written by Jerry van Kooten
A Brief History
Around 1986 I heard a tape at a friend's place, with a kind of progressive rock that I really liked. Powerful, not too complex, a good singer with a personal voice, and some stunning parts. It was Swedish and called Opus Est; the album was called Opus 1. We both enjoyed the album very much. We found out, however, that the LP was very hard to find. My friend bought a copy for around 50 dollars. We were not able to find any info on the band other than what was mentioned on the album sleeve. We found some people who also knew the album, and they all liked it very much.
Thanks to the internet, I was able to trace one of the members of the band, one of the main composers: guitarist Kent Olofsson. Of course, he was able to tell me a lot about the band. He gave me a copy of the LP (of which he still had a few), and I even got to hear some unreleased Opus Est music.
Between that first contact and what you are reading now, Kent gave me the email addresses of both Anders Olofsson and Håkan Nilsson as well. What you are about to read here is the story of a band, as told by the musicians themselves.
When I was writing and revising this article, more things happened. I brought the band in contact with Musea, and in November of 2003, the original LP was remixed by Kent, remastered from the original master tapes, and officially released on CD. An edited version of the main part of this story has been used for the booklet of the CD. The article you're reading here tells more about the band, so read on. Also, I managed to use more photos are printed in the booklet.
The story begins in 1975, with Kent Olofsson getting his first guitar, and playing what he calls "simple rock music" with Anders Olofsson (not related) and Torbjörn Svensson plus some others. Without a name yet, the real band was founded around 1977 by Kent Olofsson on guitar, Anders Olofsson on drums, and Torbjörn Svensson on bass. In those days, the band mostly played improvised jazz-rock music, influenced by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Within the next two years they moved towards progressive rock with longer compositions and no improvised parts at all. Their main influences were Genesis, Yes, and ELP.
For the time being, they called themselves Krishna. Kent has to laugh about this now, saying this was probably influenced by them trying to be like Mahavishnu... Being on a holiday in Spain in 1977, Kent and Anders met a drunk Dutch guy, who suggested the name Opus Est for the band. They don't know where he got it from, but they liked it, and adopted it as the band's new name.
With the realization they wanted a singer in the band, also came the realization hat a friend of theirs had a great voice. Håkan Nilsson needed a lot of persuasion to sing with the band, but he finally joined in 1978. Kent still thinks Håkan had a great voice, and he regrets that Håkan quit singing after Opus Est.
Music And Lyrics
The band were also looking for a keyboard player, which proved to be very difficult, since the songs they were doing were quite tricky. Kent remembers one keyboard player who was trying, but was just too much information. The short-time band member almost fainted during rehearsal...
The band was working on songs mainly written by Kent. In 1978 the band finished work on a song called The High Mass and a suite in five parts called The Rise And Fall Of The Kingdom Shieldmoor. These songs remain unrecorded, although they sometimes had a tape running during rehearsals.
Kent's little brother Leif, who was just 14 at the time, had been taking piano lessons for several years, and the band let him have a go at it. It worked! In 1979, Opus Est were complete. Leif joined when the band were working on their next suite: Four Metamorphoses Of A Face (in four parts: ...Eye, The Blind Eye, The Nose, and The Mouth). Parts 2 and 4 were recorded in a studio, the others exist on a rehearsal tape only.
Two other pieces the band were working on were called Seven Deadly Sins (a suite in eight parts written in 1980, lasting more than 40 minutes), and Love Dreams, a suite in three parts (1981). Of the latter, only the first part was recorded properly. The other two were only captured on regular cassettes, recorded while rehearsing. Other song titles include Watchman Of Life, The Touch and Ode To A Nightingale (with lyrics by Keats).
During the acoustically driven The Sluggard And The Ants (a part of the Seven Deadly Sins suite), Anders and Håkan are playing flutes. Hearing those tapes after many years, memories start coming back, and Kent remembers they took flute lessons for a while, just to find ways to expand the band's sound.
Around this time, 1980, Kent was getting more and more interested in contemporary music, and started to compose in that genre. In 1981 he finished his first big composition, a Scherzo for piano, influenced by Stravinsky and others.
Anders Olofsson wrote most of the lyrics, although Kent started writing music to poems by W.H. Auden as well, because as he says, he found it so hard to write lyrics or poems that were good enough for the music that he wrote.
For a couple of years, the band were a five-piece. In early 1982, bass player Torbjörn decided to leave. Although he enjoyed playing, rehearsing for six days a week was taking too much of his time. Kent took over most of the bass playing, which wasn't too much of a problem considering the new material they were working on.
Sometimes Kent played guitar and bass pedals, sometimes the bass line was played on the keyboards, and sometimes Kent played keyboards when Leif played bass. There were lots of songs the band were working on, around this time. Kent still could find time to compose a piece called Credo for choir and ensemble. It was quite a big piece, very modern and experimental, which was first performed in 1987.
Late 1982, Radio Blekinge organized a band competition. Opus Est won the first prize: a mobile studio for a whole week. The band decided to record as much as possible. They recorded in their rehearsal studio, and the mobile studio bus came to their place. Between March 21st and 25th, 1983, they recorded eight tracks. It was early Spring, and when the bus tried to get home, it was completely stuck in the mud, and it took the farming neighbour's tractor to pull it out...
Only after the recordings were finished, the band thought of pressing an LP. If it wasn't for the band competition, there would not have been any Opus Est material available to the public!
Together with The Bonfires, O What Is That Sound, and The Witness, which were recorded a couple of months previously, the band now had ten tracks to put on the album. Two tracks (The Witness and Another Time) had to be left off, however, as the vinyl format time limits prevented their inclusion. Fortunately, these tracks are now available on the Opus One CD.
Eventually, five album tracks were written to W.H. Auden poems (The Bonfires, A Walk After Dark, Miss G, O What Is That Sound, and If I Could Tell You). Anders Olofsson wrote the words to Ventis Rem Tradere and Times, and Kent wrote Mirrorcle.
Because it was going to be a private release, they didn't go into the trouble of requesting rights for using the Auden lyrics. A mere 500 copies of the LP were pressed. Most of them were sold during the first year after its release. Some albums found their ways abroad. I know of a few copies in Holland, one in Japan, and one in California, USA. It is a pity that an album like this (although there are more bands who suffered this fate) gets the credits it deserved only years after the band ceased to exist.
There's a subtle difference between the songs on the album (written in 1982 and 1983) and the longer suits written before. Without being influenced by the mainly new wave of British progressive rock (as it didn't extend its power to inner Sweden), the songs were getting shorter, a bit more compact and less complex. In fact, they would have been a rather original aspect in that world of melodic / symphonic rock, and definitely not outsiders.
In August of 1983, Kent composed Sonata for two string quartets, a real contemporary piece. On September 10 he met Anne, with whom he later married. They are still together.
In December 1983 the band decided to stop playing. In spring 1984, however, they got together one more time, to record the last couple of songs they were working on: Springtime, Winter, Marie-Claire, and Square The Circle.
The last songs, The Brocken and two others, were never recorded. (Square The Circle had lyrics by Magnus Persson, the others by Anders Olofsson.) Kent did write down The Brocken in a score he later completed, though. The others were not, including a song they did finish but never recorded, titled No Change Of Place (another Auden poem put to music).
Kent still sees his Opus Est adventure as unfinished business. His brother Leif thinks the band would have broken up anyway around that time, because they were working so hard for the band without any kind of success or at least recognition. And as Leif said, he, Torbjörn, and Håkan were not the kind of crazy musician that Kent was. He thinks only Anders, who is also still playing and composing every day as well, could have kept up. The others always liked to play, but not for seven days a week, and without getting any response.
Also playing live - Kent thinks the band only played 20 to 25 concerts during the years they existed. They did several concerts in the south of Sweden, and one concert in Helsingöor, Denmark. He felt they always played at the wrong places, where no one seemed to like the music very much.
My personal opinion is that the times were not against them, but the place, as especially in Britain and Holland progressive rock was regaining popularity around the time the album was recorded. Sweden would become a major in the field only years later. Had Opus Est been able to release the album or tour throughout Europe, I am sure they would have had more success. A real pity, as Radio Blekinge obviously saw the band's talents when they won the band competition that led to the album recordings.
Kent remembers one of their first gigs, in Karlskrona, Sweden, in 1977. They were still called Krishna, and the band consisted of Kent, Anders, Torbjörn, and two girls on vocals and several woodwind instruments. (There is still a recording left of this line-up.) Kent had just bought his double-necked guitar, and they tried hard to be like the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was a festival with local rock bands playing, and people thought the band were totally out of their minds playing this kind of jazz-rock prog music!
From then on, Kent Olofsson became a fulltime composer. He and Anne moved to Lund to study, and Kent begins his studying composition at the Malmö Academy Of Music. He is composing mostly in the field of contemporary music, and very successfully too. He now is a full-time composer / musicians, teaching at the Academy Of Music in Malmö, doing concerts, working in studios and travelling around a lot.
When the band quit, Kent was working on some material that was intended for Opus Est. Very eager to start his studies in composition, for the first year he didn't do anything with rock music. After that, however, he started picking up things he was working on previously. Kent was working with a singer named Agnes at the time, who also sang a part in Kent's chamber opera Eurydice from 1986. They recorded, among other things, a piece called Echo. When hearing this now, after many years and with his mind brought back to Opus Est by my questioning, Kent says it's easy to imagine what this song would have sounded like with Opus Est. That's not very surprising, of course, as it was written for the band, but it's nice to see that after a year of no playing and writing rock music at all, the feeling was still there, only in a different form. There were other pieces as well, that were initially written in the last days of the band, and which Kent used later in a (very) different form.
Besides his work with chamber music, orchestral music, and electronic music, Kent still writes rock music. For many years now, he has a band called Dame Wiggens with singer Christin Lindqvist, creating rock music that is somewhat hard to label. Rock, a touch of prog, mixed with all kinds of other elements, like Björk, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, and some folk and classical music.
Although the band have done lots of recordings, nothing has been released officially. They have gathered other musicians around them, and are planning to do more recordings, release some of them, and play concerts together. Besides Kent and Christin, the band consists of keyboard wizard Martin Hedin (keyboard player with progressive metal band Andromeda), guitarist David Fremberg (who is the lead singer of Andromeda), bass player Allan Skrobe (also handling a number of folk instruments), and Fredruk Larsson on drums. Kent has bought himself gear and gadgets for his guitar, forming a setup not unlike King Crimson had on their later albums.
Magnus Persson, who had already worked with Kent during the last stages of Opus Est (writing the lyrics to Square The Circle), is working with him again, writing more lyrics.
As with former projects, Kent is using lyrics from old poets. He and Christing have spent a long time creating music to the words of William Blake's Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience, but also poems by Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde are being used.
Kent has also released several solo albums, and albums with his music have been released under other people's names. He is a modern composer, and at first hearing his contemporary work is very different from Opus Est. It's probably the difference between 'symphonic' (Opus Est) and 'progressive' (Kent solo).
As mentioned before, Håkan Nilsson stopped singing, which is a real pity, with a voice like his. He lives in Stockholm.
Anders Olofsson is still a big Yes fan, lives with his family in Lund, quite close to where Kent lives. He has a small studio in his basement with some drums, synthesizer, keyboard, and a computer.
Leif Olofsson was playing with several Swedish dance bands for many years. He quit a couple of years ago, and now lives just outside Karlskrona with his family. He's a very handy man, and has completely rebuilt their old grandmother's house into a wonderful place.
Torbjörn Svensson also lives just outside Karlskrona, in Jämjö, with his family. Kent assumes he is still playing.
Although Kent hadn't given it much thought until I asked him, the idea of having the Opus 1 album re-issued on CD is very nice. An important issue and probably a big problem might be the W.H. Auden lyrics used in the songs. Kent has asked the Auden estate for permission. Only if they give permission, a CD issue is possible.
In the meantime, Musea has been found interested in releasing the LP on CD! And not just that, Musea is also interested in releasing a CD called Opus 2, with unreleased material! This will comprise of most of the songs described in the Opus 2 CDR review, but recently some other recordings were found as well, making the total amount of music worth of a release more than 80 minutes, so the final track listing has not been determined.
Out of curiosity I asked Kent what he thought of an Opus Est reunion, and he had to laugh. But eventually he changed his mind. He now thinks it might be fun! He is still in contact with his former band members (including Torbjörn Svensson), and is likely to give it a try, and see what the others think of it. As of November 2003, all five musicians are working on a new recording of an old composition for possible inclusion on Opus 2.
Although the band played between 1978 and 1984, it is fortunately possible we haven't heard the last from them!
In other issues of our Forgotten Sons section, we end with album reviews. Although I intended to include them and actually wrote most of them, I decided not to include them here. Since the Opus One album has been released officially, a review has been published in the regular CD Reviews section. The band are re-mixing tapes of unreleased songs for a possible next official CD release, full of unreleased songs. I didn't think it fitting to review only a couple of CDs that are not available to the public.
Kent Olofsson's official website
Musea Records, who released the Opus One CD