OPETH's MIKAEL ÅKERFELDT: 'I Approach Each New Album As If It Could Be My Last'

September 14, 2019

OPETH vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt recently spoke with Keefy of Ghost Cult magazine's "Ghost Cult Podcast". The full conversation can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).

On the title of the group's new album, "In Cauda Venenum":

Mikael: "I found it online. I wanted a Latin title for this record because there's two versions of it — one Swedish, and one English version... I always wanted a Latin title... and I wanted the same title for both versions. I figured, 'Why not Latin? Now is the time.' I started searching around... I tried to make up my own kind of sentence or title in Latin, but I was so insecure as to whether it was grammatically correct, and I didn't have anyone to check it with... I just typed in, like, 'Latin sayings' or something like that, and I got shitloads of [suggestions]. It really kind of stuck out because that basically means 'the poison in the tail,' referring to a scorpion, and we had just finished the artwork, and in the artwork, we had a scorpion being — like, with the band portrayed as a scorpion, with five necks, which I thought was peculiar. Maybe it was meant to be, that title. But it also kind of fits with the lyrical concepts I had for some of the songs; it progressed through the artwork; it fits with my view of how I approach a new album these days, which is kind of like, it might be the last album. I'm not saying it is, but I want to approach each new album as if it could be my last to keep me on my toes. I don't want to get flat when I'm writing. Just in case this would happen to be the final OPETH album, I want to make sure that my house is clean... and write the absolute best music I can at the time and not be lazy."

On whether the album is conceptual:

Mikael: "I could say yes, I think, and nobody would know... 'Dark Side Of The Moon', I don't really understand that concept, other than maybe it's just the story of life. Concept records, to me, they have to be a bit more clear for me to be able to understand what they're about, like the KING DIAMOND records in the '80s, 'Abigail' and 'Them'. And ven those, who have a clear storyline, are kind of difficult also. My answer is that this is not a concept album — it wasn't written as a concept album — but I could have said yes, it's a concept album in the vein of 'Dark Side Of The Moon'. The lyrics are much more contemporary this time around because of the fact that I wrote them in Swedish. I'm a bit of an Anglophile — I love the English language, and to the extent that when I write lyrics, I usually base the lyrics around pretty words and just write stuff around those words. Having my own native tongue, I didn't have those pretty words. I don't find my own language particularly beautiful. I couldn't hide behind those words, and I had to approach [it] in a different way. I just wrote lyrics like I normally do, but for some reason, they came out more modern or contemporary, which was interesting, and in the end, I think there's things that tie the songs together, but it was never intended to be a concept record."

On whether the album is "more personal" than other OPETH records:

Mikael: "It certainly is personal. It becomes personal when you write music — it's my choice of notes, my choice of chords. For the music itself, it's very personal — it's what I want to show of myself musically. It's where I am right now. I'm a sensitive person like everybody else, and to show yourself like that — like, 'Here's what I can do' — it's almost childish in a way, like building a castle of sand. 'Look, mom, what I did,' and this is kind of in a way the same with the music. Lyrically, I don't really have felt the need to say anything important. I'm not up on my high horse thinking I know everything, because I don't. I always approach lyrics as a necessary evil, because I needed words to sing. I never saw myself as a particularly good lyricist. With that said, I have written some stuff that I'm happy about and proud about. Those, obviously, are very personal, especially these days — for the last five, six records, they became more and more personal, but in the past, I didn't want to stand accused for the lyrics... I was young and stupid and didn't know what to write about, but now, I like to write about those more personal aspects of my life... I'm not so overly sensitive with regard to my lyrics — or my music, for that matter — because I know my limit, and I know that part of me is afraid of being called out as a fraud, even if I've written a lot of music and a lot of lyrics that a lot of people love... I'm just happy that I've got the chance to be me, and me as a musician, and that I can write and record music that people around the world want to hear. That's fucking amazing to me. I don't really put myself on a pedestal, but I'm also aware of the fact that maybe I'm just shit. [Laughs]."

On drawing from unexpected influences:

Mikael: "Since I have such wide taste in music, I don't really belong to genres, in the sense that I only listen to this type of music and not that. I listen to all kinds of music. The only limitations I have are my own tastes. For instance, I'm not big on hip-hop, so you won't have me rapping any time soon. I'm not big on reggae music... I'm not a techno guy... but I love rock n' roll music and everything surrounding that. I love jazz, pop music, death metal and everything surrounding there. Combined, there's a lot of influences inside."

On anniversary tours:

Mikael: "It's a business model these days to celebrate the record by going on tour and playing the whole thing, which I both dislike and like. It feels a bit like cheating to me to play a record that's 20 years old in its entirety, but the other side of me thinks it's fun, and it's lovely to see the reaction of the fans when you play one of those older records. We've done that — we played 'Ghost Reveries'; we played 'Damnation' — and the crowd reaction was fantastic every time. We sell out big venues that we couldn't be able to play on a normal tour... It's a business model that I both like and dislike. I'm sure there's [upcoming] plans [for OPETH]. I don't come up with them. I'm perfectly content sitting at home. [Laughs]"

OPETH's 13th album, "In Cauda Venenum", will be released on September 27 via Moderbolaget / Nuclear Blast Entertainment.

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