Opeth Talk Grand-Scale New Album ‘In Cauda Venenum’ and India Trip
The prog frontrunners’ guitarist Fredrik Åkesson on the process of making their new record in Swedish and English and their upcoming third performance in the country
On Swedish prog band Opeth’s epic new album In Cauda Venenum (out last week via Nuclear Blast and the band’s own label Moderbolaget Records) there’s billowing synth lines but also a little girl’s voice that makes the transition from “Garden of Earthly Delights/Livets Trädgård” to “Dignity/Svekets Prins.” Over the phone from a pub in Stockholm, guitarist Fredrik Åkesson tells Rolling Stone India that the voice is of his daughter, who was five years old at the time.
Åkesson translates the line from Swedish to say, “If you stop thinking, you’re going to end up dead.” It’s certainly morbid but the guitarist is quick to add, “Mikael [Akerfeldt, vocalist-guitarist]’s daughter and my daughter, they just came up with that phrase on their own. Nobody told her what to say. Mikael just had this idea that they’re just going to improvise. They were asked some questions, which led to some pretty strange answers.”
As much as In Cauda Venenum (Latin for “Poison in the Tail”) is all about twisted progressive rock (and a bit of metal too), the voice samples featured in the songs add to the intriguing nature of a record that was originally written and recorded with Swedish lyrics. It features samples taken from old Swedish cartoons, a speech of the former Prime Minister Olof Palme, as well as the band’s youngest collaborators. With the Swedish version recorded first, Opeth then translated everything to English, for perhaps accessibility’s sake. Åkesson says, “First when I heard the idea, I wondered what it would sound like, but when I heard the first song ‘All Things Will Pass’ – the last track on the album which is pretty epic – I thought, ‘This sounds pretty cool. It works.’”
Watch the video for “Svekets Prins/Dignity” below.
There were other experiments on the 10-track album as well, including Åkesson’s astounding guitar solos on songs like “Lovelorn Crime/Minnets Yta.” It was certainly no ordinary solo to create. “It started off in the demo stage of the album, Mikael had this beautiful ballad. He asked me, ‘I want you to do a long solo. I want this to be the solo that people will remember you for when you die’. I thought, ‘Okay, thank you for the pressure, mate,’” Åkesson says with a laugh.
On “Charlatan,” Opeth brings in the signature eerie blend of organ-like keys, choppy guitars and mind-bending rhythmic patterns. The favorite part for the band was swapping all guitars for just bass whilst in the studio. Åkesson asks at first, “Maybe you read about it? Or did you realize it was bass while listening?” When we confirm it was the former, the guitarist explains, “The main reason to that was we didn’t want it to sound like a ‘new’ metal song, doing it with these heavy distorted basses made it sound more gritty and dirtier and actually more brutal, I think.” In addition to bassist Martin Mendez’s bass parts, Akerfeldt picked up a bass and added “lots of distortion on it.” Åkesson adds only half-jokingly that they may have to bring out extra basses to play the song live. “It’s very different for Opeth, I think,” he says.
The song and some cuts from In Cauda Venenum will become live staples very soon, as Opeth heads out on an Europe tour later this month through to November. Then, they’ll return to India for the third time, as headliners at Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune between November 29th and December 1st. The guitarist says about their setlist, “We’re going to dig out some of the death metal stuff as well. We still enjoy playing that live and it’s a big foundation of the Opeth sound as well. We’ll try to mix that up, I won’t reveal anything right now, but we’re talking about songs we haven’t played in a while.”
Hear “Charlatan” below.
When the band made their India debut in 2009 at college festival Saarang at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Opeth were fairly quick to return in 2012 for the Summer Storm Festival in Bengaluru. Their forthcoming India appearance, however, comes after seven years. Åkesson was only a couple of years into his stint with Opeth when they came to India first, so his recollections of the prior two visits remain quite vivid. He says, “When we got there [Chennai], I remember the students said they would get us beers, but they can only get us two beers at a time. They had to smuggle it into the complex. They had to take a moped and get two more beers. We ended up hanging about with those guys, drinking beers and it was a really good time.” Unsurprisingly, Åkesson says he woke up the next morning to find a group of monkeys outside his door. “We don’t see that stuff in Sweden so it was of course very exotic. They [students] told me they can sneak in and steal your wallet and money and stuff, which was quite impressive,” he says with a laugh.
The guitarist also remembers the Saarang gig for the same reason some Indian fans might recollect – a cellphone company had asked Akerfeldt to endorse one of their phones on stage. “They had confetti bombs during this commercial plug and he wasn’t really expecting that so he was quite pissed off with that. I remember they gave him a cellphone but he gave it away to the cab driver immediately. We laugh about that now, it’s funny,” Åkesson recounts.
There probably won’t be any more obvious plugs to make on stage at their upcoming India show, but Åkesson is hoping the band has at least a couple of days in Mumbai and Pune to make the most of their time before heading out for four shows in China. In true European fashion, Åkesson describes how he was “almost floored” by the food on offer, despite eating Indian cuisine regularly back home. He adds with a laugh, “Hopefully this time, so we can hang out a little bit and eat some very spicy food.”