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Opeth is a Swedish progressive metal band from Stockholm, formed in 1990. Though the group has been through several personnel changes, singer, guitarist, and songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt has remained Opeth’s driving force throughout the years. Opeth has consistently incorporated progressive, folk, blues, classical and jazz influences into their usually lengthy compositions, as well as strong influences from black metal and death metal, especially in their early works. Many songs include acoustic guitar passages and strong dynamic shifts, as well as both death growls and clean vocals. Opeth rarely made live appearances supporting their first four albums; but since conducting their first world tour after the 2001 release of Blackwater Park, they have led several major world tours.
Opeth has released ten studio albums, three live DVDs, three live albums (two that are in conjunction with DVDs), and two boxsets. The band released its debut album Orchid in 1995. Although their eighth studio album, Ghost Reveries, was quite popular in the United States, Opeth did not experience major 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. Opeth has sold over 1.5 million albums and DVDs worldwide, including 300,000 collective Soundscans of their albums Blackwater Park, Damnation and Deliverance in the United States.
Opeth was 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 Åkerfeldt (just 16 years old at the time) to join Opeth as a bassist. When Åkerfeldt 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 Åkerfeldt would be joining. An ensuing argument led to all members but Isberg and Åkerfeldt 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”.
Isberg and Åkerfeldt recruited drummer Anders Nordin, bassist Nick Döring, and guitarist Andreas Dimeo. Unsatisfied with Opeth’s slow progress, Döring 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 initially replaced by Mattias Ander, before Åkerfeldt’s friend Peter Lindgren took on the role of bassist. Rhythm guitarist Kim Pettersson left following the band’s next performance, and Lindgren switched to guitar, with the role of bassist falling to Stefan Guteklint. The following year, David Isberg left the band citing “creative differences”.
Following Isberg’s departure, Åkerfeldt took over vocal duties and he, Lindgren, and Nordin 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. Bassist Guteklint was dismissed by the band after they signed their first record deal with Candlelight Records in 1994. Opeth initially employed former member DeFarfalla as a session bassist for their demo recordings, and he went on to join on a full-time basis following the release of Opeth’s debut album, “Orchid”, in 1995.
Orchid, Morningrise, and My Arms, Your Hearse (1994–1998)
Opeth recorded its debut album, Orchid, with producer Dan Swanö in April 1994. Because of 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 Swanö. The album was named Morningrise, and was released in Europe on June 24, 1996. With only five songs, but lasting 66 minutes; it features Opeth’s longest song, the twenty-minute “Black Rose Immortal”. Morningrisewas 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 in the United States in 1997.
After the tour, Åkerfeldt and Lindgren dismissed DeFarfalla for personal reasons, without the consent of Nordin. When Åkerfeldt informed Nordin, who was on a vacation in Brazil, Nordin left the band and remained in Brazil for personal reasons. Former Amon Amarth drummer Martín López responded to a newspaper ad placed by Åkerfeldt and joined Opeth in 1997. López 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 Nordström, at Studio Fredman in August 1997. The band added bassist Martín Méndez shortly before recording, but due to time constraints Åkerfeldt played bass on the album. was released to critical acclaim on August 18, 1998. As Opeth’s first international release, the album exposed the band to a wider global audience. My Arms, Your Hearsemarked the beginning of a shift in the band’s sound.
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 United States until February 2001. Still Life was the first album recorded with Méndez, 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.” As explained by Åkerfeldt, Still Life is a concept album: “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,” Åkerfeldt 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,” Åkerfeldt said.
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, Åkerfeldt 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 Åkerfeldt, suggested writing music for two separate albums—one heavy and one soft.
Excited at the prospect, Åkerfeldt agreed without consulting his band mates or record label. While his band mates liked the idea of recording two separate albums, Åkerfeldt 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, Åkerfeldt 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 poorly recorded, without any organisation whatsoever,” Åkerfeldt claimed, that Sneap “is credited as a ‘saviour’ in the sleeve, as he surely saved much of the recording.”
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 Åkerfeldt 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 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 features a two-hour performance, including the entire Damnationalbum, several songs from Deliverance and Blackwater Park, and a one-hour documentary about the recording of Deliverance and Damnation. Lamentations was 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, drummer Lopez called Åkerfeldt stating he was having an 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 with Lopez’s drum technician filling 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 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, after more than a year on tour.
Opeth returned home in 2004 to start writing new material for its eighth album, and by the end of the year, they had finished writing it. Opeth’s European label, Music for Nations, closed its doors in 2005, and after negotiations with various labels, the band signed with Roadrunner Records. Åkerfeldt 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,” Åkerfeldt 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!” 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 Örebro, Sweden, from March 18 to June 1, 2005, and released the resulting Ghost Reveries on August 30, 2005, to critical acclaim and commercial success. 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 21 albums to achieve a perfect rating from the site. Rod Smith of Decibelmagazine 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 featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix of the album (along with a documentary on the making of the record). A recording of Opeth’s live performance at the Camden Roundhouse, in London, on November 9, 2006, was released as the double live album The Roundhouse Tapes.
On May 17, 2007, Peter Lindgren announced he would be 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 Åkesson replaced Lindgren, as Åkerfeldt 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.”
Opeth performed nearly 200 concerts in support of Ghost Reveries.
Watershed and In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall (2008–2010)
Main articles: Watershed and In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall
Opeth entered Fascination Street Studios in November 2007 to record their ninth studio album, with Åkerfeldt producing. 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. Åkerfeldt described the songs on the album as “a bit more energetic”. Opeth toured in support of Watershed, including headlining the UK Defenders of the Faith tour with Arch Enemy, an appearance at Wacken Open Air, and the Progressive Nation tour with headliner Dream Theater. Watershed was Opeth’s highest-charting album to date, debuting at number 23 on the US Billboard 200. Watershed debuted on the Australian ARIA album charts at number seven and at number one on Finland’s official album chart.
Opeth went on a worldwide tour in support of the album. However, gigs in Spain and Portugal were 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 Åkerfeldt 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 returned to tour Europe for the rest of the year with Cynic and The Ocean.
Opeth wrote and recorded the new track, “The Throat of Winter”, which appeared on the digital EP soundtrack of the video game, God of War III. Åkerfeldt described the song as “odd” and “not very metal.”
To celebrate their 20th anniversary, Opeth performed a six-show, worldwide tour called Evolution XX: An Opeth Anthology, from March 30 through April 9, 2010. Blackwater Park was performed in its entirety, along with several songs never before performed. Åkerfeldt stated, “I can’t believe it, but, fuck, we’re celebrating 20 years. I’ve been in this band ever since I was 16. It’s insane.” A special edition of Blackwater Park was released on the March 29, 2010, to coincide with the tour.
The Evolution XX concert of April 5, 2010, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England was filmed for a DVD/live album package titled In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The set was released on September 21, 2010, in 2-DVD and 2-DVD/3-CD configurations. For the DVD the concert was split into two sets. The first set consists of the entire Blackwater Park album, while the second set contains one song from every album excluding Blackwater Park, in chronological order representing the twenty years of “evolution” in their music.
Åkerfeldt stated in September 2010 that he was writing for a new Opeth album. The band announced on their website that they would start recording their tenth album on January 31, 2011, at the Atlantis/Metronome studios in Stockholm, once again with Jens Bogren (engineering) and Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree as co-producer.
In April 2011, shortly after mixing was complete on the new album, Opeth announced that Per Wiberg was relieved of his duties in the band. In the press statement, Mikael Åkerfeldt explained the decision, saying, “Mendez, Axe and Fredrik and I came to the decision that we should find a replacement for Per right after the recordings of the new album, and this came as no surprise to Per. He had, in turn, been thinking about leaving, so you could say it was a mutual decision. There’s no bad blood, just a relationship that came to an end, and that’s that.”
Opeth’s tenth album, Heritage, was released on September 14, 2011, to generally favorable reviews. The recording marked a departure from the musical style of the band’s past albums, being only their second album not to feature death growls (the other being Damnation).
Opeth went on their 2011/2012 Heritage Tour through North America and Europe with their new keyboardist, Joakim Svalberg. They played alongside Katatonia in September and October, and with Pain of Salvation in November. The tour continued into 2012 with appearances in Turkey, India, Japan, Greece, Israel, Latin America and Sweden. On February 5, 2012 they played for the first time in Bangalore as part of the second edition of Summerstorm festival. Opeth joined Mastodon for a co-headlining North American tour in April and May 2012, supported by Ghost. Opeth and Mastodon each headlined at specific concerts. Von Hertzen Brothers served as support on Opeth’s Scandinavian tour dates. On the remaining tour dates, support came from Anathema. In December 2012, Roadrunner uploaded a video to YouTube showing the Opeth logo and the text “Spring 2013”. The video’s description states that “Something’s coming…”. Opeth embarked on an Australian tour in March 2013, and continued to play more shows in the coming months. With a total of over 200 shows in support of the album, the touring for it concluded at Melloboat 2013.
Pale Communion (2013–present)
Main article: Pale Communion
In August 2012, Åkerfeldt revealed that he had begun writing new material for what would be the eleventh Opeth album. Åkerfeldt stated that one song sounds like the band Goblin, which is also the working title for the song. An interview in June 2013 revealed that Åkerfeldt already had three songs composed and ready. Åkerfeldt stated about the album, “We’ve been looking at [tracking the next album at] Rockfield Studios in Wales where Queen recorded ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, but we haven’t made a decision yet, but it will be an expensive album. There’s a lot going on, lots of string arrangements that we haven’t had in the past.” When asked if it will it be heavier or softer than Heritage, Åkerfeldt said, “Maybe a little bit heavier, not death metal heavy, but hard rock/heavy metal heavy. There’s also lots of progressive elements and acoustic guitars, but also more sinister-sounding riffs.” Åkerfeldt also produced the new album which will include string instrumentation, something that Åkerfeldt became interested in doing when working on the album Storm Corrosion. On March 20, 2014, Opeth announced that the new album was complete. The Guardianreviewed it positively, calling it “strange, intricate prog-metal genius” somewhat flawed by Åkerfeldt’s indulgent vocal stylings.
On April 7, 2014, Roadrunner Records announced that the title for Opeth’s eleventh album is Pale Communion. Pale Communion was released on August 26, 2014. The first single, “Cusp of Eternity”, was released on June 3, 2014.
As Opeth’s primary songwriter and lyricist, vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt heads the direction of Opeth’s sound. He was influenced at a young age by heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden, Slayer, Death, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Celtic Frost, King Diamond, Camel, Morbid Angel, and most importantly Judas Priest. Åkerfeldt considers Sad Wings of Destiny the best metal album of all time, and notes that there was a time when he only listened to Judas Priest. Åkerfeldt sings “Here Come the Tears” by Judas Priest before most Opeth concerts while warming up.
Genre and sound
Åkerfeldt 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 death metal with progressive rock. In his review of Opeth’s 2001 album 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.” Åkerfeldt 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.”
Vocally, Åkerfeldt shifts between traditional death metal vocals for heavy sections, and clean, sometimes whispered vocals over mellow passages. While his death growls were dominant on early releases, later efforts incorporate more clean vocals, with both Damnation and Heritage featuring only clean singing. Rivadavia noted that “Åkerfeldt’s vocals run the gamut from bowel-churning grunts to melodies of chilling beauty—depending on each movement section’s mood.”
- Mikael Åkerfeldt – guitars , lead vocals
- Martín Méndez – bass guitar
- Martin “Axe” Axenrot – drums, percussion
- Fredrik Åkesson – guitars, backing vocals
- Joakim Svalberg – keyboards, synthesizer, backing vocals, percussion
- Nick Döring – bass
- Anders Nordin – drums
- David Isberg – vocals
- Johan DeFarfalla – bass
- Peter Lindgren – bass , guitars
- Andreas Dimeo – guitars
- Kim Pettersson – guitars
- Stefan Guteklint – bass
- Mattias Ander – bass
- Martin Lopez – drums
- Per Wiberg – keyboards
Past live musicians
- Gene Hoglan – drums (2004-2005)
- Orchid (1995)
- Morningrise (1996)
- My Arms, Your Hearse (1998)
- Still Life (1999)
- Blackwater Park (2001)
- Deliverance (2002)
- Damnation (2003)
- Ghost Reveries (2005)
- Watershed (2008)
- Heritage (2011)
- Pale Communion (2014)
- Sorceress (2016)
- In Cauda Venenum (2019)