In Cauda Venenum

In Cauda Venenum

For their 13th album, Swedish metal titans Opeth did something they’d never done before: They recorded two versions—one in English, one in Swedish. But if you’re hoping for a deep, meaningful reason behind it, you’ll be sorely disappointed. “There is no why,” vocalist, guitarist, and bandleader Mikael Åkerfeldt tells Apple Music. “For the most part, I don't know why I do things. The lyrics are very spontaneous and impulsive. I don't sit around pondering. The decision was made in the car, taking my daughters to school. It doesn't sound cool. I wish I could say I was at the top of a mountain, that I’d just climbed Mount Everest. But I was in my old Volvo.” Meaning or not, there are plenty of layers to In Cauda Venenum, a Latin phrase meaning “the poison is in the tail.” “I want music that you can play over and over again and always discover new things,” he says. Below, Åkerfeldt talks through each track on Opeth's most dramatic, diverse album to date. Garden of Earthly Delights “We used to open our concerts with a piece by a German band, Popol Vuh, who wrote scores for a lot of Werner Herzog films. It’s from Nosferatu, one of my favorite films of all time. We used it for many years, and when the guy who wrote it, Florian Fricke, passed away, the publishing was taken over by his son, who wanted a lot of money from us. I wrote ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ trying to almost rip them off—to get something that sounded like Popol Vuh, but it's ours. It’s supposed to pull the listener into the record, as if you’re about to hear something special.” Dignity “When I was working on this piece, I knew I needed something here. I found a speech by Olof Palme, this colorful, controversial politician who led the Social Democratic Party from the ’60s until he was killed. It’s a New Year’s speech to the nation. There’s no political agenda. It’s basically about concerns about the future, the turning of the year. I knew I needed it, but of course you can't just put it out or you’d get sued. Eventually I got the number of one of Palme’s sons. I explained what we were doing and sent him a demo. He replied a few days later, saying that it was a beautiful presentation of his dad. Out of all the samples that we had, that was the one I wanted to get cleared the most.” Heart in Hand “I wanted a song that began sounding chaotic, but feels calm and nostalgic by the end, like the sun is shining. It sounds straightforward, but it’s written in a weird time signature. I was inspired by pop songs written in odd signatures, like Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Obviously, being Swedish, I grew up with ABBA, but I rediscovered them in the middle of our career and had this epiphany with their music. I heard it differently to when I was a child, when they were just big pop songs. Now, it’s like, ‘My god, it's genius.’” Next of Kin “The working title for this one was ‘Floyd’—as in Pink Floyd. I was trying to emulate Syd Barrett during the opening part. It took about 10 seconds until I realized that's a bad working title—it doesn't sound anything like Floyd. It escalated into something that almost sounds like a Broadway musical. People could almost dance to it on a stage.” Lovelorn Crime “I wanted to do something heartfelt and beautiful and big, with a nice guitar solo at the end courtesy of Fredrik [Åkesson]. I remember playing that song to both my girls, and [prolific Canadian musician] Devin Townsend, who was staying at my place one night. He just went, 'I love that one. I love it.’ If you like ballads, especially our type of ballads, you'll probably love this song.” Charlatan “Both myself and Fredrik played bass for this song; there are no actual guitars on it. We brought the kids into the studio—Fredrik’s daughter and my two—and we asked them big questions. ‘Who is God?’ ‘What happens when you die?’ It was the first time I’d heard them say anything on those subjects—I don’t talk to them about God because I don't believe in God. And I edited it because I wanted it to sound eerie and spooky, not cute. But of course it still sounds very cute to me. It’s my children!” Universal Truth “This was the first one we finished, and it sounded nice, but there were so many parts in the song, and it didn't really make sense to me. So I basically rewrote it, and now it sounds like a prog-rock musical. I really like it.” The Garroter “This one could have been absolute shit. When we try a different genre to the one we're comfortable in, we want it to sound as authentic as possible. I want to sound like a jazz band, not like some metal guys trying to play jazz. And I wanted it to sound dark, with lots of strings, which is a major part of the whole record. I presented it to the guys in the band and thought they were going to hate it, but they didn’t. I especially remember our bass player—he sat up straight and got really, really excited about how much stuff he could do with this song. Oddly enough, the people that have heard it, even some of the more hardcore metal fans, seem to like this song the most.” Continuum “I’m really happy with this song because it’s so different; there are weird chords I never usually use, like major chords. I'm careful with major chords. I don't think I've written anything like it before. The ending really came out nicely too.” All Things Will Pass “Out of all the songs, we decided early that it was going to be the last one. I wanted something really heartfelt and epic, with a magical touch. Honestly, I'm not always a fan of my own music. I like it, but it’s a different thing to me. The songs are not going to open up to me like they hopefully will for other people. But I knew what I wanted with this song, and to me, it’s almost perfect. You never know if you're going to do more records. If this is the last record for us—not that I’m saying it is—then this is a nice way to end it.”

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