Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt: Being 'Heavy' Is More Than The Music

Heaviness doesn’t just mean blastbeats, says Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt. There’s so much more to metal’s many genres than that…

Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt: Being 'Heavy' Is More Than The Music
Mikael Åkerfeldt, speaking to Amit Sharma

Growing up, my idea of heaviness was a lot more traditional than what it is today. I was born in 1974, so it was bands like Black Sabbath, Scorpions and Van Halen first and then I started to search for things that were even heavier… and it was a great time if you were on that trip!

There was the thrash scene, speed and power metal, then eventually the death and black metal scenes. I always felt heavy meant that slow, loner kind of doom music. But when people talk about heavy music today, it’s probably more stuff with blastbeats or polyrhythmic ideas with down-tuned guitars and screaming vocals like Meshuggah.

With time, its meaning became more of an emotional thing. It’s music that affects you on a deeper level, rather than just making you want to stomp along and bang your head. If you put on Mozart’s Requiem, for instance, that is heavy. If you play a Rachmaninoff piece, that’s fucking heavy to me, though some generic metal fans might not understand what the hell I’m talking about. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more open to my early childhood theories being challenged, while as a kid you tend to live inside your own little bubble and everything outside of that bubble is shit. I was like that myself.

"With time, its meaning became more of an emotional thing..."

Mikael Åkerfeldt

Some bands outside of metal can be unbearably heavy, too. For example, there’s Univers Zero from Belgium who are so fucked up. Whenever I’ve put them on, something else invades that room. Similarly, there’s a French band called Magma who are like an assault. I put on a record of theirs at a party once and everything just died. People stopped talking and looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing?!’ The spirit just drained. I had to apologise and admit it was too much. They are a fantastic band made of virtuoso players, but they have this density and strangeness that transcends heavy metal music for me. Napalm Death are almost easy listening compared to that!

With Opeth, we made [2011 album] Heritage and people started saying we weren’t heavy anymore. I can sort of understand that, but if you listen closely to the music, there’s definitely heaviness in there… it’s just not in the typical sense of the word. I guess the biggest misconception about me is I’m some sort of egomaniac because of the musical choices I’ve made, because I don’t cater to the needs of anyone outside my music, not even fans. That irritates some people. They think I’m on my high horse and refusing to deliver the goods. Maybe in that sense, I am an egomaniac – I write music for myself. I am the first filter. If I approve and it feels heavy to me, that’s all that matters.

Opeth's latest album In Cauda Venenum is out now via Nuclear Blast.

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