The end of harsh vocals for Opeth?

Heritage

With the release of their latest album, Heritage, this fall, Swedish progressive metal band Opeth took their sound in a different direction than on their previous efforts.  Only their second release that does not have any of frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt’s trademark harsh vocals, Heritage is also Opeth’s first full-on progressive record, eschewing not only death metal vocals but also heavy guitars and rhythms.  The music is still melodically and technically complex, not to mention dark, but not in the style that many fans of Opeth have come to love – and expect – from the band.

As such, the record has caused some divisions among fans.  Some (like myself) love great music, interesting music, experimentation, etc., and are not tied to metal as a necessary denominator.  Others simply don’t like it.  Still others want to hear more “traditional” Opeth records in the vein of My Arms, Your Hearse or Blackwater Park or Watershed.  All of these perspectives are understandable – people like Opeth for different reasons, and, while most of the band’s fans would probably classify themselves as metal fans, their music naturally attracts a variety of fans because it pulls from a wide variety of influences.

However, the band has caused something of an uproar on its tour this fall, because, in the spirit of the current album, they are only performing songs from their catalog that don’t contain harsh vocals.  Fans hoping to see Opeth fill their setlist with a hefty dose of death metal along with some choice “clean” numbers have often been disappointed that there is no death metal involved.

“The Devil’s Orchard”

* * *

Early in November, Åkerfeldt talked with Simon Rushworth, editor of Rushonrock.com.  Feel free to check out the interview in its entirety here.  The interview contains several general questions about the tour, the record, the band, and metal itself, but there were two consecutive questions that brought forth some interesting answers from Mikael with regard to his vocals.

(Rushworth asked): “How do you incorporate the new material into the set?”

Åkerfeldt: “We mix the new songs in from time to time rather than play a bunch together. But we’ve chosen older songs that go well with the new material. There’s clean singing all the time – no screaming. We have a fair number of songs that fit together well from across our career. We have 25 songs for this tour and we play 12 or 13 each night. Five or six of them are from the new album.”

(Rushworth): “Is this the end as far as Opeth and screaming and/or growling vocals are concerned?”

Åkerfeldt: “I can’t say really. I’ve never turned my back on anything and I’m not going to start now. It’s not like I don’t like that style of vocal delivery any more. But I just can’t develop any more as a singer if I keep on screaming. In fact I think I got worse at that as the years went by. But if the future songs require those vocals then that’s what I’ll deliver. It seems like a long shot at this stage.” (bold emphasis mine)

Mikael also said, earlier in the interview, that “I did write a couple of songs just trying to find my feet and they were metal sounding songs and not very good. So I decided to start from scratch.”  And I don’t remember where I saw this, but he stated in a different interview that, after he had written those songs, he was showing them to the band and bassist Martin Mendez said to him something to the effect of, “This isn’t the new album, is it?” with a dubious tone of voice, and Mikael scrapped the songs shortly thereafter.

What interests me here is that Åkerfeldt, while not making a binding statement, was not averse to the idea that he may never record his death metal growl again, and that future Opeth albums might only contain clean vocals, which would likely mean music of a more experimental, less death metal nature, a la Heritage or Damnation.

His reasons for the change are compelling.  He feels that the longer he uses harsh vocals or growls, the more they harm his singing voice and hamper its development.  Åkerfeldt has always had strong growls and a beautiful singing voice, and it was awesome to watch him recording Deliverance (as well as singing live) on the Lamentations DVD, going from harsh to clean or clean to harsh.  I found it remarkable, because there are great differences between the two styles.  Unlike certain metal singers like Phil Anselmo or Chuck Billy, who have gravel in their voices when they sing and are that much closer at all times to a scream or growl, Åkerfeldt has a death metal growl and a strong, very clean singing voice, so it was always fun to watch him switch between them.  However, I could see where it could cause problems or wear and tear, particularly over the course of several tours.

How do I feel about it?

Well, I like Heritage, and I’ve always loved his clean vocals, as well as his melodic sense as a singer.  I’ve also always liked his harsh vocals, but if he abandons them for a time (or forever), and finds singing full-time an inspirational experience, and makes several more interesting albums, I’m not terribly concerned if screaming isn’t part of those equations.  Ultimately, I’ll take more Opeth over, say, no Opeth because he isn’t satisfied with the “metal” songs he’s writing, or whatever.

However, that’s just my opinion.  I know that others are upset that Opeth isn’t playing death metal on this tour, but it’s actually possible that Opeth might not be playing death metal on its tours for a while, at this point.

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