Opeth’s Martin Axenrot Weighs in on “Heritage," Opeth's Current and Future Direction and His Career
Band Photo: Opeth (?)
Opeth has tamed its savage beast on its latest album “Heritage.” The placidity of said album has rubbed off on the band’s live performance, which is currently on display throughout America on their “Heritage Hunter” tour. Although subdued for the moment, Axenrot believes this ferocity will be released once again. However, he is fine with the prospect of never again playing death metal with the Opeth camp.
Opeth’s progressive brand of metal keeps Axenrot from becoming bored. Even without growls and drilling kick drums, Opeth still conveys a massive amount of heaviness and darkness. Although he’s content with playing in a band bereft of these characteristics, Axenrot still LOVES to play death metal. Having played in many of Sweden’s most renowned extreme metal acts since 1995, he has literally made a career out of producing fast and barbaric drum beats.
Before the modern masters of progressive metal took the stage in San Antonio,Texas, Metalunderground.com boarded Opeth’s bus for an interview with the band’s rhythmic backbone. We discussed Opeth’s current direction, where they are headed and how the fans perceive Opeth in the year 2012. We also dove deep into Axenrot’s time before Opeth and his inception into the band. Read on further to learn more about one of Sweden’s most prolific metal drummers.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): Let’s go back to your inception into Opeth. You filled in for Martin Lopez on several tours before joining in 2006. What was your relationship with the band before you hit the road with them?
Martin Axenrot: I knew Mikael because of the Bloodbath project. I met the other members a couple times because I played festivals with other bands at the same time as Opeth. Sweden is too small to not know every band here. Everybody knows everybody. The death metal scene is a bit like the Gothenburg scene. Mikael was the one that I knew and talked to. He was the one who called me and I was in contact with when I was asked to join Opeth.
Cowan: You have been a part of Sweden’s extreme metal scene since the mid-90s, playing in some of your country’s heaviest hitters. Triumphator, Witchery, Nifelheim, Satanic Slaughter and of course, Bloodbath have all listed you among their ranks. How do you feel about your playing in these bands compared to Opeth?
Axenrot: I’ve always played different styles of music. I’m mainly known for playing extreme music (laughs), so it was more of a shock for people to see me play something else. There was a lot of change for me, living wise. Opeth toured around two years after each record, so it has affected my private life in a huge way. You live on a bus for two years and then go back to your family. It’s a very different life style when you’re used to playing festivals, doing small tours or playing in your home town. I had to move to Stockholm with my girlfriend and be away from my regular life for almost two years.
Cowan: Did you marry this girlfriend?
Axenrot: No, I’m not married. We have been together for ten years. I don’t believe that you have to be married (laughs).
Cowan: I wondered because being gone all the time can take a toll on a relationship.
Axenrot: You’ve got to believe in it if it’s going to be possible. Both people have to understand each other. It’s a good thing she’s also into music and understands I have a passion for something.
Cowan: So she’s supportive?
Axenrot: Yes, otherwise, it would be a bit hard.
Cowan: Did you have to change who you would work with when you joined Opeth—a band who spends much time on the road?
Axenrot: Yes, some. I have appeared on a record, every year, since I was twenty-years old. If we have some time off in the summer, I can do a record or play some shows. I can work with another band if we have Christmas off. That’s when I recorded the last Witchery album (“Witchkrieg.”). It would be harder to go out on the road with Witchery or Bloodbath because we are so busy. We don’t tour that often because everyone is in other bands. If I’m home, somebody else is gone.
Cowan: In a radio show interview on KISW, Mikael stated, while on tour with Katatonia, his announcement of new songs didn’t cause much noise from the crowd, at least in the beginning. Obviously, this was due to fans still familiarizing their selves to the new material. You received a better response later into the tour. Do you see an even greater recognition of the new material on this tour?
Axenrot: Yeah, I would say that. I would say people are more into the new stuff now when I see the crowd’s reaction. We started touring before “Heritage” was even released. We opened up with songs that nobody had even heard (laughs). Even if they liked the album, they didn’t know what we were playing. Of course, it had probably been released on the Internet so everybody should have heard it. I don’t know. Anyway, I think the new stuff is getting a great response now. We mix it up and play harder stuff, so I guess the guys who like harder stuff can get their shit also. Then again, the new album is very dynamic; it has hard and soft parts, but it’s not that influenced by death metal. I think it sounds like Opeth. I think we perform it good live.
Cowan: It doesn’t have the death metal growling; but tone wise, I think it’s a dark and somber album.
Axenrot: Yeah, it has heavy and doomy parts. I think that screaming doesn’t necessarily make something darker. I think when you scale down an album; it can get even more of a feeling of darkness and heaviness.
Cowan: Other than “Damnation,” which was part of a two-album concept where “Deliverance” was the heavier album, “Heritage” is the only album without growling vocals. Is the band going away from death metal?
Axenrot: No, I like death metal still. I don’t think Opeth has ever been just a death metal band. We have all sorts of influences. I think Mikael is more inspired to do other things now that ever before. If you go through Opeth’s catalog, you’ll see than each album is different than the other ones. The most shocking thing would be if we released the same record twice. “Oh, this is “Watershed II.”
Cowan: So death metal isn’t gone from Opeth’s sound?
Axenrot: It’s a huge part of our history and life. For me, it will always be there, even if Opeth doesn’t sound like that. It will continue to inspire my life and playing. It’s hard to tell. If we feel like playing death metal, we’ll play death metal. If we’re bored with it, we’ll do something else.
Cowan: I’ve seen complaints about your set around the Internet. People have complained that it’s too soft. One person even said it was like attending a Lionel Richie show. Will we hear some death metal tracks tonight?
Axenrot: Yes, there will be some death metal songs in there, too. I don’t see metal in that way. Screaming, grinding, distortion doesn’t really make something heavier. If it’s only that, then it’s pretty boring. Bands that do what they want sound better than bands that are trying to please somebody else. Some people complained that I took the grind into “Watershed.” Now they complain that the death metal is gone.
Cowan: Opeth has so many influences, but the harmonies seem a trademark of your sound. Has that translated over to radio play in Sweden?
Axenrot: No, not in Sweden. We are a very small band in Sweden. In Flames and Hammerfall are pretty big in Sweden. We are still an underground band in Sweden. When someone asks me what band I play in, I say, “Opeth.” They say, “Never heard of them.” Restaurants will stay open for us over here after closing hours. It’s totally different over here. If someone over there asks what my band sounds like, I tell him, “It’s metal, prog rock.” They say, “Oh, is it like In Flames?” “Nope, it sounds like something else.” You have to use a known band for comparison, and it’s very hard to compare Opeth to anyone else. Opeth has a wide range of influences, and those differ from album to album. We’re a metal band and that’s it (laughs)!
Cowan: Do you believe the wide range of influences is one reason you have such a large following in America?
Axenrot: Maybe, there are also a lot more people over here to buy our stuff. All of those people can get more people into liking our music.
Cowan: I should say anywhere. Do you think your mashing of styles is a major reason for the band’s popularity?
Axenrot: I don’t know. I think our fans want us to explore and be a bit different. I think that’s how we have evolved. If you stay in your same genre and please the same fans over the years and each record sounds the same, you’ll lose your feeling. I think you have to explore new stuff in a band. You have to challenge yourself and the crowd. I think that our crowd wants us to do that, also. They expect that from each record. They expect each record to be a bit challenging. I think it’s good to have a reaction, good or bad. It’s good that someone feels something.
Cowan: In an interview with Loudwire, Mikael stated he is no longer in Bloodbath. He said they have a new singer, but won’t reveal who. Can you tell us the name of your new singer?
Axenrot: No, I can’t say anything yet. We have to think about it a bit before we can say anything. I hope that we can record the album in the summer. I’m home in the summer and the Katatonia guys are home a bit in the summer, too. They just recorded their new Katatonia album. I hope we can do it in the summer or autumn because I’m still in the band. I think it’s fun to play that kind of death metal. It’s about having fun than being so serious. The guys in Katatonia are our friends, too.
Cowan: Opeth and Katatonia played a Bloodbath song on November 1 as an encore at your show in Maryland.
Axenrot: Yes, the last show of that tour we did two songs.
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