Are we open enough for musical changes?

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Mauricio Salas

It was the year 2003, the first metal band I ever listened to was Iron Maiden. I became in love with Bruce Dickinson’s voice, the epic guitars and guitar bass and the awesome skills of Nicko McBrain on the drums. After a while of listening to the most popular songs I started giving the full albums a try and it was ‘Somewhere In Time’ which would become my favorite album from the band. I loved the unlikely mix of heavy metal and synthesizers.

One night I was listening to the record one more time and then it hit me “I bet this album caused a lot of division back in 1986, I bet some people said, this in not heavy metal, this is not Iron Maiden”. Later I found the infamous video where Dickinson tells to a fan “you can’t play heavy metal with synthesizers.” Of course, this was all in my mind I did not actually know how fans reacted to given change of sound back in 1986, so I wanted to witness by myself what would happen if a band did a change in their sound so off-the-wall that got people started really arguing about it. Little did I know a couple of years later I was going to get a perfect scenario for all of the above.

We fast forward to late 2011 and I get the news: Opeth has released a brand new album called ‘Heritage’. Now I am pretty sure everyone reading this is aware of the type of sound Opeth was known for up to that point, progressive death metal which mixed gracefully the power of the growls and the heavy riffs with peaceful melodies and changes of pace handled with mastery. So I pretty much was awaiting something along those lines but what I got was pure progressive rock and I remember I said; “this is not Opeth”. Yes, I had not only witnessed a sudden change of sound in a band like I wanted, I had become one of those who were annoyed by it.

Surprisingly, after listening to the record a lot, I fell in love with ‘Heritage’ and I decided I did not to care if a band changed sound as long as the music being produced was good. But the Internet seemed to think differently. In response to the fans’ uproar, Mikael Åkerfeldt called metal fans “close minded”, which brings me to the main topic of this publication.

When fans buy a record of any given band, they have expectations about how it should sound based on their previous work, which is a logical approach, but music as any art form can change according to the artist’s mindset at the time of the creation of the work. And even though as I said above, it is logical to expect certain things of a band, we should start looking at music as an art form, not as a pre-packed product associated to a name. Music should be much more than a brand name. Yes, we are allowed to voice our opinion if the change is not to our taste, but we should encourage bands to explore new territories, to evolve, and to not just become a music jukebox playing the same material again and again.

Going back to Iron Maiden, here we have a band that has been criticized a whole lot for having a very formulaic approach regarding the music they put out. Not to say every Iron Maiden record is the same. Lyric themes change from album to album, from the “fast and fun record” like ‘The Final Frontier’ to something like ‘The Book Of Souls’, a more slow-paced and kind of progressive Iron Maiden, but they always change within the boundaries of their known framework. Some fans often say that the changes are not profound enough, but I bet that if Iron Maiden did something so off the wall and departed from their previous work, they would face even more criticism than Opeth. Opeth was always very progressive and in their later records before ‘Heritage’ their sound was already featuring changes but they still got criticized. Now imagine what would happen if Iron Maiden did that? The internet would go crazy and not in a good way which I think is pretty sad.

Now, I am not saying every change is positive, I was not a big fan of Metallica’s attempts to do different things with ‘St Anger’ and ‘Lulu’, but at least they tried to branch out. In the end, we should be encouraging artists to try new things outside their comfort zone, because in the end bands are formed by people and they sometimes want to try different things and whether or not we like the changes, being more open would greatly help to the diversity of the metal scene.

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