Interview with Opeth drummer Martin Axenrot Metal drumming and the importance of swing Several months ago Martin Axenrot joined Opeth a session drummer for their European tour. When the band landed in Utrecht, The Netherlands, close to the Drummerszone headquarters, it seemed a perfect occasion to get more closely acquainted with Martin.

Though Martin Axenrot has a classical background, he switched to extreme metal drumming with Nifelheim, Satanic Slaughter and Witchery among others.

In 2004 you joined the all-star line-up of Bloodbath, replacing Dan Swanö who switched to guitar. And now you're on tour with Opeth, replacing their regular sticksman Martin Lopez. How has that happened?

Martin Axenrot:
During Opeth's tour in the US, Martin Lopez got ill. The band temporarily used the services of Gene Hoglan [who is also featured in Opeth's video for the song The Grand Conjuration] but needed someone else for their European trek. While they were still in the US, I received a phone call from singer Michael Åkerfeldt whom I already knew from our mutual project Bloodbath. Soon after we all met in Opeth's rehearsal studio in Stockholm en here I am today.

I presume it's quite a challenge to play complex structured songs that clock over ten minutes...

Well, at first I made notes for myself to get to know the structures of the songs. Now the biggest challenge is to put a personal stamp on the music and not just playing what's on the record. Since I know the songs, I've started to play more freely, with bits of improvisation. Though it's important to follow bassist Martin Mendez as well, he controls the tempo and rhythm pretty much.

Except for Michael Åkerfeldt you had not met any of the other members before. Is it hard to be on tour with strangers?

On the contrary! Despite all the long waiting, the bad food and the lack of sleep, I love touring! They are all nice guys, and so far it goes smoothly. It's pretty fun most of the times.

What's the most important thing you have learned so far from touring with Opeth?

Before Opeth I had not toured very much. This is the first real one so to speak. Most important thing I have learned is to stay focused in spite of the long songs. We play a two hour show every night, you know. Now I can focus more on the music and not just the drumming. I definitely have learned to play more relaxed.

I noticed your smooth and relaxed playing during the Bloodbath show at Wacken Open Air last summer, even with fast tempos. Where and when did you develop your technique?

Rudiments and technique in general were encouraged by my drum teacher Stig Bendric, who has passed away now, but had always played in the army and with the Norrköping Symphonic Orchestra. He was a huge Buddy Rich fan, and could play really impressive stuff. It made me appreciate the sense of swing when playing.

When did you start playing drums? Could you tell us a bit about the early days?

I started playing on a snare drum and some buckets at age six. Three years later, at age nine, I got my first drum kit and received drum lessons until I was eighteen. During high school I played in Linköping's Symphonic Orchestra. We did a lot of marching as well and gave concerts all over Sweden and Norway. Eventually I worked my way up to the drum kit. I made sure I was always playing in a band. If I remember correctly my first band was called Samurai. That was a rock 'n roll cover band, playing songs from Led Zeppelin to Metallica. My second band was Decay.

Let's talk about something different. Any news about Witchery? Does that band/project still exist?

In the summer of 2004 I recorded a new album with Witchery entitled "Don't Fear The Reaper". It has not been released yet because Witchery was dropped by our record label, but it is set for release in February 2006 by our new label Century Media. Witchery is a real band, giving all members the freedom to do stuff they cannot do in the other bands. We don't practice often, but especially when guitarists Patrick [also in The Haunted] and Richard [also in Seance] are off duty, we happen to play and jam ten hours a day for a month.

After the Opeth tour, in January 2006, we'll try to rehearse with Witchery and maybe even record a new CD. The last album hasn't even been released yet, but it doesn't harm to work ahead.

I have heard you play guitar as well. What are the chances of you releasing a solo debut?

A solo album? Well, who knows... one day...

How will Martin Axenrot's solo album sound like?

Perhaps it will contain softer songs than you imagine. Hard rock maybe. I listen to bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath on my iPod, but also to Heart and Queen. The latest addition is Mercyful Fate. Their original drummer Kim Ruzz played very swingingly! And he had very strange ideas when switching to a different riff. I've always liked John Bonham and Cozy Powell as well. And Dave Lombardo; he has a swing in it too, a great feeling. I definitely liked Dave Lombardo on Testament's album "The Gathering".

As a matter of fact, I've recently recorded a Deep Purple cover with Opeth. We entered the BBC Radio studios in London a few days ago and played Soldier of Fortune. It was completely recorded live, you can hear me count on the hi-hat: tssj, tssj, tssj, tssj - wonderful! The songs will also be included on the planned special release of "Ghost Reveries".

Thank you for your time. Any last comments?

Yeah, the most important thing about making music is to have fun. Never forget that.
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