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Opeth is a Swedish progressive metalband from Stockholm, formed in 1989. The group has been through several personnel changes, including the replacement of every single original member. Lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt has remained Opeth’s primary driving force since the departure of original vocalist David Isberg in 1992. Opeth has consistently incorporated progressive, folk, blues, classical, and jazz influences into its usually lengthy compositions, as well as strong influences from death metal, especially in their early works. Many songs include acoustic guitar passages and strong dynamic shifts, as well as demonic vocal characterization. Opeth is also well known for their incorporation of Mellotrons in their work. 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 was formed as a death metal band in 1989 in Stockholm, Sweden, by lead vocalist David Isberg. 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 translated as “City of the Moon”.
In 1990, Isberg asked former Eruption band member Mikael Åkerfeldt, who was just 16 years old at the time, to join Opeth as a bassist. When Åkerfeldt showed up to practice on 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 the band. An ensuing argument led to all members but Isberg and Åkerfeldt leaving to form a new project.
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 De Farfalla. After the next show, De Farfalla 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 De Farfalla 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.
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.
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, titled Morningrise, was released in Europe on June 24, 1996. With only five songs, but lasting 66 minutes, it features Opeth’s longest song, the 20-minute “Black Rose Immortal”. 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.
In 1997, after the tour, Åkerfeldt and Lindgren dismissed De Farfalla 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 Eternalmembers, drummer Martín López (formerly of Amon Amarth) and bassist Martín Méndez, responded to an ad at a music shop placed by Åkerfeldt. López and Méndez were fans of the band and took the ads down themselves so no other musicians could apply for the job. Åkerfeldt and Lindgren did not want the Martíns to join at first, due to them already knowing each other; they felt that they wanted two strangers so that there wouldn’t be two camps in the band, but eventually hired both. 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. Although Opeth had Méndez, due to time constraints Åkerfeldt played bass on the album. My Arms, Your Hearse was released to critical acclaim on August 18, 1998.
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 Wilsonproducing. 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 has stated 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.
Opeth returned to Sweden 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 bandmates or record label. While his bandmates 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 Damnationin 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. On January 1, 2016, Opeth re-released both Deliverance and Damnation in one package, containing CD and DVD versions, along with new mixing.
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 io in London, England. The DVD features a two-hour performance, including the entire Damnation album, 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 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”), a DVD featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix of the album and 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, which topped the Finnish DVD chart.
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 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. Watershedwas Opeth’s highest-charting album to date, debuting at number 23 on the US Billboard 200, 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 Watershed. From September to October, the band toured North America backed by High on Fire, Baroness, and Nachtmystium. They returned to tour Europe for the rest of the year with Cynic and The Ocean.
In 2010, 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. The concert of April 5, 2010, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England was filmed for a DVD and 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, “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 in March 2010 to coincide with the tour.
In September 2010, Mikael Åkerfeldt stated 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.
Shortly after mixing was complete on the new album in April 2011, 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.”
Heritage became the second Opeth album to not feature any death growls and had a much more progressive style than previous albums from the band, something that Åkerfeldt had been wanting to do for some time.
The first two songs Åkerfeldt wrote for Heritage were in the style of Watershed. After hearing the songs for the first time, Martín Méndez told Åkerfeldt that he would be disappointed if the album continued in that direction. Relieved that Méndez was not interested in doing another conventional Opeth album, Åkerfeldt scrapped the two songs and started the writing process over in a different style. In the press release for Heritage, Mikael Åkerfeldt revealed that he felt as though he had been building to write the album since he was 19 years old. In a review for Allmusic, Thom Jurek called Heritage the band’s most adventurous album, describing the songs as “drenched in instrumental interludes, knotty key and chord changes, shifting time signatures, clean vocals, and a keyboard-heavy instrumentation that includes Mellotrons, Rhodes pianos, and Hammond organs”.
On 26 August 2014, Opeth released its eleventh studio album, titled Pale Communion. Åkerfeldt began working on new material as far back as August 2012. In January 2014 he stated, “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.” Despite fearing that the band’s new musical direction would split Opeth’s fanbase, 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 he became interested in doing when working on Storm Corrosion. The band members in Opeth felt rejuvenated after creating Heritage which resulted in closer relationships between them
On 15 June 2016, Nuclear Blast Entertainment announced the signing of Opeth. Three days later, on 18 June, Opeth released a 30-second teaser for their new album, Sorceress. A month later, on 18 July, the band confirmed the album would be released on 30 September, in addition to revealing the artwork and track list. Mikael Åkerfeldt described it as, “A fine little record. My favorite in our discography right now. Of course. That’s how it should be, right? It’s both fresh and old, both progressive and rehashed. Heavy and calm. Just the way we like it.” The album was the first project under Moderbolaget Records, a joint venture between Opeth and Nuclear Blast. Moderbolaget means “the parent company” in Swedish.
On 25 July 2016, in the build up towards the album release, the band posted the first Sorceress: Studio Report on their YouTube channel. In the behind-the-scenes studio tour, it is confirmed that the band had returned to Rockfield Studios where they previously recorded Pale Communion. At the end of the video, there is a 20-second excerpt of a track believed to be from the album featuring heavily down-tuned guitars. On 1 August 2016, the band released a lyric video for the title-track ‘Sorceress’ on their YouTube channel. On 4 September 2016, Opeth released a lyric video for the second single titled ‘Will O the Wisp,’ again through their YouTube channel and website. Opeth’s video for “Era” was nominated for “Video of the Year” at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards, where they ultimately won “International Band of the Year”.
On 2 October 2017, Åkerfeldt said he has been thinking about doing something “twisted” and different for the next studio album, which could be released by mid-to-late 2019. On 20 November 2017, guitarist Fredrik Åkesson stated that the band will not have any gigs in the upcoming months, until the 2018 summer festivals. During this break the band will focus on writing songs for the new album. On 11 July 2018, during an interview with FaceCulture, Åkesson said “I’ve recorded a lot of solos so far. And Mikael Åkerfeldt has almost already written 12 songs for the new album, so we have more material than enough for an album”. On 22 May 2019, the band announced their thirteenth studio album, In Cauda Venenum, due for release on 27 September 2019. On 12 July 2019, Opeth released the first single from In Cauda Venenum entitled “Heart in Hand” in both English and Swedish.
On 16 November 2021, it was announced that longtime drummer Martin Axenrot had left the band due to conflict of interests and will be replaced by Sami Karppinen for the North American tour.