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.