For years Opeth has been loosely labeled a death metal band. And although the origins of the group certainly have both feet in the death metal genre, Opeth has become so much more. The genesis of Opeth can be found in the eyes of long-time friends, Mikael Ňkerfeldt and Anders Nordin. With a cellar in SŲrskogen, Sweden doubling as rehearsal space, the pair began playing mostly death metal covers until, in 1988, the nucleus of the band was complete and they began working on original material.
Since music is about constant evolution, Opeth would never want to be thought of as a band standing still. Through the years and a handful of albums, the band has endeavored to produce fresh music without boundaries. Their success is a tribute to the group's creativity and their ability to add subtle nuances to well-known musical styles yielding a unique sound and fresh perspective.
I found the most recent addition to Opeth, keyboardist Per Wiberg, sitting out back of the Marquee Theater in Tempe, Arizona, enjoying the afternoon sun. He has a peaceful demeanor and a significant Swedish accent, but certainly has no problem getting his thoughts across. As we sat beneath a shade tree, we discussed all things Opeth-- past, present and future.
I opened by offering congratulations on "Ghost Reveries," a record that has brought significant change to Opeth, change that has shared considerable acclaim and controversy. I then asked about the constant evolution of the band and their ever-changing direction.
Wiberg laughed, "I donít think that they ever knew what they were doing in the first place! Basically this band has always been about playing the type of music that they enjoy. Itís fantastic that so many people come to the shows and seem to like it as well. But I also think the ambition of Opeth is to never stand still, to constantly evolve. Music is about exploring new things. So I donít know where we are heading at the moment, but I do know that it will be some time before the writing process for the next album begins. I would be surprised, since Mikael is the main writer anyway, I would be surprised if the next group of songs he comes up with sounds anything like the past."
The mantra of "no boundaries" was perhaps best personified when, a few years ago, Ballet Deviare adapted Opethís "Deliverance" into a work entitled "...And The Devil Knows Why." Billed as "of a marriage between the beauty and grace of ballet, and the force and brutality of metal," the dance troupe pressed the bounds of culture from both perspectives.
More recently, when Ballet Deviare heard that Opeth had arranged a special performance in New York City, the dance troupe requested the opportunity to share the same stage. I asked Wiberg how the evening had come to pass.
"Well basically there was a Canadian group of dancers called Ballet Deviare," Wiberg explained. "They did a show with only metal music. One of the songs in that show was 'Deliverance.' So they contacted our management when they heard that we were doing special evenings on this tour. They wanted to give it a go. They performed that track, 'Deliverance,' just before we went on at the New York show-- so the support act for the New York show was a ballet! I donít think any of us knew what to expect really. It seemed kind of interesting to dance to that kind of music rather than classical music. I only saw the rehearsals and it was kind of interesting. Me being the new boy, Iíve played the song 'Deliverance' so many times on stage and we all have our own ideas what the song is about. It was neat to see people from a completely different style of music or art interpret the song."
I think for those of us who appreciate progressive music, we understand that classical and jazz influences can be found throughout the music. But all too often thatís lost to the more traditional artists. Itís nice to see an opportunity like this to bring two very different styles of music closer.
And about those special evenings, I talked with Wiberg about the three special performances that Opeth hosted during this tour. They were titled, "Chronology MCMXCIV - MMV A live observation by Opeth." Three exclusive gigs were played. The first was at NYC's Town Hall Center, the next at Chicago's House of Blues and the final at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. The shows consisted of chronologically played set lists, starting with music from the very first record, "Orchid," and ending with vibes from the latest opus, "Ghost Reveries." The extended sets were exclusive to the three dates. I asked Wiberg if this was a moment for the band to look back at their career and take toll; a time to reflect on where theyíve been and where theyíre going?
"I donít think so, not really. I think it was just an interesting way to present the band. Especially since we have a lot of new fans that may not have seen the band live before or maybe havenít heard the earlier records. It just seemed like a good way to preset the band and what weíre all about," Wiberg shared.
When speaking about Opeth, Wiberg refers to himself as the "new kid." Truth be told he has played with the band for several years now. Wiberg worked as a touring musician on the previous tour, but has more recently been made a full member. I asked Wiberg if he found it a challenge to adapt keyboards into the earlier Opeth songs.
Smiling he replied, "Yes but a nice one. I think that itís really interesting. I always liked Opeth before I started playing with them. I totally knew what they were all about. I think itís interesting to place keys into songs that werenít written for them. You have to be pretty careful. You donít want to ruin a good thing. Opeth has written lots of great songs and you donít want to go in their and change the feel of them. You only want to enhance the vibe, not to alter the song. For me itís easy to play keys to this type of music. Itís always easy to play music that you like. If it doesnít work the first time there is always a different angle to try. I play guitar as well so itís easy to understand the riffs, so it all comes natural."
Itís interesting to see that progressive music in America has made a comeback. Opeth is finding younger audiences and I think that is partly because musicianship is becoming important to music again and the younger players are seeking out the elder statesmen as influences.
Wiberg explained what an opportunity this has been for Opeth, "There are certainly bands that are more popular than we are, but we are definitely doing a new take on old stuff. Mars Volta and bands like that draw a lot of influences from music history and they are making a new sound. Itís interesting that bands like Tool donít get a lot of airplay, partly because the songs can be so long, but they are still popular. I saw Mars Volta in Sweden about a year ago. They were on stage two and a half hours and only played five songs! People were going ballistic. And itís cool because they were from a completely different background than Opeth. Mars Volta is very freeform, especially at their live shows. Young kids are closing their eyes and just going along with this music and the musicians are playing their asses off."
I shared with Wiberg that, for the fan, progressive music can be quite draining to watch. I asked about the performance.
"For us itís not draining because weíre doing something that we love doing. This is what I do. I donít do much for 22 hours of the day so it shouldnít be that hard to put out 100 percent for two hours every night. But of course some nights the 100 percent is not as good as other nights. But we always try our hardest," Wiberg admitted.
In closing, I asked Wiberg if there was a song on the new record that he felt was most is indicative of Opeth.
"'Ghosts of Perdition' is the song that I think says it all for Opeth. That song couldíve been on any of the past four Opeth albums. There are other songs that are a little bit new territory for us. So I would say that 'Ghosts of Perdition' is the most Opeth song on the new record," he concluded.
I would like to thank Per Wiberg for taking time from his busy two hour day! Of course Iím just kidding. Itís always appreciated when a band takes the time to grant an interview and even more special when they are as candid and open as Wiberg.
For more information, check out the Opeth Web site at: www.opeth.com
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