Opeth is a Swedish heavy metal band from Stockholm, formed in 1990. While the band has been through several personnel changes, singer, guitarist, and songwriter Mikael ?kerfeldt has remained Opeth's driving force since joining promptly after its inception.
While firmly rooted in Scandinavian death metal, Opeth has consistently incorporated influence by progressive music, folk, blues rock and jazz into their usually-lengthy compositions. Many compositions include acoustic guitar interludes and strong dynamic shifts, as well as both growling and clean vocals. Though they rarely toured in support of their first four albums, Opeth conducted their first world tour after the 2001 release of Blackwater Park.
Opeth has released nine studio albums, two live albums, two box sets, and two DVDs. The band released its debut album Orchid in 1995. Although their eighth studio album Ghost Reveries was quite popular in the states, Opeth did not experience American commercial success until the 2008 release of their ninth studio album, Watershed, which peaked at number twenty-three on the Billboard 200, and topped the Finnish albums chart in its first week of release.
?kerfeldt (pictured) and Isberg decided they would carry on with the band after most of the members had gone alternate ways.
Opeth was originally formed as a death metal band in the autumn of 1990 in Stockholm, Sweden by vocalist David Isberg. Isberg asked former Eruption band member Mikael ?kerfeldt to join the band as a bassist. When ?kerfeldt showed up to practice the day after Isberg invited him, it became clear that Isberg had not told the band members, including the band's current bassist, that ?kerfeldt would be joining. The ensuing argument led to all members but Isberg and ?kerfeldt leaving to form a new project. The band name was derived from the word "Opet", taken from the Wilbur Smith novel The Sunbird. In this novel, Opet is the name of a (fictional) Phoenician city in South Africa whose name is translated as "City of the Moon" in the book; the name might be a reference to Opet Festival or the Egyptian goddess Taweret, also known as Opet.
Isberg and ?kerfeldt recruited drummer Anders Nordin, bassist Nick D?ring, and guitarist Andreas Dimeo. Unsatisfied with the band's slow progress, D?ring and Dimeo left the band after their first performance, and were replaced by guitarist Kim Pettersson and bassist Johan DeFarfalla. After the next show, DeFarfalla left Opeth to spend time with his girlfriend in Germany, and was replaced by ?kerfeldt's friend, bassist Peter Lindgren. Lead guitarist Pettersson left following the band's next performance, and Lindgren switched to guitar. After losing interest in the band, Isberg quit in 1992 to join Liars in Wait.
With three members in the band, ?kerfeldt took over vocal duties, and the trio spent the next year writing and rehearsing new material. The group began to rely less on the blast beats and aggression typical of death metal, and incorporated acoustic guitars and guitar harmonies into their music; developing the core sound of Opeth. Stefan Guteklint joined on bass in 1993, but was dismissed by the band after signing its first record deal with Candlelight records in 1994. The band initially employed former member DeFarfalla as a session bassist for the recording, and he went on to join on a full-time basis following the release of Opeth's debut album in 1995.
Orchid, Morningrise, and My Arms, Your Hearse (1994?1998)
Opeth recorded its debut album, Orchid, with producer Dan Swan? in April 1994. Due to distribution problems with the newly formed Candlelight Records, the album was not released until May 15, 1995, and only in Europe. Orchid tested the boundaries of traditional death metal, featuring acoustic guitars, piano, and clean vocals. Allmusic called Orchid "brilliant", "startlingly unique", and "a far-beyond-epic prog/death monstrosity exuding equal parts beauty and brutality".
After a few live shows in the United Kingdom, Opeth returned to the studio in March 1996 to begin work on a second album, again produced by Dan Swan?. Morningrise was released in Europe on June 24, 1996. With only five songs and lasting 66 minutes, the album featured Opeth's longest song, the twenty-minute "Black Rose Immortal". Morningrise was a huge success, with Allmusic giving the album four stars. Opeth toured the UK in support of Morningrise, followed by a 26-date Scandinavian tour with Cradle of Filth. While on tour, Opeth attracted the attention of Century Media records, who signed the band and released the first two albums internationally in 1997.
"In Mist She Was Standing"
"In Mist She Was Standing, from Orchid. This clip highlights the counterpoint twin harmony guitar style featured on the band's early releases.
After the tour, ?kerfeldt and Lindgren dismissed DeFarfalla for personal reasons without the consent of Nordin. When ?kerfeldt informed Nordin, who was on a vacation in Brazil, Nordin decided to leave the band and remain in Brazil for personal reasons. Former Amon Amarth drummer Martin Lopez responded to a newspaper ad placed by ?kerfeldt and joined Opeth in 1997. Lopez made his debut with Opeth playing on a cover version of Iron Maiden's "Remember Tomorrow", which was included on the album A Call to Irons: A Tribute to Iron Maiden.
With a larger recording budget from Century Media, Opeth began work on its third album, with noted Swedish producer Fredrik Nordstr?m, at Studio Fredman in August 1997. The band added bassist Martin Mendez shortly before recording, but due to time constraints, ?kerfeldt played bass on the album. My Arms, Your Hearse was released on August 18, 1998, to critical acclaim. As Opeth's first international release, the album exposed the band to a wider global audience. My Arms, Your Hearse marked the beginning of a shift in the band's sound, focusing less on guitar harmonies and more heavily on progressive metal riffs.
Still Life and Blackwater Park (1999?2001)
In 1999, the ownership of Candlelight Records changed hands, with owner and friend of the band Lee Barrett leaving the company. Opeth signed with UK label Peaceville Records in Europe, which was distributed by Music For Nations. Opeth reserved time at Studio Fredman to begin work on its next album, but recording was postponed while the studio was relocated. Due to time constraints, the band was able to rehearse only twice before entering the studio. Delays with the album's artwork pushed the release back an additional month, and Still Life was released on October 18, 1999. Due to problems with the band's new distribution network, the album was not released in the US until February 2001. Still Life was the first album recorded with Mendez, and also the first Opeth album to bear any kind of caption on the front cover upon its initial release, including the band's logo. Allmusic called Still Life a "formidable splicing of harsh, often jagged guitar riffs with graceful melodies". Still Life is a concept album, as explained by ?kerfeldt: "The main character is kind of banished from his hometown because he hasn't got the same faith as the rest of the inhabitants there. The album pretty much starts off when he is returning after several years to hook up with his old "babe". The big bosses of the town know that he's back... A lot of bad things start happening."
Following a few live dates in Europe, Opeth returned to Studio Fredman to begin work on its next album, with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson producing. The band sought to recreate the recording experience of Still Life, and again entered the studio with minimal rehearsals, and no lyrics written. "This time it was tough", ?kerfeldt said. "I feel pleasantly blown away by the immense result, though. It was indeed worth the effort." Wilson also pushed the band to expand its sound, incorporating new sounds and production techniques. "Steve guided us into the realms of 'strange' noises for guitars and voice", ?kerfeldt later said.
"Bleak" from Blackwater Park. This clip features an acoustic breakdown, followed by a dynamic shift into distorted guitars, a common trait for the band.
Opeth released its fifth studio album, Blackwater Park, on February 21, 2001. Allmusic called Blackwater Park "astounding, a work of breathtaking creative breadth", noting that the album "keeps with Opeth's tradition by transcending the limits of death/black metal and repeatedly shattering the foundations of conventional songwriting". In support of Blackwater Park, Opeth embarked on its first world tour, headlined Europe for the first time, and made an appearance at the 2001 Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, playing to a crowd of 60,000.
Deliverance and Damnation (2002?2004)
Opeth returned home after touring in support of Blackwater Park, and began writing for the next album. At first, ?kerfeldt had trouble putting together new material: "I wanted to write something heavier than we'd ever done, still I had all these great mellow parts and arrangements which I didn't want to go to waste." Jonas Renkse of Katatonia, a long-time friend of ?kerfeldt, suggested writing music for two separate albums?one heavy and one soft.
Excited at the prospect, ?kerfeldt agreed without consulting his band mates or record label. While his band mates liked the idea of recording two separate albums, ?kerfeldt had to convince the label: "I had to lie somewhat... saying that we could do this recording very soon, it won't cost more than a regular single album". With most of the material written, the band rehearsed just once before entering Nacksving Studios in 2002, and again with producer Steven Wilson in Studio Fredman. Under pressure to complete both albums simultaneously, ?kerfeldt said the recording process was "the toughest test of our history". After recording basic tracks, the band moved production to England to first mix the heavy album, Deliverance, with Andy Sneap at Backstage Studios. "Deliverance was so badly recorded, without any organisation whatsoever", ?kerfeldt claimed, that Sneap "is credited as a 'saviour' in the sleeve, as he surely saved much of the recording".
"Deliverance" from the album of the same name. The song is nearly 14 minutes long, which is not uncommon for an Opeth song. The clip features ?kerfeldt's growling vocal style.
Deliverance was released on November 4, 2002, and debuted at number 19 on the US Top Independent Albums chart, marking the band's first US chart appearance. Allmusic stated, "Deliverance is altogether more subtle than any of its predecessors, approaching listeners with haunting nuances and masterful dynamics rather than overwhelming them with sheer mass and complexity."
Opeth performed a one-off concert in Stockholm, then returned to the UK to finish recording vocals for the second of the two albums, Damnation, at Steven Wilson's No Man's Land Studios. Although ?kerfeldt initially believed the band could not finish both albums, Opeth completed Deliverance and Damnation in just seven weeks of studio time, which was the same amount spent on Blackwater Park alone. Damnation was released on April 14, 2003, and garnered the band its first appearance on the US Billboard 200 at number 192. The album also won the band a 2003 Swedish Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
The band embarked on its biggest tour yet, playing nearly 200 shows in 2003 and 2004. Opeth performed three special shows in Europe with two song lists each?one acoustic set and one heavy set. The band recorded its first DVD, Lamentations (Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire 2003), at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, England. The DVD featured a two-hour performance, including the entire Damnation album, as well as several songs from Deliverance and Blackwater Park, and a one-hour documentary about the recording of Deliverance and Damnation. The DVD was eventually certified Gold in Canada.
Opeth was scheduled to perform in Jordan without a crew due to the fear of terrorist attacks in the Middle East. Opeth's tour manager distributed 6,000 tickets for the concert, but before the band left for Jordan, Lopez called ?kerfeldt stating he was having a anxiety attack and could not perform, forcing the band to cancel the show. In early 2004, Lopez was sent home from Canada after more anxiety attacks on tour. Opeth decided against cancelling the remainder of the tour, and Lopez's drum technician filled in for two concerts. Lopez promised that he would return to the tour as soon as he could, but two shows later Opeth asked Strapping Young Lad drummer Gene Hoglan to fill in. Lopez eventually returned to Opeth for the Seattle show on the final leg of the Deliverance and Damnation tour. Per Wiberg also joined the band on tour to perform keyboards, and after more than a year on tour, Opeth returned home to start writing new material in 2004.
Ghost Reveries (2005?2007)
Peter Lindgren performing in 2005, before he parted ways with Opeth.
The band's European label, Music for Nations, closed its doors in 2005 and after negotiations with various labels, the band signed with Roadrunner Records. ?kerfeldt said the primary reason for signing with Roadrunner was the label's wide distribution, ensuring the album would be available at larger-chain retailers. When news leaked that the band was signed to Roadrunner, who predominantly worked with trend-oriented rock and metal, some fans accused the band of selling out. "To be honest", ?kerfeldt said, "that's such an insult after 15 years as a band and 8 records. I can't believe we haven't earned each and every Opeth fan's credibility after all these years. I mean, our songs are 10 minutes long!"
Opeth finished writing material for its eighth album in late 2004. The band rehearsed for three weeks before entering the studio, the first time the band rehearsed since the 1998 album, My Arms, Your Hearse. During rehearsal, keyboardist Wiberg joined Opeth as a full-time member. Opeth recorded at Fascination Street Studios in ?rebro, Sweden, from March 18 to June 1, 2005, and released the resulting Ghost Reveries on August 30, 2005, again to critical and commercial acclaim. The album debuted at number 64 in the US, and number nine in Sweden, higher than any previous Opeth release. Keith Bergman of Blabbermouth.net gave the album ten out of ten, one of only 17 albums to achieve a perfect rating from the site. Rod Smith of Decibel magazine called Ghost Reveries "achingly beautiful, sometimes unabashedly brutal, often a combination of both".
On May 12, 2006, Martin Lopez announced that he had officially parted ways with Opeth due to health problems, and was replaced by Martin Axenrot. Opeth toured on the main stage of Gigantour in 2006, alongside Megadeth. Ghost Reveries was re-released on October 31, 2006, with a bonus cover song (Deep Purple's Soldier of Fortune) and a DVD documenting the making of the album. A recording of Opeth's live performance at the Camden Roundhouse, in London, on November 9, 2006, was later released as the double live album The Roundhouse Tapes.
On May 17, 2007, Peter Lindgren stated he was leaving Opeth after 16 years. "The decision has been the toughest I've ever made but it is the right one to make at this point in my life", Lindgren said. "I feel that I simply have lost some of the enthusiasm and inspiration needed to participate in a band that has grown from a few guys playing the music we love to a worldwide industry." Ex-Arch Enemy guitarist Fredrik ?kesson replaced Lindgren, as ?kerfeldt explained:
Fredrik was the only name that popped up thinking about a replacement for Peter. In my opinion he's one of the top three guitar players out of Sweden. We all get along great as we've known each other for maybe four years and he already has the experience to take on the circus-like lifestyle we lead as members of Opeth.
Watershed (2008 onward)
After nearly 200 performances in support of Ghost Reveries, Opeth entered Fascination Street Studios with ?kerfeldt producing, in November 2007. By January 2008, Opeth had recorded 13 songs, including three cover songs. The finished album, Watershed, features seven tracks, with cover songs used as bonus tracks on different versions of the album. Watershed was released on June 3, 2008. ?kerfeldt described the songs on the album as "a bit more energetic". Opeth has planned tours in support of Watershed, including headlining the UK tour Defenders of the Faith with Arch Enemy, an appearance at Wacken Open Air and the Progressive Nation tour with headliner Dream Theater.
The album has since debuted at number 23 on the US Billboard 200, thus making it their highest-charting album yet. It enjoyed success in many other countries as well, entering the Australian ARIA album charts at number seven, while debuting at number one on Finland's official album chart.
Opeth are currently on a worldwide tour in support of the album. However, gigs in Spain and Portugal had to be cancelled due to the Burning Live Festival being cancelled, and four concerts from June 26 to June 29 had to be cancelled due to Mikael ?kerfeldt having chicken pox. Two of the festivals Opeth were supposed to play at were Hovefestivalen and Metaltown in Sweden. Their replacement for both the absences was Satyricon. From September to October, Opeth toured North America again backed by High on Fire, Baroness, and Nachtmystium. They recently returned to tour Europe for the rest of the year with Cynic and The Ocean..
On 25 January 2009, Opeth played their first show in India at IIT Madras's cultural festival Saarang. On March 6, 2009 the band played in the Middle East at the annual Dubai Desert Rock Festival in Dubai. On March 26, 2009 it was announced that Opeth would take part in the first European Progressive Nation tour alongside Dream Theater, Bigelf and Unexpect. On 24 April 2009, Opeth will headline the first day of Metal Hammer Magazine's first UK metal music festival HammerFest. As of May 2009, the band was touring North America with Enslaved. On May 16, Akerfeldt (at a show in Hollywood) stated that the band will continue touring until the end of 2009, take a little break, and then start working on a new album.
Musical style and influences
As Opeth's primary songwriter and lyricist, vocalist-guitarist Mikael ?kerfeldt's influence dominates the sound of the band. Although he did not found the band, ?kerfeldt is the only member to appear on every release. Influenced at a young age by heavy metal bands such as Slayer, Death, Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, King Diamond and Morbid Angel, ?kerfeldt later discovered progressive rock and folk music, both of which had a profound impact on the sound of the band. Opeth's distinct sound mixes heavy metal with acoustic passages, while also incorporating elements of progressive metal and progressive rock. In his review of Blackwater Park, Allmusic's Eduardo Rivadavia wrote, "Tracks start and finish in seemingly arbitrary fashion, usually traversing ample musical terrain, including acoustic guitar and solo piano passages, ambient soundscapes, stoner rock grooves, and Eastern-tinged melodies?any of which are subject to savage punctuations of death metal fury at any given moment." ?kerfeldt commented on the diversity of Opeth's music:
I don't see the point of playing in a band and going just one way when you can do everything. It would be impossible for us to play just death metal; that is our roots, but we are now a mishmash of everything, and not purists to any form of music. It's impossible for us to do that, and quite frankly I would think of it as boring to be in a band that plays just metal music. We're not afraid to experiment, or to be caught with our pants down, so to speak. That's what keeps us going.
"Windowpane" from Opeth's album Damnation. This clip features the clean vocal style of Mikael ?kerfeldt.
Opeth's earlier works often made use of twin-guitar harmonies, although they were phased out on later releases. "I got tired of it, the whole harmony guitar thing", ?kerfeldt said. "It got out of hand in the mid-90s. Every band was doing that thing." ?kerfeldt noted that the song "Face of Melinda" from the band's fourth release "was my first rhyming lyric". Most of the band's songs exceed 10 minutes in length, which Aaron Burgess of Alternative Press magazine criticized, stating "you can't really be a casual Opeth fan. It takes enough as a listener just to get past the band's epic song lengths."
Vocally, ?kerfeldt shifts between growling death metal vocals for heavy sections, and clean, sometimes whispered vocals over acoustic passages. While death growls were dominant on early releases, later efforts incorporate more clean vocals, with the 2003 release Damnation featuring only clean singing. Rivadavia noted that "?kerfeldt's vocals run the gamut from bowel-churning grunts to melodies of chilling beauty?depending on each movement section's mood."
?kerfeldt's lyrics are often poetic and metaphorical, focusing on the bleak side of human nature. In albums such as Blackwater Park, Still Life and My Arms, Your Hearse, all of the songs are unified under a single theme. In My Arms Your Hearse, the last word(s) of each song are the title for the next song on the track, providing a sense of fluidity and cohesiveness to the album.
Main article: List of Opeth band members
Mikael ?kerfeldt: lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, acoustic guitars, bass on My Arms, Your Hearse (1990?present)
Martin Mendez: bass (1997?present)
Per Wiberg: keyboards, backing vocals (touring member 2003-2005; official member 2005?present)
Martin "Axe" Axenrot: drums, percussion (2006?present)
Fredrik ?kesson: rhythm and lead guitars, backing vocals (2007?present)