September 29, 2010

20 Years Of Opeth

Opeth have lots to celebrate in 2010. In honoring their 20 year anniversary as a force to be reckoned with in the progressive metal realm, the band embarked on a 6-city world tour, playing their grand opus Blackwater Park in its entirety as well as a second set featuring a chronologically ordered sample of their storied career.

And as if these exclusive events in select countries all over the world weren't enough, the band filmed their stop at London's famed Royal Albert Hall for all to see in the brand new double DVD In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. To learn more about the concert in question, as well as the accompanying on-the-road documentary that comes with the set, we sat down with frontman Mikael Akerfeldt.

Tell us how you came to this idea to celebrate your 20-year career…

Well, it doesn’t feel like we’ve been around for 20 years really,  but 20 years is a long time, especially when you see it on paper, it makes us feel old! But we have been around for 20 years and we wanted to celebrate it somehow, because we never really celebrated anything in those 20 years – we never had a release party, we never had anything.

We talked about doing a show or something, and we’d been looking at playing the Royal Albert Hall at some point in our career, and for me it was just something we’d talked about, not something that would become a reality at all. But we did it, and that was the first show we booked, then all of a sudden this party of ours became a big thing.

We didn’t want to go into the Royal Albert Hall without having played a few shows before, so we booked a few shows around the world at similar venues – well, we tried to get similar venues but it’s almost impossible because [the Royal Albert Hall] is so beautiful.

We played at the Cirkus in Stockholm, that was the first show, and then at an old movie theatre (called Lichtburg) in Essen, Germany, then we did the Albert Hall show. We did New York, Los Angeles, and we played at the Bataclan Club in Paris, which is a very nice place.

Basically we wanted to be prepared for the Royal Albert Hall because we knew we were going to film it and record it, so we wanted it to sound good.

But that was it, we set up six shows around the world to celebrate 20 years, simple as that.

What was your reasoning for including ‘Blackwater Park’ in its entirety in the set?

The reason is it’s a popular record. We’d been a band for 10 years when we did ‘Blackwater Park’ but we’d never really had anything going for us, to be honest, until we did that album. The simple reason is that this is the tenth anniversary of our most popular record, many of the songs on that album are well-known Opeth songs, like ‘The Drapery Falls’, ‘Bleak’, ‘Harvest’ and the song ‘Blackwater Park’, so it felt obvious.

We were talking about doing an album ‘back-to-back’, and it’s quite fashionable for bands to do that – we’d done it before as well – so when we talked about it, we didn’t even discuss [which album we’d play]. We just said, “We need to rehearse all those ‘Blackwater Park’ songs then!” It just felt obvious.

How did you choose the other songs in your set – what has become the second disc of the set?

I guess it was difficult, but we weren’t on tour for ‘Watershed’ any more, so we didn’t have to plug that album any more than the others, it was just celebrating our career as a band. Our songs are quite long so we couldn’t really choose more than one song from each record for the second set. ‘Forest of October’, which is the first song we played, fragments of that song were the first things I ever wrote for Opeth. It’s a fun song to play, it’s a but naïve, because it’s so old now, but I love that song. It’s really raw and it really goes back to the very beginning of the band.

The second song was ‘Advent’, the opening track from the ‘Morning Rise’ record, and one of the more well-known songs from that album. I think it’s still a good song and I think we made it sound as it did back in the day.

That’s basically how we chose the songs – songs that we like to play and to some extent songs that we thought people would want to hear, but you obviously have to leave a lot of material out with a thing like this, it can never be complete.

We did think about playing ‘Black Rose Immortal’, but there’s parts in there that I don’t really like, I can’t really relate to it anymore. People want to hear that song because it’s the longest song we ever recorded, but it’s not the best song ever, it’s just the longest, so we went with other stuff.

I think ‘The Moor’ from ‘Still Life’ is a song people love to hear, it’s very difficult to play, and we haven’t played it all that much. I think we made it sound really good.

How did it feel loading in that morning at the Royal Albert Hall?

It felt surreal! Actually, I wasn’t so nervous about that show, normally I tend to get a bit nervous – stagefright and things like that – but going in it was just so surreal, it was like an out-of-body experience. I was looking up and it just seemed to never end, just how big this place is. I loved it. It was magical for me; it had a magical vibe for us in the band. Ok, we made a few fuck-ups, it wasn’t the best show we ever played, but it was magical, plain and simple.

All the fuck-ups are on the DVD! There’s a massive fuck-up at the end of ‘The Lotus Eater’, I think one of the cameramen kicked a cable out of Fredrick’s guitar, and Frederick was worried it made him look stupid [on the DVD], but it adds to the show, y’know? Things like that happen- there’s no such thing as a perfect show. In a way I kinda like that it happened in the biggest show we’ve ever done, it makes it more human and real.

When you look back at that night, what was the highlight for you?

That’s a difficult question.  Everything was a highlight. Just going on there and playing ‘The Leper Affinity’ was amazing. I like the more sensitive songs in a way, when you get the vibe, you get shivers (laughs). When we played ‘Hope Leaves’ from ‘Damnation’ – I love playing that song, I love that song, I love singing it – that was spine-tingling.

Are you happy with how the DVD came out? Sometimes it can be hard to capture the vibe of a live show on film.

I haven’t really looked at it. I don’t feel the need to re-live that show warts and all, y’know? We went through it when we were editing and listening to the mix, of course, but I haven’t seen it [in its entirety]. I know that there’s things that could be better, but it’s not about a perfect performance. That vibe in there was amazing, we documented it and hopefully it can bring it all back for the people who were there.

Was it good answering all the questions from fans for the interview on the DVD?

Yeah, it was more or less like a regular interview – maybe a bit more anal in the sense that they wanted to go into the small detail. I don’t think all of those questions got onto the DVD.

What was it like having cameras following you around for the behind-the-scenes footage?

I think that’s fun, it really adds to the package. We got drunk in a pub in Germany and [the cameraman] was with us, and I think that’s fun – that’s what I like to see from bands, them making fools of themselves. It was a nice insight into how it works on tour, a little bit of the boredom on tour, a little bit of the crazy stuff and how everything works with the crew, how we prepare before we go onstage. If you like the band, I think it would be interesting to see.

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