Opeth frontman says metal fans are “closed-minded”

by Brett Stevens
November 23, 2013 –

notorious_metal_haters

Heavy metal music gets a bad rap, not just from people who dislike it, but from people who claim to like it. The problem is that criticism draws attention to the speaker, so there’s no better way to stand out than to stand up and say, “All of this is wrong!”

While some critics of the current way are motivated by a desire to create useful change, most people are motivated by self-interest and change for change’s sake, which lets them seize attention and/or power. Opeth’s frontman Mikael “Mick” Åkerfeldt recently attempted such a power grab.

His statements, recorded in a Metal Hammer interview via Metal Injection, are harshly critical of metal but suffer a gigantic logical “plot hole” that makes them totally nonsense.

First, here’s Mick’s statements:

In metal, evolution doesn’t seem to be that important. I think most metal fans just want their Happy Meals served to them. They don’t really want to know about what they’r getting.

For a while, I thought metal was a more open-minded thing but I was wrong. Maybe it’s different from country-to-country. Don’t get me wrong, I love metal, but I’m also open-minded.

I admire some bands that do the same record over and over again – I wonder how they don’t get bored! For us, and Anathema, it seems impossible for us to stay still.

Take a quick glance at that last paragraph. Therein is the point of this whole diatribe: he wants you to like his album. Summary: Our record is totally different and unique, everyone else is bad, buy our record.

Then let’s look at the first paragraph. He says something nasty, which is the “Happy Meals” comment. Happy Meals are not just soulless junk food, but they’re also for kids. He’s saying you’re being spoon-fed baby food.

Then Mick makes some accusations:

  • [Metal] “evolution doesn’t seem to be that important”
  • “They don’t really want to know about what they’re getting”
  • Metal is not “open-minded”
  • Other genres are “open-minded”
  • Metal is boring because the albums by the same band are similar

His assertion that metalheads “don’t really want to know about what they’re getting” seems to make zero sense in a world where people download albums before buying them, or at least hear them on YouTube or via label-sponsored streaming on SoundCloud. In fact, metalheads have always wanted to hear the album before buying, even when they had to do it with CD players and headphones in record stores (as in the 1990s). It seems as if metalheads are picking albums for reasons that Mick just doesn’t understand.

It’s good to ask ourselves if the words he’s using mean what he thinks they mean. For example, what does “open-minded” mean? Does it mean you listen to something, experiment with it and reject it? Or that you include it in the album? On one extreme, “open-minded” means you never throw out an idea if it’s unusual. That obviously makes no sense. On another extreme, “open-minded” can result in you making very similar music if you reject other stylings for logical reasons related to your intent in making that music. For example, if I’m writing an opera about the downfall of a dynasty, including a sudden burst of cheerful carnival music might be completely inappropriate and defeat my purpose in writing that music.

This leads us to the biggest point here, which is that Mick is playing definition games. Without similarity, a genre doesn’t exist. We can call things “heavy metal” because they’re more similar to each other than they are to other genres, or because they have certain central tenets that correspond to beliefs. For example, that dark angry music should be “heavy,” which usually means distortion, minor key, complexity, unusual twists and turns. Or that the genre should use riffs in ways unlike rock, blues, jazz, etc. Or that its riffs should have an internal dialogue, as death metal does, which cause the chromatic equivalent of melodic evolution.

Without that similarity, the genre doesn’t exist. This is proven by Mick’s own decision to incorporate other elements in his work. He has affirmed the genre by saying he wants to operate outside of it. This implies that he recognizes metal by its similarity, which makes his complaining about it seem ludicrous. Further, when he’s saying that metal is “closed-minded,” what he’s really saying is that it doesn’t include other genres in itself, at which point (somewhere) it would cease to be metal, as he has acknowledged his own next album will do. This is the gigantic logical “plot hole” in the midst of his statements.

We could turn his argument around on him and say that he is in fact the “closed-minded” one. If he has to turn to other genres, it’s because he can’t figure out a way to make variety in metal. In part, this may be because he has literally closed his mind to the possibility of there being variation in metal (and this usage of “closed minded” seems more accurate) and can’t understand it or perceive it and thus, can’t reproduce it. If he looks at metal and thinks that Demilich, Gorguts, Incantation, Suffocation, Asphyx and Varathron are all doing the same thing, of course he’ll have to turn to other genres. He can’t perceive vast musical variation within metal.

This perhaps explains a lot about Mick’s band, Opeth. I first heard Opeth while standing in the Wild Rags store when Richard C. put a copy of Orchid on the stereo. Against his subtle advice — “it’s OK, might not be your thing” — I bought it, and spent the next dozen years regretting it before I finally sold it off for book money. My perception of Orchid was that it was the work of a band that did not want to be a metal band, and that they had one primary technique, which was to play up the dynamic change between acoustic and distorted music. They were far from the first to discover this technique, which was later used by nu-metal bands in the same way Opeth used it, which was multiple times in a song to create a verse/chorus differentiation. Here’s Death using a more tasteful version of the technique:

I noticed some similarities between Opeth and the Swedish bands who went before (Opeth was formed in 1990 by guys who had previously been in second-string Swedish speed metal and heavy metal bands). Swedish death metal had experimented with softer sounds before and the use of acoustic instruments, but had used them to atmosphere effect, instead of relying on a simple binary contrast. For example, check out this track from Cemetary which came out a year after Opeth was formed:

Another band that deserves a comparison to Opeth is Tiamat (formerly Treblinka, before they realized how that name could be mis-interpreted). Tiamat also did not want to be a heavy metal band, but a blues-hard rock band with a softer vibe like the English Gothic pop that was in vogue some years before. They had a very pop vibe and used acoustic guitars to set up contrast for crashing distortion as well, and also liked to incorporate lots of other genres:

Opeth got famous not on their “open-mindedness,” but rather on playing to the image they had for fans. The early Opeth propaganda coming out from the labels suggested they were progressive and that, while most metal fans wouldn’t understand the complex and nuanced work of Opeth, those who could understand it would love it. If you’re an underconfident teenager, this takes you from zero to “I know something you don’t know” in four seconds. It’s a win for marketing and you’ve probably already noticed that it’s exactly parallel to Mick’s statements about “closed-mindedness.” Summary: Other people don’t understand us, but if you like us then you’re presumed to understand us and thus, you must be both able to appreciate greater musical complexity and open-minded.

As you can see, this whole kerfuffle is based in marketing and not reality. Opeth doesn’t care about “closed-mindedness” in metal any more than I care about orphaned chinchillas in Williamsburg (no, I do… I really do). This is about selling you records by appealing to your damaged self-image and giving you a way of feeling better than other people. That’s the same reason Opeth sold themselves as a progressive band despite lacking the melodic complexity, variable song structures, epic symbolism equated to melodic development and other factors of the original 1970s progressive rock bands. Opeth isn’t progressive; this is progressive:

And if you’re actually “open-minded” and can see past the narrow expectations defined for you by other media and social forces, this is progressive death metal:

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32 comments

  • paul

    Really encapsulates why I don’t much care for Opeth anymore, and I like that you laid it out in a respectfully critical tone rather than the usual “Frothy Pink Aids” nonsense that often pervades mentions of the band here.

    I remember distinctly coming back to Watershed after a couple years and listening to Heir Apparent, realizing that it had such terribly piss poor construction and transitioning. It was one of those ‘aha!’ moments where I recognized Mikael’s ability to write some nifty riffs, but that the band couldn’t write a decent song to save their life, Death Metal or otherwise.

    I still fondly remember the Enslaved/Opeth tour I saw, mostly for Mikael’s banter rather than the music. I think he’d make a better standup comedian than Metal musician; he was actually by far the funniest frontman I’d ever seen at a show.

  • fallot

    What a coincidence, the frontman of Black Veil Brides was saying the exact same thing! Opeth should get together with them and put out a really super duper open-minded metal album.

  • lost wanderer

    Fuck Pink Frothy Aids! Fuck them in the ass with big rubber dicks! Then break it off and beat them with it! I hope Pink Frothy Aids dies. I do, I hope they goddamn die. I hope they got a hold of some tainted cheese, and die lonely and forgotten in the bathroom of some bad building in a poor neighborhood, with their hands in each other’s pants.

  • EDS

    I have never listened to Opeth, well consciously at least. They may have come over the radio or a tv station for rock music, but I wouldn’t’ have known it was them! I never plan to listen to them either.

  • Dark Angel

    I respectfully disagree with the implied notion that Opeth’s back catalog can be dismissed so easily – I genuinely still enjoy several of their albums, limitations an al, and ultimately, all music appreciation is objective. That said, Mikael is not only entirely out of line, but really quite pathetic. Its the fans? Really? So, apparently, the fans owe him blind devotion, regardless of what he decides to record and release? What a snide, entitled attitude. And how sad that so many truly superior musicians from any number of genres have gone to their graves without so much as a fraction of the recognition this spoiled child has enjoyed…

    1. Vigilance

      “Opeth’s back catalogue should not be dismissed because I enjoy them despite their flaws.”

      Brilliant.

      1. Lord Mosher

        I’ve come to understand that most Opeth fans like this band because of its entertaining pleasant “complexity” and technical skills. I dislike this band because no matter how hard I try to like it, to me it’s just not fun to listen to. And, I’ve noticed that the bands I enjoy listening to, are to Opeth fans, just “noise” or passé or not sophisticated enough. Try talking about tradition or orthodoxy in Metal to Opeth fans and you will give them the chance to look down on you for not praising the “innovation” their band brought to the metal genre.

        1. Dark Angel

          I freely admit they are not the musical geniuses that a lot of their fans think they are (and that they play at being). That attitude from the fans and the band itself grated on me long before they started putting out whatever those last two albums were. I would hope that doesn’t mean I am not allowed to enjoy any of their output…?

      2. Dark Angel

        Aw. You failed reading comprehension.

        Let me try to clarify: I happen to think there is musical value in Opeth’s back catalogue despite the fact that Akerfeldt is proving to be a prancing ninny of Metallica proportions. That’s just my personal opinion. Oh no, call a WHAAAAmbulance.

        Dismissing a band and its entire musical output out of hand because a member has crap opinions (which this article can kind of come across as doing!) kinda DOES make a person seem close-minded, BTW.

        1. fenrir

          I think Blackwater Park is the only really solid work by the band. And I’m not being close-minded, just trying to be strict, even constraining what I myself may be attracted to. I enjoy Deliverance, but it crumbles down under strict analysis.
          Damnation, their completely non-metal album is, in my opinion, a more sincere and effective work than the rest of their catalogue.

        2. Vigilance

          Describe the “musical value” in terms greater than “I like it” or “that’s just like, my opinion man.”

  • Liv

    I disagree with a few things you said in your review. I listen to a few Opeth records, but I’m not a big fan. The thing is, metal fans are pretty tough to stand. And, in a way, they’re actually pretty closed minded. I take Megadeth for example, they innovated with the album “Risk” and “Super Collider”, which are great albuns, and then the most annoying kinds of headbangers said they were shit because they didn’t sound as the Megadeth pattern. I agree that Mikael failed in his unnecessary statement, but in my vision, he’s a great musician and did a great job with Opeth. Blackwater Park and Still Life say for themselves.

    1. fenrir

      “take Megadeth for example, they innovated with the album “Risk” and “Super Collider”, which are great albuns,”

      You must be trolling. How… in what word is Super Collider an innovation? I’m all ears.

  • pretention-allergic

    Here’s leaving my reply:
    Go get shagged brett stevens or whoever the f you even are.

    That you’ve allowed your apparently pre-menstrual, over-sensitive brain make yourself go off in THIS insufferably endless, butt-hurt manner is BELOW a self-demanding, un-biased blogger\commentator.

    Is it your belief that you dont act like a vulgar boneheaded, overreactive, ignorant fan just because you have SOME vocabulary and listening habits?
    YOU’RE WORSE!
    This oozes of the same dumb metalhead’s senseless self-entitlement and over-protectiveness of a genre that actually perfected itself due to being challenged and due to being self-demanding.
    But with the added UNACCEPTABLE issues of basing a whole text on words that you’ve put in someone’s mouth and twisting their words to match your personal belligerence. AND abusing the privilege of having an online forum where you can actually reach out and influence people with your biased bullshit! And you certainly WILL, specially now that it’s even more cool and hardcore and underground to bash on Opeth since their last album.

    Mikael Akerfeldt was listening to all, and now is even personal friends with some, of the bands that you DARED showcase here, as if they substantiate your point in anyway, AND he was already playing deathmetal before you even went through your kiddie commercial pop phase!

    Some of “Mick’s” (fkn “MICK”???) words, even taken out of context as you did to them, are only news to blindly defensive gargoyles like you. It IS true: a great part of so called “true” metal fans DO enjoy being self-entitled, close-minded elitists!
    Even decades ago, as I got into extreme metal in my pre-teens this was already noticeable to me. It has barely changed. Between metal and indie, let the devil come and pick the worst bunch of belligerent obsessive critics!

    Those quotes were so out of context to allow your convenience of turning and blackening them, that you missed track of their background: You try sitting through constant hatemail and relentless, corrosive, brutal written and spoken BASHING, aimed at your careful creation and aimed forcefully at you PERSONALLY, just for being in a high-profile, easily targeted band and just for having the courage to continue to follow the direction of your artistic impulse despite expected change and unpopularity.
    You try sitting through the same negative questions and fan questions on interviews and getting transmitted the same negative, basic, cliche metal reviewers and fans feedbacks, clearly based on little more than now increasingly undeniable stagnant close-mindedness.
    CONSTANT.

    I think it’s pretty apparent here how objectively and temperately and even-mindedly you’d deal with that… yeah…

    And by the way, that swipe at Opeth’s early work was pretty juveline.
    Oh, and whoever told you that Mikael Akerfeldt is widely, or even rarely, addressed as freakin “Mick” (probably no one, you likely just had to come up with a plausibly demeaning little nickname) knows even less of this whole issue than you clearly do.

    1. Azazel

      Oh wow you sure have changed my mind Mister. It was mighty inconsiderate of Mr.Stevens here not to consider Mr.Akerfeldt’s feelings when writing this piece. Who could’ve known that Old Mick lived such an arduous, tragic life? Them mean-old metalheads sure must’ve gotten to him! I for one am gonna change my meany-bully ways now and open my mind to all of Opeth’s fantastic innovations with all my friends over at the Magic Johnson Foundation!

    2. Dark Angel

      …if an artist is truly so committed to his/her “evolution,” they should be a little more thick-skinned.

    3. The Ibex Moon

      Mick Assfelpt never played death metal. NEVER! Either way, Opeth is terrible music for terrible people and if you like them, you probably have AIDS and you should go kill yourself. Pretention-Allergic? You fell for Opeth.

    4. fenrir

      With all due respect, I think you fail to understand the article completely. He is not taking the words out of context, but rather taking them in the light of what this website thinks about Opeth’s discography in their analysis.
      Please excuse the way many people around here tend to be bitter trolls. They also fail to understand that there is more dignity in a polite discussion than in teenage rants. Excuse them but they were just reacting to your own childish tantrum up there.

  • Élevation

    This is so boring. I can’t understand all this hate for Opeth, they do have great songs. And Mikael didn’t lie in his statement, when it comes to different genres of music, most metal heads are definately closed-minded. Just face it.

    1. Impositions

      If ‘closed minded’ includes an actual analysis of a metal band in terms of compositional structure for once, and in reference to 1970′s prog, and traditional death metal… then i don’t know what the fuck is going on. Things have REALLY gone topsy-turvy. Better go back to blabbermouth.com for some real critique.

  • Barbaar

    Closed-mindedness: ability to discern, choose, focus, devote oneself.

    Opeth are the Gustav Mahler of Death Metal: nice tunes, poor construction of songs, sentimentality for sensibility, un-heroic outlook.

    1. Brett Stevens Post author

      This makes me want to go back and listen to Mahler.

      I will always be fond of him for his support of Anton Bruckner ( <3 ), who was at a time friendless when his student spoke up for him.

      1. Vigilance

        Mahler really draws you in the first time you hear his work. After repeated listens you’ll find yourself scratching your head trying to figure out just what you heard in it. It’s “im

  • Vigilance

    Sorry

    It’s “immediate music.” Sounds appealing, sometimes profound when taken as parts but falls apart once you comprehend the whole. The ideas take on a new character to the point where the music sounds completely different than your recollection of that initial impression. Mahler’s only objective was to pummel the listener with “EMOTIONS” then just leave them there. Third rate art.

  • lergvikaistah

    It’s true too often bands just keep trying to make the same albums/songs over and over just based on the success they once had before , just to appeal the fan base . Thus making the “fan” close minded to different sounds or approach if the band ever decide to change or experiment somehow inside their own genre. I guess bands are just trying to play it safe.

    1. fenrir

      I think both things are a crime.

      Problem is that many people cannot distinguish a healthy evolution from pseudo-intellectual madness that results in poorly written music such as Opeth’s.

  • fenrir

    I’ve been thinking about this and after listening to more people talk about Metal albums and give opinions based on aesthetic, I came to the conclusion that Mikael is actually right.
    Now, don’t get ahead of me, I agree on the general criticism this site makes of Opeth’s music. But I also think that sometimes people around here overestimate the average metalhead.

    The criticism about the poor composition in Opeth is perfectly valid. But the thing is that he said metalheads were close minded in the context of their album “Heritage”. I am not defending the album, but the reason why the metal world (with rare exceptions such as the writers and a few members of the audience of this website) in general turned their back on them after having them as poster boys is NOT because they suddenly realized how poorly constructed and random their music is, but JUST because they decided to not use growled vocals and they went all the way 70s rock sound.

    So, Mr. Stevens, while I agree with your statement about what really is progressive music, using that quote out of context was a pretty cheap shot.

    I agree with him in that metalheads tend to be close-minded in stupid way. Statements such as “this is not brutal enough” or “why aren’t there more blast beats” are superficial and rejecting anything that doesn’t do THAT is, in fact, close-minded.