We let Opeth loose in a record store and here's what happened
One band. One record store. £50. What could possibly go wrong?
Listen…” says Mikael Åkerfeldt, Opeth’s vocalist, guitarist and bandleader. His voice drops to a whisper as he opens a vinyl copy of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Can you hear it? The crackling sound when you open and close the record.”
The tall, skinny, black-clad Swede does it again. This old version of Sgt Pepper makes a good crackling sound. But he’s looking for a rare pressing with the matrix number printed inside the gatefold.
A few racks along in Flashback Records in Islington, North London, Opeth guitarist Fredrik Åkesson – he of the curly hair and fuzzy Tutankhamun beard – turns to the singer and frowns. “There’s no Mahogany Rush,” he announces with the air of a thirsty man who’s just been told the pub has stopped serving.
Maybe there’s not much call for Canadian hard rock bands round these parts. Seconds later, though, Åkerfeldt is holding a copy of A Farewell To Kings by the other Canadian rock band also called Rush. He gazes at the inside sleeve’s band portrait and nods approvingly – no words are necessary.
You know you’re meeting serious collectors as soon as the Opeth men arrive this afternoon. They’re both carrying bags from an earlier visit to Reckless Records in Soho. In fact, Classic Rock’s Brexit-depleted £50 is a drop in the ocean compared to what Åkerfeldt has already blown on vinyl during this flying visit to London.
Flashback owner Mark Burgess opened his shop on Islington’s Essex Road in 1997, followed by branches in Shoreditch and Crouch End. Flashback’s racks bulge with everything from grime and dubstep to New Zealand indie; from old ska 45s to UFO’s Let It Rain single in a dog‑eared picture sleeve.
Burgess is an Opeth fan and knows their lead singer collects 70s rock and anything on the Vertigo label. “They’ll be wanting the basement,” he told us earlier. And he’s not wrong.
Flashback’s subterranean bunker used to be a retro clothes emporium. Now it’s full of retro LPs. Åkesson heads straight for the hard rock and metal bins, beginning his (ultimately fruitless) search for Mahogany Rush but finding Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop along the way. Åkerfeldt, meanwhile, sources obscure prog rock like a pig snuffling for truffles. Within seconds he’s examining a copy of British folk rockers Magna Carta’s Seasons LP on his beloved Vertigo label.
When Åkesson finds an LP he doesn’t know, he waves it at the singer. Åkerfeldt then nods or shakes his head and delivers his verdict.
Åkesson and Åkerfeldt are 44 and 42 respectively and children of the 80s metal boom. Opeth started out as a grunting death metal band in 1990 before morphing into witchy hard rockers with prog tendencies. And you suspect this transformation was engendered by their lead singer crate-digging in record shops like this.
Of the two, Åkesson takes a more scattershot approach to record hunting. He pulls out Rory Gallagher’s mid-80s LP Defender – “Malcolm Young said [adopts Aussie-via-Swedish accent] ‘You gotta listen to Rory Gallagher’” – then puts it back. Later we find him examining the origami-style folding sleeve for Alice Cooper’s From The Inside: “What year is this? 1978. His drink and drugs period… Good cover, though.”