No rules

Frankly, Opeth doesn’t care how you define metal

Photo by Olle Carlsson

Opeth has toured relentlessly since releasing its 2011 CD, Heritage.

And that’s where the Swedish progressive death metal band has spent the lion’s share of time since, touring North America, Europe, South America, Japan, Turkey and India. Now Opeth is back in the U.S., making one last run before heading home and into the studio.

“It’s how you make a living, man,” singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt says of the near non-stop touring. “That’s the job now. The music industry has changed quite a bit. Putting out a record is like an excuse to go on tour. To keep the momentum up, we have to go on tour, go on tour, go on tour. We’re going to be at 250-odd shows for this album, which is a lot. And we’re a pretty hard-working band. We tour a lot.”

Akerfeldt, singer/songwriter/guitar/driving force of Opeth, says touring is how the band became known outside of Sweden and how it built its following and reputation.

“We’ve been touring pretty extensively since we put out the fifth record, which was five records ago,” Akerfelt says. “Before that, we were pretty much an underground band. We had to build it. The only way you can do that as a metal band is to go out and tour. We’re not on TV. We’re not on the radio. What that means is we’ve been touring for 10 years. We’re constantly on the road.”

Formed in Stockholm in 1990 as a doom-laden death metal outfit, Opeth has evolved into progressive metal, a movement fueled by Akerfeldt, who was initially influenced by heavy metal bands, most notably Judas Priest, and then brought progressive rock and some folk tinges into the music.

A dynamic vocal presence, Akerfeldt alternates between death metal screaming on the band’s heavier, darker material and a soft breathiness on quieter songs, and he’s always counted among top metal guitarists.

Opeth, which has sold more than 1.5 million albums worldwide, didn’t come to the U.S. until its first world tour in 2001 and didn’t have commercial success here until its previous CD, 2008’s Watershed, which hit No. 23 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.

Since then, Opeth has been an established name in metal, developing a strong following that loyally supports the band’s shows.

In continually changing, Akerfeldt knows he’s not following traditional metal rules — defiantly so.

“I refuse,” he says. “If I have a new idea, I use it. I don’t have to ask, ‘Is this metal?’ I like to think we’re one of the bands that’s difficult to figure out.”

That is particularly the case with Heritage, a lighter, meticulously arranged recording that marked a departure from the band’s heavier past — to the point where there’s no death growls to be found on the disc.

That switch, Akerfeldt said, meant “a few people scratched their heads, wondering what we were doing.”

But most of the Opeth audience bought into the sounds of Heritage, which came from another side of Akerfeldt.

“I’m a music buff, a music lover,” he says. I don’t always get inspired by Judas Priest. I get inspired by anything. It’s going to roll into my music library. That kind of open-mindedness we have as a band helps. It’s impossible to progress if you only listen to Judas Priest anyway.”

The Opeth set, which Akerfeldt said will average about two hours, is a career spanner, delivered in no particular order — chronologically or musically.

“It’s all mixed up,” he said. “There’s all sorts of stuff, some real heavy stuff, some lighter stuff, some old stuff, some new stuff…”

By new stuff, Akerfeldt was referring to material from Heritage. Songs that will turn up on the next record aren’t close to ready.

“Not yet,” he said. “I’m writing for it. I have three songs I’m working on at the moment. We haven’t played any of the new songs. It’s still a work in progress.”

That work will likely begin in the fall or winter, after the final leg of Opeth’s “Heritage” tour is complete.

“It’s been fun,” Akerfeldt said. “I can’t remember when it [Heritage] came out. But we’ve been touring ever since. It’s been a really good run.”

Opeth plays the Fox Theatre Monday, May 20 and Tuesday, May 21. Katatonia opens. Both shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $37.50. 1135 13th St., Boulder, 303-443-3399.