Åkesson the Axeman
HIRED GUN FREDRIK ÅKESSON TALKS US THROUGH HIS INVOLVEMENT ON GHOST’S IMPERA — AND THE GEAR USED TO DIAL IN HIS JAW-DROPPING TONES
When did the idea of collaborating with Ghost present itself?
I got this gig because me and Tobias are old friends. When Ghost covered “Enter Sandman” for The Metallica Blacklist, Tobias asked me to play the solos after he’d already done the rhythms. I went in and played a few things… it was less orchestrated and more open and bluesy. Then Tobias asked me to overdub the solo, and I was like, “Woah, I wish I knew that before!” because it’s pretty difficult to overdub improvised stuff. You have to write your solos if you want to do that. So we ended up spending more hours in the studio… that all led to working together on this album.
What kind of instructions were you given?
Initially I was brought in to play a few leads on the album. Then I turned up to the studio with a bunch of amps with me, and Klas asked me if I played rhythm guitar. I explained to him that in Opeth, rhythm is what I’m playing 85 to 90 percent of the time, so sure… I guess I can play a few chords! And he said, “Perfect. You can do rhythm.” Before that I’d only heard one song and it was the opening track, “Kaisarion,” so I did the leads and rhythms for that. I guess they liked what they heard. It kinda developed into me doing all the rhythm guitars plus the acoustics. Both Klas and Tobias had very clear ideas about how to lay down the rhythms and orchestrate them. There were a lot of overdubs and sometimes 16 tracks at the same time, including ambient stuff and add-ons.
What can you tell us about the instruments used for the recordings?
We went through quite a few — like a vintage Strat from ’85, Tobias’ Seventies Strat and a 1970 Strat I actually bought from John Norum. You can hear Tobias’ Strat on “Call Me Little Sunshine.” And then for humbucker guitars, we had a Flying V, a Les Paul and an Explorer. On top of that, there were a lot of single-string parts with an octave, so I used my old ESP Eclipse with EMG pickups. And there was some PRS in there too. For the acoustic stuff we used my PRS Angelus, as well as my red Custom 24 for the leads on “Kaisarion” and “Twenties.” This album has a lot of Brian May-style overdubs, with four-piece harmonies dubbed three times each as well as the octaves. I’ve never recorded so many layers of guitar… It was fun, almost like a Mutt Lange and Def Leppard kind of production experience!
And how about amps and pedals?
I brought in my Olsson 100-watt Little Hill, which is my signature prototype that was used on the last Opeth album, In Cauda
Venenum. I originally worked with designer John Olsson on the 20-watt version, which is already available, and this is the higher-powered head. It’s a very muscular-sounding amplifier with a lot of influence from Eddie Van Halen’s “brown sound,” as well as modern metal crunch. Then there was my Friedman BE100, some late-Fifties Marshall Plexis and Tobias’ Mesa/Boogie Mark IIC+, which is the same kind of 1x12 combo famously used on Metallica’s Master of Puppets, with a MLC Vanilla Sky pedal in front. The other main pedals were the MXR Sugar Drive, which has a Klon-style circuit, and an old DOD Preamp 250 from the Seventies, like what Yngwie Malmsteen used with his Plexis back in the day on those early albums.
Which solos are you most proud of?
“Griftwood” came out great, which is the one Klas originally programmed it into a sequencer on his computer with a synthetic guitar sound. It starts off on the backbeat and the 16th note triplets switch to 32 note triplets at points, which gives this feeling of speeding up in bursts. It’s important to get those kinds of licks really tight on the beat, so you get the percussive feel of ultimately what’s a sequence kind of lick. I had to bring that home and work on it — being given two versions, one at 80 bpm and another at full speed. It all happened pretty fast, so I had to work on it for a day or so to get it tight! I also really like the melodic leads in “Respite on the Spitalfields,” which I played on my Seventies Strat. The first solo in “Twenties” is really cool too, with lots of evil tones in it.
How different did it feel, compared to your lead work in Opeth?
Usually in Opeth, I have a lot of freedom with my solos. This time was different in that regard, and it was a fun challenge to try and fulfill someone else’s vision. It didn’t bother me… I actually found it kinda interesting. It felt like session work — because it very much was.
“IN OPETH, I HAVE A LOT OF FREEDOM WITH MY SOLOS. THIS TIME WAS DIFFERENT IN THAT REGARD...” — FREDRIK ÅKESSON