Arte conducted an interview with guitarist/vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt of Swedish progressive metallers OPETH at this year's edition of the Wacken Open Air festival, which is taking place this weekend in Wacken, Germany. You can now watch the chat below.
Speaking about his early musical influences and the evolution of OPETH's sound, Mikael said: "On a very early stage, I was interested in progressive rock, because it was a form of music that I had never heard, really. I didn't know it existed until I started digging around the record shops and stumbled on bands like KING CRIMSON, YES and GENESIS — those types of bands. And that's also where I found my own voice, so to speak, my own kind of musicality. Even if I was a death metalhead, or a metalhead, something clicked with me with that type of music, because there was no limitations. And that's the way I like it, if you know what I mean."
He continued: "I think limitations on music [are] ugly and wrong. And I didn't know the metal scene was so conservative, but it really is. But we have been struggling… We certainly haven't been an overnight sensation, this band — we did things and people were, like, 'What are they doing? Why aren't they heavy all the time?' But that doesn't really have anything to do with music for me. I love the heavy stuff, but I also love the soft stuff and the complicated stuff and the simple stuff. So I want everything in… I think it kind of makes sense."
Mikael added: "I made the choice a long time ago to be a musician and to put all my energy into being a musician, and I don't wanna restrict myself because we're supposed to fit in somewhere. So progressive rock, and the kind of discovery of progressive rock, helped me, like I said, to find my own style, and to this day, I still think that we have… We're pretty much on our own. There's other bands who are progressive, so to speak, but I think we're on our own, which I like."
Asked for his opinion about some OPETH fans' position that Mikael should have started a side project under a new name instead of taking the band completely away from the death metal-tinged sounds of OPETH's early albums, Åkerfeldt told Lady Obscure: "Well, I mean… It doesn't really work like that, does it? First and foremost, people can have their opinions. It doesn't mean we'll follow it. We love our fans, [and] we respect them, but we're a band first and foremost. I never felt that… Whatever we do with this band, whatever ends up being OPETH is OPETH, because it's us. And that argument kind of fails in that sense… How does that work with Joni Mitchell [or] David Bowie? For solo artists who have a sound. Should they change their name? It's just a random and, I think, a bit ignorant and stupid comment, to be honest. I think it's easier if [the fans] just stop listening to it. I think the best solution is that they stop listening to it if they don't like it."
During an interview with Australia's The Rockpit, Mikael spoke about the sharp musical turn OPETH took with 2011's "Heritage" album and its follow-up release, 2014's "Pale Communion". He said: "I do understand and appreciate that 'Heritage' was a little bit of a shock to fans who are more into the heavy, death metal type of sound, and maybe it's a bit much to expect them to take it all in so we got a bit of shit for that record. I love that album with a passion, because, for me, it was natural, but I have seen that with the coming of the 'Pale Communion' record that people come up to me and say, 'I did not like 'Heritage' when it came out, but when you put out 'Pale Communion', I finally understood 'Heritage' and now I'm starting to like it.' So I'm hoping it's going to escalate into a love for that record."
He continued: "People have been more gentle with us with 'Pale Communion' coming out, but there is still... Like, I don't have social media, I don't correspond with the fans in that sense, so I don't really get a lot of the confrontations about what the hell we are doing. My overall response to that question would be that people might be getting used to and maybe understand a little bit better about what we are trying to do. And, for me, that is good, of course. I never had a problem. For me, it was never a big step. For everybody in the band, it was not a massive thing for us to do 'Heritage', but I do accept that it might have been too curvy of a curveball for people who are not in the band, but now it's starting to calm down a little bit."