"I think primarily about the people involved in it, not so much about the songs on the album. The songs are still in my life, half of the people who worked on it aren't," Mikael Åkerfeldt replies when asked what the first thing that comes to his mind about "Blackwater Park" is. 20 years have passed since the album was released in March 2001, which on the one hand decisively boosted Opeth's career, and on the other raised the genre of progressive metal to a new level. Guitarist, singer and main songwriter Åkerfeldt, bassist Martín Méndez and producer Steven Wilson look back.
The turn of the millennium meant a time of change for Opeth. Almost ten years of the band's history had produced four albums, but their career had not really taken off. "I was despairing a bit in terms of the music business," admits Mikael Åkerfeldt. "We were just barely getting anywhere. We weren't touring, we weren't selling records ..." Having just "moved" from Candlelight Records to Peaceville, the band felt compelled to switch labels again after just one album, 1999's Still Life: Music for Nations, top dog in the metal genre and de facto owner of Peaceville, threatened to pull the plug on the label's catalog if it didn't release Opeth. "That was ugly," Åkerfeldt recounts. "I'm actually loyal, and we had no problem with Hammy from Peaceville [label founder Paul Halmshaw, note] - but also no choice." However, Music for Nations, home to bands like Mercyful Fate, Metallica and Manowar, also offered brand new opportunities like a larger network and North American distribution. Through the new record label, the band also met their manager, who still works for them today. "It was exciting in itself. Things started rolling."
Out of the back and forth ultimately grew stability - which also developed within the band: Åkerfeldt, guitarist Peter Lindgren, drummer Martin Lopez and bassist Martín Méndez grew stronger into a unit after their first joint album "Still Life". "Before 'Still Life' we had rehearsed twice and played maybe two gigs in England. We didn't know each other as a band at all, and the others certainly didn't know me as a bass player," Méndez recalls. "I was 18 years old at the time and felt like I had to prove myself. With 'Blackwater Park,' on the other hand, we'd been playing together for a couple of years, and everything was more relaxed. The others trusted me 100 percent." Åkerfeldt confirms, "The band was strong. We got along great, had fun, pulled together and found our sound."
Compositionally, Opeth had already almost perfected this sound on "Still Life". There are many parallels in "Blackwater Park". The fact that the band could still go a decisive step further was due, among other things, to Steven Wilson. The Porcupine Tree mastermind had become aware of Opeth through "Still Life" and agreed to produce "Blackwater Park" after a dinner in London and listening to new song demos. This alone spurred Åkerfeldt on further: "I wanted to impress him. He was my role model, still is. Since he liked 'Still Life,' I had to make sure he liked the follow-up, too."