Mikael Åkerfeldt, leader of celebrated Swedish prog-rock outfit Opeth, looks back on the moment he became a metal fan, the time he partied with Abba’s very own Dancing Queen, a song that made him cry, what made him lose faith in contemporary metal, and more in the latest installment of “The First Time.”
The singer-guitarist — whose band ranked on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Metal Albums list and will release its 13th LP, In Cauda Venenum, next month — vividly remembers the moment metal came into his life. He recalls how he was playing at a friend’s house one day around 1979, when he found a Black Sabbath greatest-hits tape mixed in with cassettes of children’s stories.
“I remember ‘Iron Man,’ that song,” he says. “Now I hear it [as] Ozzy [Osbourne] speaking but back then it was like a monster, with that effect: ‘I am Iron Man.’ And then I was like, whoa, that was amazing. I think that was probably the time I became a metal fan, I would say, with that cassette.”
He goes on to explain that his parents were only partially on board with his newfound interest. “I wanted to have long hair but my mother would only allow me to have a mullet,” he says. “Business in front, party in the back.” He recalls feeling let down when he opened a Christmas gift and instead of the heavy-metal memorabilia he was expecting, he found a back patch featuring the cover of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance album. “I love that record, but I didn’t want a back patch of it,” Åkerfeldt says. “I wanted [Motörhead’s] Ace of Spades.”
The singer also discusses the evolution of his appreciation for fellow Swedes Abba, and how he once got to meet one of the members after recording an album in the same studio where the pop stars worked early on. The engineer was tight was Abba singer Agnetha Fältskog, and Åkerfeldt ended up at a party with her. He says he was nervous at first, but cigarettes and alcohol helped settle him down, and he eventually struck up a conversation with her. Then the unthinkable happened.
“In the end, we were all a bit tipsy, and somebody put on a song — there was a jukebox in there, and they put on these Fifties rock ballads, or whatever, and I got to dance with her, to have a dance with the Dancing Queen,” he says. “Nobody believes this story but it’s true.”
In another segment of the interview, he comments on Opeth’s controversial decision to move away from the more aggressive sound that marked their earlier releases, and how the fan response made him ponder the current state of heavy metal. “We put out a record called Heritage, which some of our fans absolutely hated, and they figured we’re traitors and it’s not metal, and that had me starting to question what is metal. Because what I hear, it’s not metal to me, some of the contemporary stuff. It’s like boy bands, if you know what I mean — no aggression, no rawness, no honesty, nothing rebellious about it. … I’ve been on a permanent leave from contemporary metal since the mid-Nineties, but I still play the Priest records and the Maiden, Scorpions, Deep Purple. I love that stuff.”
Asked about the first time a song made him cry, he confesses that it happens all the time. But he does offer up one instance, when he says he was in a “fragile” state of mind while going through a divorce. “I was going on what I call ‘old man walks,’ listening to music, and I was playing a Rainbow record, Rainbow Rising, the very first song, ‘Tarot Woman.’ I was crying, walking and crying.”
Lastly, the Opeth leader comments on the first time he heard about A$AP Rocky being arrested in his home country. He says he was vaguely aware that the rapper had played a festival in Stockholm that he attended with his daughters, who are hip-hop fans. “It was in the news that he got arrested,” Åkerfeldt says. “I don’t know who he is. It’s probably good for his career, I would say.”
Opeth’s In Cauda Venenum comes out September 27th in both English and Swedish versions. The band will tour the U.K., Europe, and Australia this fall.