Behold, A Pale Horse
Opeth’s eleventh album is a study in riffs, doom and… ‘ 70s middle- of- the- road rock? demands an explanation.
Some see their albums as a journey. Others see them as a snapshot of a moment in time. Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt might be the first to see his as a capital letter.
“I wanted to have a V- shaped style to the record,” he explains of Opeth’s new album, Pale Communion. “Starting with ‘ Eternal Rains [ Will Come]’, so the first song is melancholy but the second song [‘ Cusp Of Eternity’] is a bit like you are hunted or something, like something is running after you. And then you have the long track ‘ Moon Above, Sun Below’, I would like to think a melancholy piece with lots of stuff happening and then a really sad song with ‘ Elysian Woes’ and then these two uplifting songs and then it gradually comes down and it becomes really sad by the end of the album.”
He admits that wasn’t the plan. “But once you have all the songs done, that’s when you do the sequencing of the record, and I think that [ shape] is really important to the album. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the order of songs, but you know you can only start to experiment with those kinds of things once you have all the songs. I mean the first song on there was the last song that I wrote.”
Opeth have a reputation for a certain grimness, as befits their roots as a death metal band. However, in the 24 years since their formation in Stockholm the band have embraced change. 14 members have passed through the band since their debut, with Åkerfeldt the only constant, and the music has developed too. “Progressive metal” is a broad church, but how many of its bands would think, “You know what this album really needs? Some Eagles- style AM radio classic rock in the middle.”
“That was actually the point with that song,” he laughs “The complete idea with ‘ River’ was to go from this sweet major- chord country rock and then gradually make the song deteriorate and go into noise, so to speak, and in the end I was actually thinking about having Cannibal Corpse- style grindcore but I didn’t really get there. If you listen to it there is a point in the song where it goes minor and then it goes a bit heavier and heavier.”
In fact, for an album as dense and heavy as Pale Communion, there’s definitely plenty of humour in the music – and, for that matter, several nods to the music of the past. “River” aside, Åkerfeldt confesses that there was more than a little bit of musical theft going on with the original version of “Moon Above, Sun Below”.
“The working title to that song was ‘ Floyd’,” he chuckles, “because the original version of that song was a little bit of a pisstake of ‘ Astronomy Domine’ off the first Pink Floyd record. And now it’s nothing like that. In the beginning it actually was the same type of chords in ‘ Astronomy Domine’, but it was a bit too much like that but I wrote like a good seven minutes of that song and then I deleted everything and started from scratch and it became what’s on the record.”
It was a surprise to the rest of the band too, it would
I WANTED TO HAVE A V- SHAPED STYLE TO THE RECORD.” MIKAEL ÅKERFELDT
appear. “I played the ‘ Floyd’ version to Fredrik [ Åkesson, guitarist] and he was like, ‘ I love this song, it’s fantastic!’ and I was like, ‘ Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay.’ And the next time I played it for him he was like, ‘ What song is this?’ I said, ‘ It’s that song that you liked – it’s just not that song anymore.’ So I write a lot of extra stuff.”
The influence is a lot more obvious on “Goblin”, a song that acknowledges its musical debt to the legendary Italian prog- metal band of the same name.
“I’ve been loathe to make a secret of it because to my ears it sounds almost like a rip off,” he laughs. “I came up with that riff when we were on tour with Mastodon and Ghost [ in 2012]. We were jamming – which is a rare thing for Opeth, to be jamming on sound checks – but we were playing the theme to that song during sound check and I didn’t think much of it until I heard people humming it in the corridors.”
Well, that’s a pretty good indication. “Oh yes. Brent Hinds is walking down the corridor and he’s humming it and I heard Papa [ Emeritus II] humming it, and I started to think, ‘ Hmmm, maybe we’ve got something here, maybe I should finish the song.’ But I obviously knew that it was a very big nod to the band Goblin, which I’ve always loved so I figured let’s finish the song and see how it goes.”
It acts as the beginning of side two, coming out of the heavy coda to “River”. “Exactly, it came out like a cool song and it also acted like some type of leveller or like equilibrium to the whole sequencing of the record like I talked about before. I wanted something that was a bit more playful and uplifting, and that’s ‘ Goblin’ and to a certain extent ‘ River’ as well.” And will we be hearing these songs live any time soon? “Yeah, of course. It’s just a matter of time: we have some other tours we are doing up until the end of this year, so we’re not coming to Australia until next year. But it’s going to be a priority for January- February- March.” So you’ll get a double summer if you time it right, presumably? “Yes, it’s summer here so the sun is up pretty early I would say around 5.30 in the morning it’s up and stays up until 10.30 in the evening. So it’s a lot of sunlight now but when it’s winter time you get maybe three hours of sunlight, which is quite depressing. It’s a good time to tour.”
PALE COMMUNION IS OUT AUGUST 22 THROUGH ROADRUNNER/ WARNER.