Opeth frontman says metal fans are “closed-minded”

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amBqI4t6JE0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjC1t2i5wm0

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:

Satyricon – Satyricon

satyricon-satyriconWhat do musicians do when the drive to create has vanished?

When the label is clamoring for something new, does the band bow down and fulfill the request, or do they uphold standards? Black metal in particular has struggled with these questions for over a decade, with a myriad of responses. Some have chosen to retreat completely, seeking refuge in the wild.

Some have become exasperated with the genre, turning to electronic music before returning in glory. Others have waged war on modernity, risking well-being in pursuit of these goals. However, the greatest number have bowed to the wishes of the crowd and released a product that was quickly forgotten, which is where Satyricon’s self-titled album falls.

Embodying all that is lazy and lethargic, Satyricon is an excellent example of modern black metal ethos. Black metal only on the surface, the album is musically a hard rock/heavy metal album designed for max promotional appeal. Simple riffs with obvious sequencing, simple implementation, and solid production produce a well-shaped package that undoubtedly will allow the band to increase its commercial influence.

Sounding like a tribute to Fallen-era Burzum‘s minor-chord noodling but lacking even what little sense of spirit that album possessed, the band chucks in references to pop and blues cliches as if the label funded a study aimed at producing the most cookie-cutter album conceivable, then shared the results to the band…and let’s not delve into the collaboration with Sivert Høyem.

There is nothing here for readers of this site to enjoy, except for the more morbid members among us. This album goes nowhere. It has nothing to impart. And perhaps most damning, it’s not even terrible. It is simply a non-entity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPXnnTUl48Q

Woe – Withdrawal

woe-withdrawalYour average person perceives music as good and bad, with a whole lot of bad and some good. The truth is more shocking: truly bad is rare like truly good, but the vast majority is just so-so.

So-so occurs not because an album has too much bad, but because it doesn’t have enough good. And this isn’t a by-the-pound determination. It needs to be good in a number of ways, including structurally and conceptually, or it devolves into chaos. Randomness. Disorder.

The average album usually has no defects. The instrumentation is good, the production is good, and individual members put in strong performances. They can write songs according to the book, and often have a unique concept. It just doesn’t hold together because it lacks a central idea.

Withdrawal is an example of a truly bad album. It is not bad because it is incompetent, but because it is whore. Woe takes the techniques of orthodox black metal and applies them to hard rock with touches of indie. This produces disorder with a face value different from its content.

On the surface, this album emulates Gorgoroth and Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger; a little bit under the surface, you find Ulver and Taake. Dig down deep enough and you find recycled Def Leppard and Quiet Riot riffs, with repetitive use of black metalTM technique like blast beats, melodic drone, bad production, and so forth.

As a product, Withdrawal is great because it’s open to everyone. On the surface, it’s rebellion; underneath, it’s the same complacent crap your parents were listening to. Maybe it’s a good pop album; I got bored halfway through. But it’s not black metal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVgl6J8OC50

Thinning the Herd release “Rabbits” from Freedom From the Known

rabbits-freedom_from_the_known-thinning_the_herdWhat’s an obviously hard-rock band doing on a deathmetal website? The answer is that it’s good to remember that there’s decent mainstream metal out there, but that all of it shares a singular trait: it stops trying to be cute and focuses on being heavy metal.

Rabbits sound like a three-way cross between MGMT, Crowbar and Motley Crue. The result is a somewhat violent psychedelic sound with a horde of riffs cut from familiar cloth that yet hold their own because they help this band deliver the experience it promises, which is chaotic and semi-antisocial modern (post-“alternative”) metal with deep roots in the world of gritty hard rock.

You’re not going to stagger back from this foaming at the mouth and proclaiming it genius, but you may enjoy it for its messy take on what metal would be if it weren’t focused on being so cute twee, deceptive, clever, etc. It’s just a rockin’-out experience, like Red Fang but without the smarm.

Lalu – Atomic Ark

lalu-atomic_arkI read the news today. There was another miracle cure for cancer. In six moths, they’ll publish a retraction. What does this mean? Don’t take it at face value; ignore the hype.

In the same way, a lot of CDs come out that have interesting backstories. So-and-so is a progressive musician who turned to metal. Genius awaits. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. So unique they don’t even have a category for it, so we’ll put the genre names in scare quotes.

Then there’s Lalu. Promised as progressive rock/metal. Actuality: terrible hard rock with semi-difficult riffing and time changes, but no melodic development, unique song structure, or even musical complexity beyond technique.

I can’t blame the labels. It’s their job to hype stuff. I can’t blame the band; it must be like watching money walk by to see these other bands succeed. I blame the listeners, and some other reviewers, for not calling this what it is.

If you really liked Quiet Riot, and wished it had jazzier tempos and more intricate lead rhythm riffs with slightly dissonant melodies, then this is your lucky day. If not, you’ve already wasted too much time on it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdGYmcJR5DI

Carcass – Surgical Steel

carcass-surgical_steelFrom the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.

To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.

Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.

Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.

Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.

While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.

Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.

Carcass releases new song “Captive Bolt Pistol” from Surgical Steel

carcass-surgical_steel-band_photoCarcass started as a grindcore band with one crucial difference: they sang about gore, disease, decay and torture instead of political topics. It was a sort of metapolitics, a way of viewing the world that reduced humans to meat and hopefully induced compassion.

After a few years of doing this, and playing live many nights in a row, they improved at playing their instruments and began wanting the acclaim that other bands got. So their style drifted, first to death metal (Tools of the Trade), then to speed metal (Heartwork) and later to hard rock (Swansong). Then the band disbanded, and only returned this year.

“Captive Bolt Pistol,” which is the first song to leak from Surgical Steel, roughly resembles Tools of the Trade crossed with Swansong. It uses death metal tempos and inflections, but hard rock riffs, and lots of bluesy rock-style leads. If this is their new direction, it seems a reasonable assumption if they hope the rock audience will cross over to like a band named Carcass.

The first new Carcass album in 17 years, Surgical Steel was created by a lineup of original members Jeff Walker (lead vocals, bass), Bill Steer (guitar, vocals) and new drummer Daniel Wilding (ABORTED, HEAVEN SHALL BURN), with guest vocals from original drummer Ken Owen.

Tracklist:

  1. The Master Butcher’s Apron
  2. The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills
  3. A Congealed Clot Of Blood
  4. A Wraith In The Apparatus
  5. 316l Grade Surgical Steel
  6. Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System
  7. Captive Bolt Pistol
  8. Intensive Battery Brooding
  9. Non-Compliance To Astm F899-12 Standard
  10. Mount Of Execution
  11. 1985/Thrasher’s Abattoir
  12. Unfit For Human Consumption
  13. Zochrot
  14. Livestock Marketplace