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By Steve Newton
One run-through of its new album, Sorceress, is evidence enough that Swedish quintet Opeth was heavily influenced by ’70s prog rock. The disc was also recorded at the famed Rockfield Studios in Wales, where bands like Rush, Budgie, Hawkwind, and Queen laid down prog-heavy tracks back in the day.
As Opeth singer and founding member Mikael Åkerfeldt explains over the phone before a gig in Houston–on a tour that brings his band to Vancouver this Wednesday–he wouldn’t have minded living in the era of the 8-track himself.
“I missed that scene,” he says. “I was born in the wrong decade. I was born in 1974, so I grew up with the [’80s] heavy-metal scene. But I loved Black Sabbath and Zeppelin when I was growing up, and I started digging around for bands that looked like Black Sabbath did on their Paranoid record—the flared jeans and that.
“And those were glorious days for me as a record collector,” he adds, “because this was in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and everybody was throwing out their vinyl in order to buy CDs. I could pick them up for next to nothing, so I bought shitloads of records, and I still do. I never stopped.”
It may come as a surprise to anyone soaking up the adventurous sounds on Sorceress that Opeth actually started out as a death-metal band back in 1989.
“Basically, we wanted to go fast, and we wanted to play loud, and I was screaming,” recalls Åkerfeldt. “That became our sound, basically, in the beginning. But, like I said, in the early ’90s, when I discovered these prog bands, as opposed to being just a run-of-the-mill death-metal band we incorporated those types of influences.
“So we were really extreme at times, but we also had these calmer bits, and lots of dynamics, and lots of things going on. We had long tracks, like 13-, 14-minute songs.”
While much of the instrumental work on Sorceress emanates a positive-sounding vibe, the lyrical content itself tends toward the negative, touching on jealousy, bitterness, and paranoia.
“The negativity in the lyrics is just a taste thing,” says Åkerfeldt. “I don’t like ‘sunshine’ lyrics, really. And I’d also been going through a couple of rough years—I got divorced, and that inspired the lyrics to a certain extent. But I didn’t plan to write those lyrics. They just came out that way, I guess.”
While the Opeth fans who loved the band when it was a full-on death-metal act may be appreciative of the darker elements on Sorceress, Åkerfeldt admits that many of them have not forgiven the group for its abandonment of the genre.
“There’s a lot of that,” he says. “A lot. But we don’t listen to fans unless they cheer what we’re doing,” he adds with a laugh. “I mean, this form of expression, it can’t be dictated by public opinion, I think, or it would be a corporation. We’re not a corporation, we’re just a band, you know.”