Home Music Music Lists

Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt: My 10 Favorite Metal Albums

Bandleader shouts out classics including Judas Priest’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ and Morbid Angel’s ‘Altars of Madness’

When it comes to his musical tastes, Mikael Åkerfeldt has no problem labeling himself an “old fart.” It’s not too surprising to hear that the Opeth leader’s listening preferences tend toward the retro, given that the Swedish guitarist, vocalist and songwriter has spent the past 20-plus years reconciling his adolescent love of death metal with earlier influences like Eighties metal and Seventies prog.

“I’m born in 1974, so I grew up with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the German scene and the U.S. scene of the Eighties and that kind of stuff, so I think today’s metal scene is a bit too sterile for my own taste,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I’m not excited about a new metal band or a new metal record because I’ve tried, and most of the time, I just feel it’s just too un-metal-sounding – too polished and too streamlined to fit the genre. It’s just not interesting enough for me, you know?”

Åkerfeldt is the latest musician RS has polled on the subject of their 10 favorite metal albums – a project that stemmed from our own 100 Greatest Metal Albums list – and the list he prepared reflects this sentiment. None of the albums he chose was released after 1990.

It’s an interesting fact, because for many fans of the genre, Opeth have been one of the bands who have defined the sound of modern metal. From their 1995 debut, Orchid, a striking amalgam of Åkerfeldt’s growled vocals and lush, progressive song structures, through 2001 extreme-prog masterpiece Blackwater Park – which landed at number 55 on Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Metal Albums list and at 28 on our 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums tally – Opeth have demonstrated a willingness to color outside arbitrary subgenre lines. The band’s recent efforts, including 2016’s Sorceress, have burrowed ever further into Åkerfeldt’s often-quirky, always-fascinating retro fantasies.

“We’re still a metal band, when we want to,” he tells RS. “But of course sometimes we don’t want to be the heaviest band. Sometimes we want to be the most quiet band, or the most whatever else.”

As a listener, he seeks out that same spirit of individualism. “I think ultimately what I’m looking for is that it’s something different, that I haven’t really heard before,” he says of what guided his own metal top 10 selections. “And it was easier in the early days of metal music to distinguish the bands from each other. Everybody had their own sound, I thought: You wouldn’t mix up the Scorpions with Iron Maiden.”

Here are Mikael Åkerfeldt’s 10 favorite metal albums, with his commentary on each.

1

Black Sabbath, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ (1973)

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath to me is the most orchestrated Black Sabbath record, together with the one that came after, Sabotage, which I also love. … [Sabbath Bloody Sabbath] just happens to be my favorite record [by] my favorite hard-rock/metal band. It’s got beautiful strings. It’s different than the other ones; it’s got orchestrations on it. That was actually done by the same guy that orchestrated our last record, [Sorceress,] a guy called Wil Malone. So that was cool to work with him. And it’s also Ozzy Osbourne’s best vocal performance, I think. He’s got a great, great voice, and it’s definitely his best vocal performance. It also has my favorite Black Sabbath song, which is the last song on the record, “Spiral Architect,” which I saw when they reunited for the first time in the Nineties. … I saw that they were playing that song live and I was like, “Fuckin’ hell, I’m gonna hear my favorite song, my favorite band, and I’m gonna hear it live.” But because he’s now not as great of a singer as he once was, he had kind of remade the vocal line so it was a completely different vocal line to that song, and I was a bit disappointed, I remember. 

But it’s just a fantastic record. There’s not a weak second on it. All the songs, they put [them] in the perfect order. Great sound, great heaviness. It’s got the acoustic things. … It’s just a timeless piece of music that I will listen to till I die basically. It will still sound new then.

I love [earlier Sabbath], too, of course. I don’t need to hear “Paranoid” or “Iron Man” or “Snowblind” ever again. I can just listen to them in my head if I want to, because they’ve been overplayed, you know, like all the shows I’ve seen with Ozzy, all the shows I’ve seen with Sabbath, all the cover bands I’ve seen, radio, whatever parties you’ve been to, those songs have been played so much that I don’t need to hear them ever again. I still love them, of course, but … I know those songs too well. But with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, even [the title track], which is also one of their hits, you still kind of discover things every time you listen to it. Or you get the shivers, if you know what I mean? … Maybe it’s a bit more complex so it takes more time to digest than “Paranoid,” for instance. I still find things in that record that make me go, “Hmm, that’s nice.” And I’ve played it, I don’t know, thousands of times. 

Show Comments