Are Heavy Metal Fans Close-Minded?

Mikael Åkerfeldt

Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt and Anathema‘s Daniel Cavanagh would have you think so. In the new issue of Metal Hammer the two are interviewed and they don’t exactly have the most flattering things to say about heavy metal fans.

Mikael compare’s metal fans’ tastes to Happy Meals:

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.

Daniel, less provokingly expresses the same idea:

Every band I’ve loved has moved forward. All the world-class songwriters, whether it be Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd, have evolved. Maybe not AC/DC because they’re perfect as they are! Bands like Porcupine Tree have continued that tradition. It’s a mark of intelligence in music and genuine creativity.

As a metal fan, are you insulted? I’m not sure that I am. I was a little insulted at first, but after some reflection, I think they’re both right and wrong.

Why They’re Right

I’ll name just two bands that stand out as supreme examples: Metallica and In Flames. Both of these bands have evolved in the trajectory of their respective careers. And both of these bands have received nonstop criticism from their fans denouncing their credibility. Why is that?

In general, metal fans latch onto a band because they like something specific about the band’s sound, something which has wide appeal. When a band deviates from that sound or style, fans feel deceived and betrayed, and they lash out crying injustice.

Look, it’s like members of a church that follows doctrine to the letter. Then suddenly, the priest or minister leading that church decides to deviate from the doctrine slightly (by slightly, I mean in one regard) and allow gay marriages in his church (I know it’s more complicated than that). A certain percentage of his congregation will scream: “How dare he do that?” and “What right does he have?” And he will lose some of his flock.

It’s the same for fans of a metal band; they don’t want it to change. They like the product and want more of it. And this is a double-edged sword for the musicians in the band: Do they toe the line for the fans or maintain their creative integrity as musicians?

Why They’re Wrong

heavy metal grandma
While metal fans might not want a favorite band to change, to evolve, I like to think of metal fans as having diverse tastes, of being open-minded. Just look at the preponderance of subgenres floating around under the heavy metal umbrella and ask yourself, “How can someone be a fan of just one subgenre?” Yes, we all have our favorite heavy metal subgenre, but most of us aren’t locked in a box with it. Most of us can follow and appreciate a variety of heavy metal subenres.

And that’s where we get our diversity, our open-mindedness, by means of different bands. I think we associate our different moods and emotions with specific bands or genres, and when we pick up a Metallica album, we want to hear a Metallica album. We’re way beyond this now, but in the ’90s, when fans heard of a new Metallica album, they wanted another Master of Puppets, not Reload. In the mood for symphonic metal, grab Epica, not Slayer. In the mood for doom metal, reach for Cathedral, not Motley Crue. In the mood for black metal, put on Behemoth, not Justin Bieber.

Are We Closed-Minded?

So, no, we don’t want to question our Happy Meal. We want to go to our favorite restaurant and we want to know what’s on the menu.

I don’t think it’s fair to lock a musician into a specific genre, but I don’t think it’s fair to “bait and switch” the fans either. I’m not sure what the solution is, or even if there should be one. I could propose that side projects are meant for divergences. But then there’s this big part of me that kind of likes to see a band play something different. Does that something different have to be an entire album, or can it just be a track or two on an otherwise “consistent to who we are” album?

I do know one thing though: Heavy metal fans are not close-minded.

Voice your thoughts in the comments section below.

Rock Hard \m/

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