Opeth singer-guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt can hardly be described as flamboyant. Intelligent, well-spoken and polite, with a droll sense of humor, the Swedish band’s frontman possesses a laid-back demeanor that gives the impression that his feathers aren’t easily ruffled. That doesn’t mean he’s above occasionally flaunting his plumage, though. The cover of Opeth’s latest album, Sorceress (due Sept. 30), contains the vibrant image of a peacock roosting atop a pile of human flesh. It’s a symbol that Akerfeldt deliberately choose to advertise the band’s might.
“It’s probably something narcissistic, to be honest,” he admits with a laugh. “Maybe not for me personally, but for us as a band — like a collective narcissism that we’re this beautiful peacock and we’re laying everything to waste.”
By this juncture in its career, it’s understandable that Opeth is feeling a bit, well, cocky. Earlier in 2016 it celebrated the band’s 25th anniversary by reissuing its seminal companion albums, 2002’s Deliverance and 2003’s Damnation. For the first time, the band is releasing a project through its own label, Moderbolaget, and a licensing deal with Nuclear Blast — “We are working almost identically to how we worked with the record labels before when we were under a record contract,” observes Akerfeldt — and it begins touring North America on Sept. 24, launching at Ozzfest Meets Knotfest in California and including a prestige play at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on Oct. 1. A European tour follows in November. (Go here for more touring information.) And despite some dissension among fans, Sorceress, Opeth’s 12th studio effort, continues the path the act has followed on its last few albums that leaves overt death metal trappings behind in favor of music that is “more like the origins of metal, like Deep Purple or maybe Black Sabbath or Rainbow,” says Akerfeldt.
“I made a point with this record to make the songs as diverse as possible,” he says in comparing Sorceress with 2014’s Pale Communion. “I think this is a bit more coherent within the songs, but I made sure that there’s a diversity between the tracks on the record so that no two tracks would kind of blend together and that you would know which one is which, so to speak. I think it’s a bit more catchy. More singalong-y.”
We also learned these tidbits about Sorceress:
Sorceress‘ Cover Is Both ‘Beautiful And Disgusting’
The sleeve is one of Opeth’s most colorful pieces of album art — and its most gruesome. While Akerfeldt is a fan of Scottish band Nazareth‘s 1973 record Loud and Proud, whose cover also features a peacock, he’s not sure why a picture of the bird sitting on a mound of carnage popped into his head long before he started writing Sorceress. Artist Travis Smith, who has designed multiple Opeth covers, also handled this one. Akerfeldt calls the juxtaposition of the peacock’s plumage and the rotting flesh “beautiful and disgusting at the same time, which is basically what we wanted … I love weird covers if they’re smart. I wouldn’t say the Sorceress cover is the smartest cover I’ve seen in my life, but it’s lovely. The smartest disgusting cover I’ve seen is by the band Cattle Decapitation [2004’s Humanure] of a cow that’s shitting out humans.”
The Album’s Vinyl Is Just As Flamboyant
In July, Opeth announced it was pressing a charity vinyl edition of Sorceress in pink. Part of the proceeds will be donated to Gilda’s Club NY, which was founded in memory of Grammy Award-winning comedian Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989. It’s also available as a picture disc and in an array of colors that include mint pearl, blue, rosewood and orange. “They do so many different kinds of formats, I can’t keep track, really,” says Akerfeldt. As a record collector, he only cares that his copy is black. “I make sure to talk to the record label and the management and say, ‘As long as we have black vinyl, you can do as many colors as you want.’ ”
Drummer Martin Axenrot Was A Songwriting Inspiration
Akerfeldt explains that once Opeth gets settled into a tour, Axenrot enjoys experimenting with drum beats during sound check. “I was thinking, ‘I want him to play like that, like having fun.’ The reason why I kind of put a little bit more focus on him as opposed to the other guys is because once you have that foundation of the song, once you have the drums down, if the drums are good, you have a better chance the rest is going to be great, too.”
Akerfeldt’s Now More Into Singing Than Screaming
The singer wanted to keep exploring his singing capabilities on Sorceress, which is the third consecutive album (after 2011’s Heritage and Pale Communion) where he employs a traditional style instead of death metal growls. Akerfeldt prefers to do what’s best for the song instead of screaming simply because he did so on previous albums. After consuming death metal for 20-plus years, he doesn’t draw much inspiration from the genre anymore. With clean singing, he can “expand more and learn more, and there’s more to learn with that type of singing. You’re never fully taught, so to speak, as a singer,” he observes. “But when it comes to the screams, I think there was a time where I was as good as I could get and felt like I was kind of going downhill and getting worse at it because my heart really wasn’t in it.”
Sorceress Isn’t About Woman-Bashing
Despite the implications that the title may carry, the album isn’t intent on catering to the stereotype of females using their sexuality to wreak havoc. While the downsides of relationships did play a role in its creation — “I have had a rough couple years when I’ve been thinking a lot about these things and therapy and that kind of stuff” — Akerfeldt “didn’t want to go all bitter” with the lyrics. “It’s an easy target to go for the evil woman, you know, and I tried to avoid that as much as I could. But there’s a little bit of that in there because it made a good lyric,” he concedes with a chuckle.
But Yes, Sometimes, Love Stinks
“A positive emotion does come with a lot of negative side effects — at least, it has for me,” muses Akerfeldt about relationships. “Even if something I really need in my life is love, and loving, it has found me many times when I wonder if it’s doing more damage than good.” However, he also realizes, “I don’t really feel good without love in my life, and I need that. [When I was writing], I was drawing inspirations from those kind of mental breakdowns that you have in the middle of something that’s ultimately a beautiful thing.”
Opeth’s Branded Beer Crowned The Studio Rider
Opeth introduced its XXV Anniversary Imperial Stout in 2015 and its Communion Pale Ale in April. Akerfeldt calls the ale “the best IPA [India pale ale] I have ever had in my life, and that’s not because it says ‘Opeth.’ ” When it was time to record Sorceress, the band made sure it had ample provisions in the studio. “Even before we started thinking about what guitars we were going to bring, we made calls to make sure there’s going to be beer for us,” he says with a laugh. “I think we went through six boxes of the ale. We didn’t have any stout. That stout is really strong. It’s like 9-point something. Like if you have one of them, you don’t really need to eat for a week and you also get very drunk.”