Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #135. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Album #13 sees metal titans Opeth take an extravagant leap forward.
Words by Matt Doria.
According to fretboard warrior Fredrik Åkesson, the impetus behind Opeth’s titanic 13th album – the bold and barbarous In Cauda Venenum (Latin for ‘Poison In The Tail’, FYI) – was to make the Swedish death metal titans’ most epic album yet. And spanning over an hour of some of the band’s most bloodcurdling, yet melodic and cerebral material, it only takes one playthrough to see how well they’ve pulled it off.
What’s more, the quintet of tonal terrorisers are set to bring In Cauda Venenum to Australia for a five‐date stream of opulent theatre shows, where they’ll be taking their unparalleled brand of callous crunch and mind‐numbing melody to some of the country’s most lavish settings. Before that all goes down, of course, we got Åkesson on the phone to vibe on what makes LP13 the definitive Opeth album, and why they need to be playing it in venues typically reserved for high‐chic theatrical productions.
As the milestone 13th LP, how does In Cauda Venenum best represent the Opeth of 2019?
Well, in a way, it’s a frame in time of where we are right now. But the goal was to make the most Opeth album ever. It’s like a pizza with extra cheese, extra sauce... Extra f***ing everything! We really wanted to go the extra mile on this one. We spent a lot of time picking the right amps, guitars, effects and whatnot, and we were really picky when we were choosing the sounds. We also rehearsed a lot as an entire band before we went to the studio, which helped the recording a lot. Everybody knew their parts great – Axe [Martin Axenrot] worked out some fantastic drum fills, and Martín [Méndez] played some really cool bass lines that weren’t on the demos. Everyone added their own touch to it, which is good – otherwise those band members wouldn’t be that necessary [laughs].
Were you experimenting a lot in the writing?
Not so much in the writing process – we were using software amps and mics in our little demo studio, which is kind of outdated, actually. But it’s all about the end results when you make demos. I’ve been working with a guitar amp builder close to where I live in Stockholm called Olsson Amps, and we made an amp together called the Little Hill – we’re actually working on the second version now. So we worked on the gain structure for almost two years, and when we took that amp to the studio with us, it won the shootout between all the other amps that we had there. So that’s what we used for the rhythm tones on the entire album, which is pretty cool.
What were you going for with the overall guitar sound you wanted on this album?
It’s interesting in the studio; the guitar tone on the track “Heart In Hand” is quite heavy, and you could imagine we used a lot of loud, humbucking guitars – but actually, we borrowed these old Fender Mustangs from the ‘60s that had some kind of single‐coil pickup on them, and those sounded the most brutal. For some of the tracks, we used different instruments that you would initially think, “Oh, that’s going to sound weak,” but would end up cutting through the sound picture more than anything else. We put a lot of time into picking the right equipment, and it varies from song to song. For one particular track, Martín was playing a Höfner bass like the one Paul McCartney played. If you look at it, you’d think, “That’s going to sound weak.” But it was actually the most brutal sound we could find for that song.
How does an album like In Cauda Venenum translate to the stage to begin with?
I mean, it feels obvious that we’re going to play some of the songs live, like the title track and “Heart In Hand”. But then it becomes difficult, because initially, you just want to play all of them. It would be cool to play the entire album from start to finish – maybe we could pull one of those shows off one day – but we have so many songs now that it’s difficult to decide what we want to play. We’re going to start planning the setlists soon, and everybody has very different opinions about what they want to play, so we’ll see if we argue a lot of if we get along.
For this Australian tour in December, you’re playing some very historic and opulent theatres. Are these the kinds of venues that you intentionally seek out nowadays?
Yeah, absolutely. The only thing I’m not a big fan of is the seated crowds. But sometimes it’s worth it, y’know? I think we’re framing the show very nicely by playing theatres like that – it’s a nice environment, and I think it adds to the experience of the gig for the [punter]. When you’re playing small clubs, there’s less you can do with the lights and the production and all of that. But with this, there’s a lot more you can do to make it an interesting set.
It becomes more of an experience than the average club show tends to be.
Exactly. I don’t know how much of our regular production we can fly to Australia, but we’ll probably rent some things. It’s important for us to always try to step up in the live show, do a bit more with the production and make it a bit more of a spectacle. We have a great light designer that we’ve been working with for a few years – Magnus Boyd – and he has a lot of innovative ideas; he did a lot of Norwegian black metal bands before, like Dimmu Borgir and Mayhem. He has a lot of cool ideas, so hopefully we can bring all them down with us.
Tuesday December 10th - Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA
Wednesday December 11th - Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Friday December 13th - Palais Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Saturday December 14th - State Theatre, Sydney NSW
Sunday December 15th - Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane QLD