Given his penchant for dry humour, it’s apt that Mikael Åkerfeldt found the ultimate artistic freedom while telling the story of a Swedish bank robber. When director – and former Bathory sticksman – Jonas Åkerlund recruited Opeth’s mainman to write the soundtrack to his Netflix series, Clark, he wasn’t just looking for the man who wrote The Grand Conjuration, or any other number of prog-death masterpieces you might want to name. Instead, he was enlisting the talents of a musician whose musical knowledge verges on the encyclopaedic – a multi-genre connoisseur who could imbue the series with a sense of sonic authenticity.
Though inspired by Swedish popular music from the 50s to the 80s, the Clark soundtrack also betrays Mikael’s own influences. Druglord Panic bears a riff remarkably similar to The Edgar Winter Group’s Frankenstein, while Wish You Were There is so on-the-nose about its Pink Floyd homage you’d think it was a nostril. Elsewhere, Måndag i Stockholm riffs so authentically on Black Sabbath (Bill Ward drum-fills and all) that Tony Iommi should consider a paternity test.
But therein lies the beauty and brilliance of Clark. Mikael’s been given full creative rein to explore everything from classical and jazz to North African folk music, lending each an inimitable fingerprint that can be traced across his work. At the same time, Clark breaks away from his prior music in terms of sheer diversity, flowing with a sense of whimsy that still feels fresh and vibrant as it approaches the 80-minute mark. The penultimate track, Battle For Love, is a particularly surprising highlight, a fully fledged 80s-style rock banger with shades of The Cult – via Opeth, naturally.
Effectively Mikael Åkerfeldt’s solo debut, Clark is exactly the kind of challenge he needed – an epic 34-track monument to the history of music that has blown his songwriting open more than any other project possibly could.