weren’t on tour for My Arms, Your Hearse either, and I think that was because we left Candlelight and they didn’t want to send us on tour, and Peaceville then again didn’t want us to go on tour because we didn’t have any Peaceville albums to promote. So this is the first time in a long time that we’re actually touring for a new album – it’s about time!”

Then, to continue with routine-like questions, do you have any material ready for the next album?


“Nothing much has been written yet. I’m not sure if Mikael has been writing much, I think he’s got some riffs and I’ve got some riffs but there’s no clear direction yet. It won’t be a new Blackwater Park, however. As I said before, we’re not going to try to excel any of our old albums, we just try to do what we feel like. It’s going to be Opeth but I don’t have a clue what it’s going to sound like. Not much is written and we haven’t booked the studio either, but I think that after this European tour it’s about time to think about the next album. We’re probably going to record it in August 2002 or so. And knowing ourselves – we are rather lazy – we’re probably going to write it two months before entering the studio.”


Do you think you’ll be coming up with a fresh title this time, instead of ripping others off?


A burst of laughter is in order. “It is starting to become a tradition now! In the beginning it was more or less due to having problems finding a proper title for an album, but now it’s pretty cool to rip off something that no one understands what it is. I am not sure – probably if people expect us to steal something we’re not going to do it, haha!”


Always heading for the unexpected, huh?

“Exactly, and besides – at least we’re trying. You know, Orchid wasn’t an intentional steal, it was more like pretty planned that we should name the album ‘Orchid’, but if you look at Morningrise, that was a rip off; and when thinking about it – Orchid is of course a Black Sabbath song. So it wasn’t intentional from the beginning, but after a while we were like, ‘now we can start stealing…’” he says in a cunning voice.

Then somewhat to close things up here: if there came a time that Opeth should cease to exist, how would you like the band to be remembered?

“I would like us to be remembered as an original band that did good music and a band which tried to do their own thing all the time. This band came around in the middle of the black metal boom but they didn’t care about that – instead, they did their own thing all the time. That would be a nice thing to be remembered about.


“The most important thing for me is that I’d like to come to Finland to play live, as I’d also want to meet the Amorphis guys again. We were trying to set up this festival thing in Finland with them last summer, but that never happened. I’ve never played in Finland before, so I’d really want to come to play there. I hope I could see you on the tour. I’ve been to Helsinki before but that was as a private person, so I’d really like to come. I’d also like to apologise you once again for not calling yesterday.”


As said earlier, this conversation and the preparation for it, with all the continual listens to Blackwater Park and the other Opeth albums, which I know by heart anyway, helped to engrave the mark of the leaf O, off the magical hands of Timo Ketola, in my body, mind and spirit again. Blackwater Park isn’t perfect, but as today near to nothing is, one should for once let the criticism pass. Go by the lake with your portable CD player, stay till the night arrives; you’ll feel vigour in all of your body’s cells. That is when the Icarus rises from the ashes; everything becomes out of nothing; proving that spirit and genius are still, in these times of the universal influence of the consumerist nirvana, infinitely more valuable than matter, and should be revered until nothing lives any more.