(In this post Andy Synn expresses some opinions that I suspect will not be universally shared. Sound off in the comments… )
Metal and the concept of maturity, if you believe all that you’re told, don’t exactly make for the most common of bedfellows.
Even the kindest of mainstream media outlets still have a tendency to treat the genre as one solely of interest to angsty teens, disaffected Gen-X types, and adults stuck in a perpetual state of arrested development.
I can’t entirely blame them. After all, the majority of metal that hits the mainstream does dwell on the same sort of vapid and generic themes that most narcissistic pop/rap music features as well (raising the question, of course, as to why these genres aren’t also singled out as “just for kids”… liking something “ironically” is no excuse, nor is it believable to be honest).
Still, it’s even more galling when the same sort of questions and vague insults come from inside the scene.
Recently two distinct examples of maturity/immaturity in metal were brought up – not quite linked, but certainly within a close time frame – and I’d like to thank Alexis and Mat for priming this little piece of mine by sharing their thoughts and opinions in conversations over the last month.
On the one hand you, may have seen the recent churlish comments from Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, who’s still clearly stung by the less than positive reception that Heritage received from significant segments of the band’s fanbase, offhandedly (and somewhat arrogantly) putting down his own fans – and fans of the metal genre in general – for not being “open-minded” enough to accept what he’s doing.
Now, on one level he might have a point – there’s certainly elements of the metal scene who like metal, and only metal… and only metal that’s trve/kvlt/brutal, etc.
But the more I think about it, the more it seems that Akerfeldt’s comments display a shocking lack of maturity on his own part. The petulant tone of his words – he essentially chastises metal fans for not living up to his lofty expectations, simply because they don’t like what he’s done – combined with his very defensive reaction (really Mike, it’s quite possible that people didn’t like it for valid reasons, not because they’re closed-minded) certainly seems very immature and egotistical.
Look at it this way: Opeth drew, mainly, from a metal fanbase. They were a Death Metal band. They were always progressive, and got more so as they went along. But Progressive Death Metal is still a form of Death Metal.
Now I know that most fans of the band came to them because of what they offered to metal. Something new. Something unique. Something creative and exciting. It’s not hyperbole to say that Opeth’s signature sound is one of metal’s most striking and distinctive.
But here’s the thing… those fans are fans of metal. Maybe they also like other music as well. But they like metal because it ISN’T something else. And they like Opeth because of what Opeth bring TO metal, as a genre. It’s not really fair to criticise people for not liking something when you’ve made a concerted and conscious effort to remove a big part of what they liked about it in the first place!
Really, Mikael’s response is itself pretty immature. There’s nothing wrong with bands growing and maturing – after all, “maturing” is really just another word for “changing”. But you have to accept that your fans don’t HAVE to like everything you do.
Any time you make a change you run the risk of alienating some people. Not because they’re stupid, or close-minded, or even elitist… or any of the other thinly veiled insults that have often been aimed at the metal scene… but because people all have their individual tastes. You have to acknowledge that not everything you do might be to people’s liking – particularly people interested in a specific genre or a specific sound. Throwing a tantrum because people don’t like what you’ve done merely exposes your own insecurities.
By contrast, I recently saw Satyricon live for the first time after the release of their new, quite polarising, album. The stripped-back, doomy vibe, and more progressive, less aggressive, approach to the band’s otherwise still very recognisable sound certainly seems to reflect a striking change in the mien and demeanour of frontman Satyr.
Before the band took their long break he had expressed disillusion and dissatisfaction in the endless record-release-tour cycle that the band had become stuck in, in order to maintain their position at the top of the mountain. As a result, their “come back” album is more suggestive of a band more focussed on creative expression, in their own way and at their own pace.
And I know that this hasn’t pleased a lot of people.
Now, while I consider it a real grower of an album – I know several people who, after initially dismissing its slow, lambent grooves, have become more turned on by its hypnotic melancholy as the days and weeks have passed – there are those who miss the driving riffs and harder edges that characterised their previous releases. And while I wouldn’t say that throwing the album out of a moving car is exactly a reasonable response, I can understand if people simply don’t “click” with the record.
But it’s the response of its creator that’s most interesting. At the show in Manchester (reviewed here), Satyr took a moment to calmly thank the crowd who HAD stuck with them, and followed them on their new path. It was clear he didn’t expect everyone to get it, or worship it without question. He was just eminently thankful that it connected with some people in the way it was meant to.
It’s interesting, to an extent, just how comparable the two releases are, despite being divided both by time and by genre. Both groups clearly reached back toward their roots to reinvigorate a sound that was – I think most would agree – in danger of becoming stale (if not outright redundant). But whereas Heritage comes off as a rather limp tribute to Akerfeldt’s collection of 70s Prog vinyl, the brooding, Sabbathian undertones of Satyricon seems reflective of a much more natural change, one that recalls the similar metamorphosis Enslaved made back in the day.
But, ultimately, backlash or not, the differences in how each of these figures responded speaks volumes about where they are in their lives and careers. One is clearly much more at peace with where he is, and where he is going, and accepts the consequences of it gladly and willingly. The other is still clearly uncertain what he wants from his music, and seemingly resents the very scene he was born from, feeling constricted by it, yet unable to escape from it.
And it’s clear which of the two is happier.
It seems to me that, just as in almost every other walk of life, there’s a difference between maturing gracefully, and changing simply because you feel like you’re “too good” for something. Preening and congratulating yourself on your cleverness, while simultaneously judging others for not liking what you like, is the very height of ignorant elitism, and more than anything seems just to reflect your own insecurity and immaturity.
Maturity… change… isn’t something you can force, on yourself or others. It’s in your words and your actions. It’s in how you deal with the world and how you accept the realities of life.
You can be Metal, and you can be Mature. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
I couldn’t agree more, I already was a part of a discussion about what Akerfeldt said and my position is basically yours. I made the point that people don’t dislike it because it’s not metal, but because we like bands for certain reasons, and when bands remove any trace of what we enjoyed about them, some (or most) people will jump ship. That is not to say that metalheads can’t handle progression, it merely means that what we enjoyed about that particular band no longer exists and what they currently are doing does not connect with us anymore. I think he is being an ass, and he is confusing (much like you stated) how he thinks people should feel versus how people felt.
“That is not to say that metalheads can’t handle progression, it merely means that what we enjoyed about that particular band no longer exists and what they currently are doing does not connect with us anymore.”
I was tempted to make a more extreme example, like if he suddenly decided to incorporate scat-style singing into his repertoire instead of death vocals and then harangue people for not being “open minded” about it, but felt it would be a bit of a straw-man argument.
There’s possibly a comparison with Ulver though (although I am still not sure how their fanbase is divided/comprised).
Ha! I thought of ulver specifically as I was reading this. Those first three were so incredible that i felt it unfair to not give the elctronic stuff a chance. While i am not a huge fan of their entire catalog, branching out was ultimately rewarding for me. I found myself listening to some bands/artists that sounded similar and i respect them for not looking back.
Akerfeldt should have owned it, though. When you make bold decisions you have to deal with the consequences.
I love pretty much everything they’ve ever done, but it is very much like two separate bands!
THANK YOU. Someone needed to say this. If Akerfeldt is bitter that his fans prefer grade A death metal to grade D uninspired prog, he has no one to blame but himself. It’s not that I don’t get it. I listen to as much old prog rock as anyone. It’s just that he’s not very good at it.
I was raised on a lot of 70s and 80s prog by my Dad. I get his love for it. It just seems like he’s not doing anything either a. new, or b. interesting with it.
I didn’t really start listening to Opeth until Heritage. I’ve been a fan of death metal for a decade prior to the release of Heritage, and was pleasantly surprised by what I heard on that album. It was also really fun to go back through Opeth’s discography and find some really amazing death metal albums. After finding this great catalog of metal, I was a little saddened to hear that Mikael doesn’t really want to make death metal anymore, but I think Heritage is a fantastic album and respect that they are evolving their sound. I’ve been evolving right along with them, and look forward to their next release!
See, you’re exactly the sort of fan he should be (and I think, most probably IS) appreciative of.
I think perhaps his contentious stance within the press comes a lot from the fact that it’s STILL mainly the metal press who give him attention. It must be frustrating to want to move AWAY from metal, but still be beholden to it in that way.
Great article Andy. I don’t think I disagree with anything in it. I want to comment even though I feel like half my comments at NCS mention Opeth or Åkerfeldt.
I wasn’t aware of Åkerfeldt’s recent comments that you linked to, but it fits with the entire attitude he has displayed toward fans ever since, and even before, Heritage was released. I have stopped paying much attention to Opeth and have come to accept that although I considered them my favorite band for several years, what Åkerfeldt wants to do with his music, and what I want to hear, are now different things formed by goals and interests that are moving in different directions. The innovation Opeth brought to metal, their incredibly distinctive sound, weaving contrasts and textures into something remarkably beautiful within a metal context, was something special. He can do whatever he wants with his music. He can stop playing and become a dentist. I don’t care anymore. But when he blames the metal community for not understanding his music, or accusing us of being too close-minded to like it, then he is the one that is failing to understand music and its relation to its listeners. That is fine too. Maybe someday he will accept that not everyone believes that emulating 70s prog-rock is the apotheosis of creativity. If he makes another album, and someone whose tastes I trust here at NCS says something good about it, then I will check it out. Otherwise, there is much too much good metal music being produced at a rate that I cannot begin to keep up with to wonder too much anymore about what he is doing. Opeth’s earlier work will always be metal classics in my opinion, especially the 3rd, 4th, and 5th albums, and they are out there to enjoy and admire forever. I actually discovered NCS by looking for news about Opeth over two years ago. Now, NCS has become a bountiful source of new music to listen to that I would never have found on my own. NCS is the best thing since the creation of the internet for finding new and different metal music. So thank you so much for this site. I am continually surprised by the abundance of creativity and beauty in metal music, and I am glad that this site brings some of us together to talk about it and share what we have found.
“he is the one that is failing to understand music and its relation to its listeners”
Also a possibility. There’s always a divide between the artist and the audience, after all. And music history is littered with tales of artists who scorned their own listeners.
I will hopefully be putting out a column later today/tomorrow offering up some alternatives to Opeth, for those who want something to hit that same “sweet spot”!
Let me be clear by the way that this is not intended as an attack on Mikael or Opeth (perhaps a rebuttal of his comments, but not an attack).
It’s simply that the contrast between the two seemed interesting, and Mikael’s own attitude seems (to me) to show him as being somewhat lost and insecure at the moment. I feel bad for him, if anything.
Great post Andy. I’d definitely have to say the mainstream idea that metal is for angsty teens while pop is for adults just gets me laughing every time.
I’m not actually a fan of Opeth (nor Satirycon), so I’m not jumping to anyone’s defence (No particular reason, somehow just never was exposed to them or took the time to seek out their music. You know, so many bands, so little time). But when you put it as:
“seemingly resents the very scene he was born from, feeling constricted by it, yet unable to escape from it.”
… I couldn’t help but think: it does really suck to be in a scenario, whether artistically, or in the larger work or life-related sense, where you begin to feel constricted by the existing expectations or structures. So if that is how Akerfeldt feels, I kinda feel sorry for him.
Also I think the case really highlights how in this day and age, with the distributive power of the internet, and with so much caught on video, that even a comment you might make off hand can hang around forever and haunt you.
I also feel bad for him, as he is very much stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Realistically I think it would have been better to put Opeth to bed, and continue on with a different name/band. Maybe even just transition Heritage into being another Storm Corrosion album.
But then there’s the issue where music is his livelihood, and the name Opeth puts food on the table (and you have to be fair about that to him as well!).
“Also I think the case really highlights how in this day and age, with the distributive power of the internet, and with so much caught on video, that even a comment you might make off hand can hang around forever and haunt you.”
Also true. It’s unfortunate how careful you have to be with your image management these days. And maybe I’m not helping!
Agreed. The comments by Akerfeldt are really unfortunate. Opeth has been a very special band for me. They’re the band who got me to branch out from listening to the same 80’s thrash that had dominated my taste since, well, the 80’s. Heritage just didn’t connect with me. It wasn’t because it wasn’t “kvlt” enough. Hell, one of my favorite albums from last year was by First Aid Kit. It was just too much of a departure from the band that got me into the extreme side of metal. I guess I’ll have to find a way to live with being “close-minded, ” because I’m still not going to listen to Heritage again.
Calling people “close-minded” certainly isn’t a way to convince them to give you a chance either!
Andy, I think you have to consider the context in which you are pulling both sides of your argument. Akerfeldt’s comment comes from an interview, in which he was probably being questioned for the billionth time about his departure from death metal (a departure he has made before). I understand his frustration of answering that same question, though his answer is indeed a little immature.
Meanwhile, the Satyricon anecdote you mention comes from one of their concerts, where they are surrounded by paying, adoring fans. It’s a lot easier to seem appreciative when you’re preaching to the choir, rather than having your artistic motives questioned for the umpteenth time (for the record, my favorite albums ever are Still Life and BWP, but Heritage was merely decent).
Very good point/s. Context… the where, the why, the who… certainly influence not only how the person responds, but also how it is received by an audience.
Still, I thought the contrast between the two would at least spark some lively discussion (and not just some pell-mell Akerfeldt-bashing).
I’m not a big fan of generalizations. They are just so innacurate and unfair. I like metal, but I also like a lot of other stuff. I’m pretty open-minded. The bottom line, though, is that metal–and all other music for that matter–is a form of entertainment and artistic expression. As a listener, you either like it or you don’t. What’s there to get so butt hurt about? I don’t consider myself to be a fan of any genre as a whole, but there are certain artists in every genre that I really enjoy. If they change thier style and I don’t like it, I don’t buy it. And I don’t bitch about it. Maybe Akerfeldt shouldn’t have lashed out, but maybe he wouldn’t have felt the need to if his fans weren’t bitching because they didn’t like it.
But there’s also no problem with expressing your opinion – in this case a dislike of something. It’s not helpful to just tag it all as “bitching”.
i didn’t care for “Heritage” at all, but i wasn’t upset by the change in style. it’s their band, they can do whatever they want with it. but i did lose some respect for Akerfeldt after the comments he made. an entertainer’s focus should be on the people who enjoy their work, not on the ones who don’t
Well, strictly speaking I would not say he’s an “entertainer”. I would most definitely use the term “artist” (as in, “recording artist”… trying to avoid the pretentiousness of “artiste”).
And I am always of the mind that an artist doesn’t OWE their audience anything. The audience comes to the art for what it gives them – it’s not purpose-made for them.
But similarly an artist shouldn’t expect their audience to OWE them anything either.
although i absolutely believe that music is art and musicians are artists, unless you only ever play your music in a room by yourself and never let anyone else hear it you are an “entertainer” on some level. i think performing music on a stage in front of thousands of people definitely qualifies.
by “focus” i’m not trying to imply that artists owe their audience anything or that the approval of their audience should be their primary concern. instead what i meant is that people who don’t enjoy an artist’s work should be the people they concern themselves with the least, if at all. and honestly if somebody doesn’t like your music, what’s the point in speaking to them or about them, anyway?
Great article, thanks for writing it! I agree 100% and had no idea Satyricon had gone in a different direction too, though I like what I’m hearing in this track.
It’s a swing… not a complete change of direction, or cutting of ties, but they definitely lean more progressive now than they did prior to their holiday from the scene.
Nice article! I do, however, feel like Mikael Akerfeldt is an odd one.. The man’s a brilliant musician, but after seeing him live for a couple of times and reading plenty of interviews with him (especially those before and after the release of Heritage) I feel like HE think he’s brilliant too; and when someone start thinking very highly of him or herself that’s usually a dangerous combination, leading to comments he’s making towards metal as a genre and his fanbase. This is because he might truly believe that he’s a genius, and that anyone who doesn’t like his ’70s prog rock journey just isn’t ‘open-minded’ or ‘intelligent’ enough to keep up with him. Of course this is speculating from my part, but I have the feeling I am not far off. And however brilliant his earlier releases (for which I personally never cared much), I really, really dislike such a high-horse attitude, even if he was fucking Roger Waters, John Lennon and Ronnie James Dio combined.
So my point is, I feel like there are very few musicians with an attidude such as Mike seems to have in the genre of metal; most seem pretty modest and very happy of the attention they are getting (such as how Satyr is described). So maybe Mike Akerfeldt outings are isolated incidents in a genre that is usually devoid from such behavior.
His attitude is an odd-one.
It is hard/difficult to draw any sort of concrete feel for his personality and such from just these interviews in isolation… but the trend as a whole has been rather stuck-up.
Again though, I think (hope) that it really just stems from his frustration at the predicament he is in with his music. If I felt I had something “genius” within me (disregarding how arrogant that might be), but that it was perpetually stifled by the confines of the musical identity I had built, I too might lash out in the press without thinking.
Opeth has been in the first rank of ‘my favourite bands’ since Still Life, and I have seen plenty of interviews and videos and what-not over the years – and yet, I don’t feel I have a real sense of Mikael’s personality. He has a persona he uses in interviews, and on stage, which makes it very difficult to glimpse his true personality. In particular, he moves quite easily between self-deprecation and affecting arrogance. Who knows what he’s really like?
Andy, your article is great (as usual), but I dare to say maybe you’re reading too much into Akerfeldt’s words.
This coming from a guy who DOESN’T like Heritage, not because it is not metal, but simply because it’s not very good. Opeth already went totally prog with Damnation and that’s one of my favourite albums ever, because the writing is top notch. Heritage is bland, uninspired, muddy, foggy, pointless, whatever.
I know a lot of people don’t think like I do and I respect their opinion, but coming back to the point, wouldn’t you agree that you’re adding a lot to the plate of the simple, unhappy phrase he vented? Aren’t you projecting a little bit too much, talking about insecurities and personal unhappiness? This is not an attack towards you, I wouldn’t dare ever, but still, while I get the point of your article and I can agree with it, I dare suggest maybe you’ve taken it a little bit too far to prove your point. Adding a lot that I wouldn’t know was already there.
I hope I made myself clear, you know english is not my first language.
That said, Your article made me want to check out Satyricon! So it’s a win. Cheers.
There’s definitely always the danger of over-analysing things.
I wouldn’t say I’m projecting, merely trying (with the meager tools and information at my disposal) to analyse where he’s coming from. Although I think perhaps I want it to be more a case of him being frustrated and unhappy (for the various reasons discussed) than him having turned into a humourless dick…
Again, I’m not sure there was much of a POINT I was trying to establish exactly, except that there’s a clear difference between the approaches of the two individuals in question. My only real point is/was that one seems happy and the other much less so, and then to contend a few possible reasons why that might be so.
“I hope I made myself clear, you know english is not my first language.”
This is something I’ve always kept in the back of my mind with Mikael too. Despite the fact that he can enunciate the English language with more skill than many native English speakers, he may not be articulating his thoughts through his second language as precisely as he would his native tongue.
As a big fan of pretty much everything Opeth has ever done, including Heritage, I follow them pretty closely. I’ve read probably a dozen interviews or more since around the time that Heritage was being recorded and people started talking about the “new direction” they were taking. I’ve also seen them live twice since Heritage was released. The comments that Andy referred to for this article are not isolated to that indecent. I’ve read/watched numerous interviews where he articulates the same sentiment. I’ve heard him in person at both shows I was at make similar comments. So I think there’s definitely enough “evidence” to suggest that some of the things Andy concludes are indeed reasonable things to conclude.
Great article. Well writen. Cheers
Great comment. Thank you!
I think the comments Åkderfeldt has made recently boils down to him thinking that Opeth’s fans shared the same tastes as he did and would subsequently like Heritage. Of course he’s not gonna agree that it’s the songwriting on Heritage that is hte problem, he would never have recorded the album if he thought that. So I think that’s why he’s failing to realise where his critics come from, That said, I think Heritage is a great album with stellar songwriting, and that Satyricon has been stale and sterile ever since Volcano. I’m a bit conflicted when it comes to Satyr; at times he comes of as genuienly humble and clear-thinking, and on other aspects he seems very arrogant and ruthless. I think he would be the kind of friend who you always have a good time with, as long as you swallow certain blemishes.
“I think the comments Åkderfeldt has made recently boils down to him thinking that Opeth’s fans shared the same tastes as he did and would subsequently like Heritage.”
I think that’s a very good way of looking at it. The artistic impulse for creating it does not necessarily equate to the artistic impulse of experiencing it!
This turned out a bit longer then I planned (as per usual) slight wall of text time – Most of these comments are coming from the Opeth side of things, and while my own will have something along those lines, I’m currently of the more Satyricon side.
I have loved Satyricon for a long time, I only got into them at about 2000, and have gotten virtually all their releases, while they have some great albums, they have also produced some generic one’s along the way (Age of Nreo being a prime example). I remember hearing the new song (can’t remember what it was) from NCS when it first came out and I was not impressed, it didn’t have anything for me. Therefore I was completely disinterested in the album.
A few weeks passed by and I saw an interview with Satyr, and that had a profound effect. Previously, he’s been having a “Rock Star” attitude, which puts me off bands completely, on this interview though he sounded completely different. He was grounded, honest and above all humble. It rare that I see these kind of interviews for any artist, it gave me a new perspective on what the band was trying to accomplish, so I bought the album. I’m presently surprised by it. It has it ups and downs, although Phenix is both (on one hand it destroys the flow, while being the best song on there). It’s an album that has restored my own faith that they can produce better quality music. The don’t have to remake the old albums, but have better quality, and this is what has been missing from all the albums from Volcano onwards – bland music with bright sparks.
I would love to see them when they come here to Helsinki with ChthoniC (who I was to see more the Satyricon) but I’m travelling home to Ireland for the Holidays.
As for Opeth, well Heritage, for me wasn’t an Opeth album. It has the name and same artists behind it, it just wasn’t them. If Åkderfeldt has released it under his own name, I would have gotten more out of it. Since they had already broken their sound up between Deliverance / Damnation there was no need for the band to experiment with a 70’s prog record. As for his remarks, they are the kind of remarks that put me off musicians and bands. Something similar happened with Disturbed, and from that point I haven’t bought anything they have released after that.
I agree with this for the most part. I get the frustration that Akerfedt expresses, but at the end of the day one should not attack the very people who pay your checks. I don’t believe it is a matter of maturity at all, as that word is simply an excuse to be a holier than thou jerk off most of the time. It’s all about Akerfedt’s ego wrapped in a thin layer of maturity as protection.
Satyr still has an ego about things, but he doesn’t hide behind a wall of false maturity to insulate himself from attacks.