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?!”
“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?”
“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.