Opeth is a Swedish heavy metal band from Stockholm, formed in 1990. The group has been through several personnel changes, but singer, guitarist and songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt has remained Opeth’s only founding member and primary driving force throughout the years. Opeth has consistently incorporated progressive, folk, blues, classical and jazz influences into their usually lengthy compositions, as well as strong influences from death metal, especially in their early works. Many songs include acoustic guitar passages and strong dynamic shifts, as well as both death growls and clean vocals. Opeth is also well-known for their incorporation of Mellotrons in their work. Opeth rarely made live appearances supporting their first four albums; but since conducting their first world tour after the 2001 release of Blackwater Park, they have led several major world tours.
Opeth has released eleven studio albums, three live DVDs, three live albums (two that are in conjunction with DVDs), and two box-sets. The band released its debut album Orchid in 1995. Although their eighth studio album, Ghost Reveries, was quite popular in the United States, Opeth did not experience major American commercial success until the 2008 release of their ninth studio album, Watershed, which peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard 200, and topped the Finnish albums chart in its first week of release. The band has sold over 1.5 million albums and DVDs worldwide, including 300,000 collective SoundScans of their albums Blackwater Park, Damnation and Deliverance in the United States.
Opeth was formed as a death metal band in the autumn of 1990 in Stockholm, Sweden by vocalist David Isberg. Isberg asked former Eruption band member Mikael Åkerfeldt (just 16 years old at the time) to join Opeth as a bassist. The band name was derived from the word “Opet,” taken from the Wilbur Smith novel The Sunbird. In this novel, Opet is the name of a fictional Phoenician city in South Africa whose name is translated as “City of the Moon”.
Isberg and Åkerfeldt recruited drummer Anders Nordin, bassist Nick Döring, and guitarist Andreas Dimeo. Unsatisfied with Opeth’s slow progress, Döring and Dimeo left the band after their first performance, and were replaced by guitarist Kim Pettersson and bassist Johan De Farfalla. After the next show, DeFarfalla left Opeth to spend time with his girlfriend in Germany, and was initially replaced by Mattias Ander, before Åkerfeldt’s friend Peter Lindgren took on the role of bassist. Rhythm guitarist Kim Pettersson left following the band’s next performance, and Lindgren switched to guitar, with the role of bassist falling to Stefan Guteklint. The following year, David Isberg left the band citing “creative differences”.
Following Isberg’s departure, Åkerfeldt took over vocal duties and along with Lindgren, and Nordin spent the next year writing and rehearsing new material. The group began to rely less on the blast beats and aggression typical of death metal, and incorporated acoustic guitars and guitar harmonies into their music; hence developing the core sound of Opeth. Bassist Guteklint was dismissed by the band after they signed their first record deal with Candlelight Records in 1994. Opeth initially employed former member DeFarfalla as a session bassist for their demo recordings, subsequently he went on to join on a full-time basis following the release of Opeth’s debut album, “Orchid”, on May 15, 1995. Orchid tested the boundaries of traditional death metal, featuring acoustic guitars, piano, and clean vocals. AllMusic called Orchid “brilliant,” “startlingly unique,” and “a far-beyond-epic prog/death monstrosity exuding equal parts beauty and brutality.”
After a few live shows in the United Kingdom, Opeth returned to the studio in March 1996 to begin work on a second album, again produced by Dan Swanö. The album was named Morningrise, and was released in Europe on June 24, 1996. With only five songs, but lasting 66 minutes; it features Opeth’s longest song, the twenty-minute “Black Rose Immortal”. Morningrise was a huge success, with Allmusic giving the album four stars.
In 1997, after the tour, Åkerfeldt and Lindgren dismissed DeFarfalla for personal reasons, without the consent of Nordin. When Åkerfeldt informed Nordin, who was on a vacation in Brazil, Nordin left the band and remained in Brazil for personal reasons. Former Eternal members, drummer Martín López (formerly of Amon Amarth) and bassist Martín Méndez, responded to an ad at a music shop placed by Åkerfeldt. Åkerfeldt and Lindgren did not want the Martíns to join at first, due to them already knowing each other; they felt that they wanted two strangers so that there wouldn’t be two camps in the band, but eventually hired both.
With a larger recording budget from Century Media, Opeth began work on its third album, with noted Swedish producer Fredrik Nordström, at Studio Fredman in August 1997. Although Opeth had Méndez, due to time constraints Åkerfeldt played bass on the album. My Arms, Your Hearse was released to critical acclaim on August 18, 1998.
In 1999, the ownership of Candlelight Records changed hands, with owner and friend of the band Lee Barrett leaving the company. Opeth signed with UK label Peaceville Records in Europe, which was distributed by Music for Nations. Delays with the album’s artwork pushed the release back an additional month and Still Life was released on October 18, 1999. Allmusic called Still Life a “formidable splicing of harsh, often jagged guitar riffs with graceful melodies.”
Opeth released its fifth studio album, Blackwater Park, on February 21, 2001. Allmusic called Blackwater Park “astounding, a work of breathtaking creative breadth,” noting that the album “keeps with Opeth’s tradition by transcending the limits of death/black metal and repeatedly shattering the foundations of conventional songwriting.” In support of Blackwater Park, Opeth embarked on its first world tour, headlined Europe for the first time, and made an appearance at the 2001 Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, playing to a crowd of 60,000.
Opeth returned to Sweden after touring in support of Blackwater Park, and began writing for the next album. Deliverance was released on November 4, 2002, and debuted at number 19 on the US Top Independent Albums chart, marking the band’s first US chart appearance. Allmusic stated, “Deliverance is altogether more subtle than any of its predecessors, approaching listeners with haunting nuances and masterful dynamics rather than overwhelming them with sheer mass and complexity.”
Damnation was released on April 14, 2003, and garnered the band its first appearance on the US Billboard 200 at number 192. The album also won the 2003 Swedish Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance. On January 1, 2016, Opeth re-released both Deliverance and Damnation in one package, containing CD and DVD versions, along with new mixing.
In 2004, Opeth started writing new material for its eighth album and by the end of the year, they had finished writing it. Opeth’s European label, Music for Nations, closed its doors in 2005, and after negotiations with various labels, the band signed with Roadrunner Records. During rehearsal, keyboardist Wiberg joined Opeth as a full-time member. Opeth recorded at Fascination Street Studios in Örebro, Sweden, from March 18 to June 1, 2005, and released the resulting Ghost Reveries on August 30, 2005, to critical acclaim and commercial success. The album debuted at number 64 in the US, and number nine in Sweden, higher than any previous Opeth release. Keith Bergman of Blabbermouth.net gave the album ten out of ten, one of only 21 albums to achieve a perfect rating from the site. Rod Smith of Decibel magazine called Ghost Reveries “achingly beautiful, sometimes unabashedly brutal, often a combination of both.”
On May 12, 2006, Martin Lopez announced that he had officially parted ways with Opeth due to health problems, and was replaced by Martin Axenrot. On May 17, 2007, Peter Lindgren announced he would be leaving Opeth after 16 years. Ex-Arch Enemy guitarist Fredrik Åkesson replaced Lindgren.
Opeth entered Fascination Street Studios in November 2007 to record their ninth studio album, with Åkerfeldt producing. By January 2008, they had recorded 13 songs, including three cover songs. The finished album, Watershed, features seven tracks, with cover songs used as bonus tracks on different versions of the album. Watershed was released on June 3, 2008. Watershed was Opeth’s highest-charting album to date, debuting at number 23 on the US Billboard 200, on the Australian ARIA album charts at number seven and at number one on Finland’s official album chart.
In 2010, Opeth wrote and recorded the new track, “The Throat of Winter”, which appeared on the digital EP soundtrack of the video game, God of War III. In September 2010, Mikael Åkerfeldt stated that he was writing for a new Opeth album. Shortly after mixing was complete on the new album in April 2011, Opeth announced that Per Wiberg was relieved of his duties in the band.
Opeth’s tenth album, Heritage, was released on September 14, 2011, to generally favorable reviews. The album sold 19,000 copies in the United States in its first week of release and debuted at number 19 on the Billboard 200 chart. Heritage debuted at number four in the band’s native country of Sweden. Heritage became the second album to not feature any death growls and had a much more progressive style than previous albums from the band, something that Åkerfeldt had been wanting to do for some time.
On August 26, 2014, Opeth released its eleventh studio album, titled Pale Communion. The Guardian reviewed Pale Communion positively, calling it “strange, intricate prog-metal genius” somewhat flawed by Åkerfeldt’s indulgent vocal stylings. The album saw Opeth’s highest chart positions in the history of the band with Pale Communion debuting at number 19 in the US, number 3 in Sweden and number 14 in the United Kingdom. It sold 13,000 copies in its first week of release in the US.
On June 15, 2016, Nuclear Blast Entertainment announced the signing of Opeth. Three days later, on June 18th, Opeth released a 30-second teaser for their new album, Sorceress, which is due for a fall 2016 release.
As the band’s primary songwriter and lyricist, vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt heads the direction of Opeth’s sound. Opeth’s distinct sound mixes death metal with progressive rock. Steve Huey of Allmusic refers to Opeth’s “epic, progressive death metal style.” Ryan Ogle of Blabbermouth described Opeth’s sound as incorporating “the likes of folk, funk, blues, ’70s rock, goth and a laundry list of other sonic oddities into their trademark progressive death style.” In his review of Opeth’s 2001 album Blackwater Park, Allmusic’s Eduardo Rivadavia wrote, “Tracks start and finish in seemingly arbitrary fashion, usually traversing ample musical terrain, including acoustic guitar and solo piano passages, ambient soundscapes, stoner rock grooves, and Eastern-tinged melodies—any of which are subject to savage punctuations of death metal fury at any given moment.”
Vocally, Åkerfeldt shifts between traditional death metal vocals for heavy sections, and clean, sometimes whispered or soft-spoken vocals over mellower passages. While his death growls were dominant on early releases, later efforts incorporate more clean vocals, with Damnation, Heritage and Pale Communion featuring only clean singing. Rivadavia noted that “Åkerfeldt’s vocals run the gamut from bowel-churning grunts to melodies of chilling beauty – depending on each movement section’s mood.”