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Fredrik rips into a chord during Opeth's performance of "Slither" during their stop at Chicago's Riviera Theater on April 13, 2012, while venturing the US on a co-headlining tour with Mastodon. Photo by Chris Kies.
The Journey: Opeth’s Fredrik Åkesson on making Pale Communion
This is your third album with Opeth, starting with 2008’s Watershed. What is the working relationship and how does album material unfold when working with Mikael?
Åkesson: Before any studio time, Mikael has all tracks in demo form with guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. When we get the call to rehearse the new material, there are definitely parts that are changed or tweaked—because we’re all creative and Mikael is gracious with our input and trusts our opinion and direction. A lot of times he’ll let us hear his demos and then we’ll go to our homes and work on what we can bring to the song. Mike and I usually sit down and go through all the guitar parts and come up with some new ideas.
This time I put down a solo during the demo stage that actually made the album. The first single, “Cusp of Eternity,” with the long solo, was just improvised during the demo stages. The danger is that when you do a demo solo and everybody listens to it, they get so used to it. If you try to do something different for the actual recording, you’re often stuck with the basic idea that just came out naturally. And on the flip side, on the song “Moon Above, Sun Below,” I worked on that solo for two months at home—on and off again—but I wanted to do something more like a melody that went through everything instead of just burning scales.
There’s some of that more melodic playing on “River,” too.
Oh yeah, definitely—when the song becomes a bit heavier, we bring it back with a more soulful, dulcet solo. The background rhythm is pretty strange and creates an interesting listen, because it goes from major to minor all the time and back a few times. This was something I wanted to incorporate because of how complex it was. I knew it would keep things moving forward.
Gear-wise, did you guys change anything up from the previous recording sessions?
On Watershed we used mainly Marshall JVM heads with various PRS guitars with humbuckers. For Heritage, we used Marshall JCM800s with single-coil pickups because we wanted more string sound, a more open-sounding record rather than a distorted wall. On the newest album we went back to humbuckers, but we only did one main guitar track for each of us—the previous two records we each did two tracks and put them on both sides. But this time we only filled one channel, one side each. We wanted it to sound like old Judas Priest or Thin Lizzy albums where the two guitarists were playing the same thing, but if you listen closely you can hear differences in the tone, pick attack, and sound—we wanted that ’70s and ’80s rock sound. I think it sounds more present and lively that way.
We definitely add some atmospheric and ethereal stuff with delays and modulation pedals, acoustic parts, and solos, but we didn’t feel the doubling of guitar tracks was necessary—you know, too much of anything is not a good thing [laughs]. We have a lot of other instrumentation, like piano, string sections, and a Hammond, organ so we wanted to avoid listener’s fatigue. In a way, it breathes a bit more.
Another change for me was using P-90s for a lot of the rhythm work. And this time, I played through an older plexi Marshall and pretty much did the old Hendrix thing—dimed all the knobs and jumpered the inputs.
What guitars did you use?
I used two P-90 guitars—a ’55 Les Paul Jr. and a PRS P22. All the rhythm parts are with the 1955, because it has a special kind of character to it. It’s aggressive, round, and full, but still retains some articulation through all its noise.
You often have two or more delays in your rig—so how did you use them on this album?
I’m currently using the Way Huge Supa-Puss and the MXR Carbon Copy. The Carbon Copy was used as the standard, short delay. I love that you can turn it up pretty loud, but the repeat is analog, so you can add more volume without getting too messy. With the Super-Puss, it has a gain knob for repeats, and I tweaked that control during the eBow melody on the second track, “Cusp of Eternity.” That delay, more than any pedal I’ve used before, can get a lot of spaced-out stuff—oscillation, atmospheric sounds. I love to experiment with stuff like that. The wackier stuff shows up on parts of “Voice of Treason” and “River.”
What’s your favorite song on the new album?
Probably “Moon Above, Sun Below,” because it’s a long, drawn-out track that builds. It’s like a journey with all sorts of different parts coming in throughout the entire song. The thing that I’m most proud of with this album is that every song is different, but it flows as one, cohesive piece. I’m also really impressed by Mikael's writing on the last track, which is more of a dark, rock ballad.
It is very melodic. It’s not a metal track at all, but a lot of my favorite metal tracks are like that—Sabbath did that a lot. They weren’t afraid to experiment.
Oh yeah. “Planet Caravan” jumps to mind.
Exactly, stuff like that—those are the songs you remember.