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Opeth: “We like playing the heavier songs.”

Interview by Callum Doig

Swedish prog legends Opeth will be returning for yet another round of headlining shows throughout from Brisbane to Perth. This time, for their eleventh prog opus ‘Pale Communion’. Chatting to the man who carries the heart of Opeth, frontman Mikael Akerfeldt is undeniably prepared to be back in Australia with the band.

“Well, we love Australia. I love it really. I love just being there. I love everything about your country. As a band, we’ve always had great support there ever since the first time we played in the early 2000s. We went over to tour for the first time for I think it was ‘Deliverance’, and it was fantastic. Always great being there, friendly people and there are not a lot of psychos there,” he laughs.

With the headline tour starting next month, the band will be supported by a number of different acts in each show. But, are Mikael and the band aware of who’s supporting them? Apparently not, but, there are some groups that he’d like to tour with in the future.

“No, as far as I can remember, we never really talked about it. We’ve never really brought it up too much, as far as I remember, because my memory’s shit, because I’m getting old. We haven’t toured with Karnivool, but I like them. I think they’re a good band. We haven’t toured with them, but we’ve toured with The Eternal, Virgin Black, Chalice and Quiet Child though. I like them very much.”

Since the release of their eleventh record ‘Pale Communion’, the band has extensively in Europe and North America. There have been a few surprises along the tour that the band has witnessed but which has been the biggest highlight of Opeth’s tour so far?

“Hard to say. I mean, the European tour that we did was great, I thought. Some places in Europe are really good for us, but they don’t stick out. I mean we play in the UK, and that’s always great, Germany and Scandinavia and we love playing in Norway because of the hospitality there. We also did a US or North American tour with In Flames and that was much better than expected, a lot of people were coming there and that was good too. I think the biggest surprise so far was probably the last couple of shows we did. Because we went to Turkey and Greece, which have been good places for us to play. But, with the financial situation in Greece, we were a bit worried if people were gonna show up. But, they were sold out shows and we had more people in Turkey than we’ve ever had before. I’m not sure about our own performance, I think it was a bit substandard because we had three months off, but we did okay. But, audience-wise, it was great, we had great fun.”

Since their first tour in 2003, the band has gained ridiculously high support from their Australian crowd. Opeth’s fan base spans millions throughout each country worldwide, but, compared to every other country in the world, what’s so special about Australia that keeps Opeth coming back every two to three years?

“It’s one of our high priorities when it comes to touring. I think everybody’s just waiting for an Australian tour to be announced. It’s a little bit of a conflict of interest because we go there to work but we also love it there. We did two headlining runs for the last record there, which is quite unusual, but it shows how much of a priority Australia is to us. No country or show is less important than the other, they’re all important to us. Since we got that amount of support from Australia since the beginning, personally, it has been a high priority for us. We keep coming back as long as people want us, I guess.”

With headlining shows being performed since their first time in Australia, Opeth have also made plenty of festival appearances in Europe, the UK and the US. According to Mikael, the band has been tempted by the opportunity to perform at our very own Soundwave Festival. But, does this mean that they’ll ever take the chance to do some future festival gigs or will they stick with the headline runs in Australia?

“Well, we have gotten offers for the Soundwave festival a few times. But, they haven’t really made sense for us on a financial level and on a time-on-stage level. We have 11 records out now. We have long songs. For us to get an hour onstage is a bit shit to be honest. And that’s what we’ve been dealing with ever since the festival run. We’re not at the position at a festival like Soundwave to be in a headlining position and get the proper amount of time we want on stage. So, whenever had an offering, we’ve gone through it and it’s tempting because it’s a lot of people and the exposure is great. But we gain more by doing our headlining tours there. I mean, it’s not like we’re always gonna say ‘no’ to a festival run in Australia. We’re probably gonna do it at some point but so far it’s never really made sense for us. It made sense for us on our headline tours.”

What most people assume, due to Opeth’s later releases being a little more mellow compared to albums such as ‘Watershed’, ‘Blackwater Park’ and ‘Deliverance’, the band has been getting tired of playing the heavy tunes, and much prefer playing the mellower songs. With that being a misconception to the band, Mikael and the band still enjoy playing the heavy songs, to assure that the fans still have something to mosh to.

“No, we like playing the heavier songs,” he laughs. “I think it’s a misconception that we frown upon our past. We enjoy doing everything. When we play live, it gives the set a nice dynamic and a natural one. It’s really not forced for us to switch modes in between songs from the older records to the newer records. The set that we are doing now and the set we’re doing in Australia, we put more weight onto the heavier stuff basically because, we have more of those records. And we’re trying to cover as many records as we can. Like, the second album might be obscure to some listeners. We still play songs from the very early stuff and everything in between up to the new stuff. With the results at hand, we have much more heavier material in the set we have now than ever, I think. I’d say around 80 percent of the stuff we’re playing on this set list is heavier stuff that we’re most known for.”

Since ‘Heritage’ was released 4 years ago, it was a much different step from Opeth to many fans, and with their latest record ‘Pale Communion’, Mikael feels that this record has helped fans understand ‘Heritage’ more, not to mention the fact that he personally likes ‘Pale Communion’, and the tracks are always fun to play live.
“I think it’s a great record. It’s a good follow-up to ‘Heritage’. It’s made people understand ‘Heritage’ a little bit better than they did initially. I think it clicks together with the other records, as well. I love the album. I think there are some great moments on that record. It’s fun to play those songs and it’s important after 25 years of being together. When we play the new songs, it really works with the old songs. That’s the one difference I can say between some other softer songs we have. When we play the new songs I hear us, and sometimes when we play the heavier songs, sometimes, I hear me. I tend to listen to what I’m doing than what we’re doing as a collective. Which is refreshing, because it kinda gives me that rock vibe than when I play the heavy songs. It’s a paradox in a way. But, when I hear that we’re sounding great, it gives me a lot of joy. Sometimes when we play the earlier and old songs, like I said, I’m really focusing on what I’m doing as opposed to what we’re doing.”
So, with Opeth being one of the most highlighted live metal bands around the world, what really happens backstage moments before a big show?
“Well, we shoot up some heroin, with five lines of coke each and a couple of drinks of Jack Daniels, and we’re off!” he jokes. “We don’t do much, actually. If you’ve seen people on a train or a bus, everybody’s sitting with their fucking phones, that’s basically what backstage looks like,” he laughs. “We shake hands before we go on. The only ritual we have, so to speak, we cannot shake each other’s hands until we hear the intro running. We wait until everybody has heard the intro, and then we shake hands, and step onto the stage.”
So, as the band embark on their Australian tour soon, Mikael had a few more words to say in closing for the upcoming tour, particularly on a certain city that feels “the most European” to them.
“I love Melbourne. It’s a city that seems the most European out of all of the other cities. I’m very much excited to go record shopping as a side note. I think we might have done two shows at The Forum, which is close to the main station, yes? But, obviously, to the people who are coming to the shows, I hope as many people as possible will show up and we’ll play as good as we can and have a good time. We’ve always had a positive response from the Melbourne crowd, so I’m looking forward to that!”

Opeth will be kicking off their tour in May, starting with Brisbane, making their way down to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. ‘Pale Communion’ is available online and in your local stores through Roadrunner Records.

Tour Dates

Sunday May 3 Sydney – Enmore Theatre

Monday May 4 Adelaide -The Gov

Wednesday May 6 Brisbane – Eatons Hill

Thursday May 7 Melbourne – The Forum

Friday May 8 Perth – The Astor

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