Be­hold, A Pale Horse

Opeth’s eleventh al­bum is a study in riffs, doom and… ‘ 70s mid­dle- of- the- road rock? de­mands an ex­pla­na­tion.

Blunt - - Feature - By An­drew P Street.

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


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.”


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