The very title sounds like something of legend, or something that could be a key artefact in some huge fantasy quest that is the subject of a series of novels, each running to 700-plus pages, and / or a major film franchise or major-budget TV series.
Mikael Åkerfeldt’s volume may be a little leaner, but its 208 pages are large and do, indeed, recount an epic journey, namely the 25-year history of the mighty Swedish metallers.
The book is told in the first-person by Mikael, the band’s sole remaining founder member, with input from other bandmembers, their friends, former members and collaborators, giving a more rounded, fleshed-out perspective than the first-person narrative alone – while also justifying the book’s title, rather than it being simply Åkerfeldt’s autobiography of his career fronting the band.
Mikael’s narrative style is very conversational, and very natural. The lack of pretense in his tone is refreshing, and it does very much recreate, in text, how one might imagine the experience of sitting down with the man while he recounted his experiences. The sequencing of the segments of narrative from other band members, etc., is well executed and achieve the effect of another speaker picking up the story or otherwise cutting in to present an alternative version of events or otherwise embellish the recollections of the previous narrator.
There’s a lot of ink given to the band members discussing the bands who influenced them and how they discovered so many vintage bands by picking up cheap vinyl, and it helps bring the band to life. It may not reveal much about the creative process or the band’s mindset, and it’s not deep, but it is human, it is honest. It also highlights just how different it was growing up and discovering music in the early 90s.
There’s another benefit to the book’s physical size beyond rendering it an imposing coffee-table piece, and that’s the fact the 9” x 11” leaves display the wealth of illustrations featured in the book. Visually, it’s extremely impressive, but more importantly for fans – and who else is this book for if not the fans – there are quite literally hundreds of previously unseen pictures, spanning, rare artworks and memorabilia, as well as, significantly early, personal, candid, studio and live photographs, and an extensive illustrated discography.
While some may see fit to criticize the text-to-image ratio – there are a lot of images, it’s true – a fair judgement would be that it’s reasonably well balanced, in context and in consideration of its purpose, namely of being a celebration of the band’s quarter century in existence, something to be cherished, looked over, and which has some heft as an artefact. It would equally be a mistake to complain that the book lacks any critical distance, or, perhaps more usefully, analysis, because that simply isn’t what it’s about. It’s a book by the bad, for the fans. In this context, ‘from the horse’s mouth’ offers a direct insight that no level of third-party dissection and commentary can come close to.
One element that’s often overlooked in books about music is the music itself, and this is of course a limitation of individual media. Even the idea of an ebook with audio fails to really address this, as it fails in the key objective of being a book, and especially when we’re looking at a book which is about being visual, about being tactile, and we’re back to the heft which is worthy of a band who make big music with some serious sonic heft. The Book of Opeth pleasingly comes complete with a 7” – not a naff, flimsy CD – of previously unreleased acoustic versions of ‘Atonement’ and ‘Demon of the Fall.’
In all, it’s what you might justly call a nice package.
The Book of Opeth is available to order only from opethbook.com and is released on 15th April.