Guilty Pleasures: 10 Metal Artists with Surprising Taste in Music
There haven’t been many performers with Pelle Ohlin’s singularity of vision: The late Mayhem vocalist has been described as black metal in every respect. Quick to realize when a fellow artist had comprised, this pioneer came to loathe even some of his former heroes. Although we all appreciate purity, enjoying less radical subgenres and/or even non-metal music (gasp!) doesn’t necessarily make you less “True.” Having a range of influences to pull from, if desired, can lead to great results as on Nargaroth’s Era of Threnody (2017), which combines black metal with samba, or it can simply result in a watered-down product.
In any case, it’s often music fans who are more closed-minded than actual musicians. For example, we have all met that very specific type of metal aficionado turns up his nose when you try to show him your favorite punk album. Yet, a lot of the Swedish death metallers that he probably adores actually crossed over from punk. In honor of a little thing called individuality, we will be naming 10 highly influential headbangers with surprising musical affinities, whether as listeners or creators. Discover which famous metalheads have great taste in music versus which ones have taste up their leather-clad rears.
You probably know “Teloch,” Morten Bergeton Iversen, for his work with Mayhem, but he’s also the genius behind groups like Nidingr and Umoral. In 2020, the black metal superstar released the debut album by his electronic solo project Bergeton, Miami Murder. You have to hear this killer synthwave record!
Beherit’s Marko Laiho
Beherit’s Marko Laiho, a.k.a. “Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance,” has made hardcore techno under the alias DJ “Gamma-G.” Laiho has also used the project name Suuri Shamaani to create “meta-music.” Of course, fans of Beherit already understand that this pioneering black metal band’s electronic influences set them apart.
Laiho actually recorded two ambient albums, H418ov21.C (1994) and Electric Doom Synthesis (1996), under the Beherit name after his collaborators dropped off following Drawing Down the Moon (1993). In 2008, Laiho reunited with his original drummer, Sodomatic Slaughter, and brought two other musicians aboard to make Beherit’s return to black metal, Engram (2009). Yet, Beherit’s latest effort, Bardo Exist (2020), amounts to another ambient record and features Laiho alone.
Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell
Although not all metalheads may be open to country music, the late Texas-born Abbott brothers, Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell, certainly enjoyed it. After all, the Pantera boys’ father Jerry Abbott is a country songwriter and producer.
In 1999, Dimebag attended one of David Allan Coe’s shows in Fort Worth, where he spent nearly half an hour waiting for his autograph. Dimebag gave Coe copies of Pantera’s home videos and left his phone number. Although Coe had not heard of Darrell until that time, the pair would form an unlikely union and record a country metal album called Rebel Meets Rebel (2006) — released two years after Darrell’s tragic death. Vinnie and Pantera’s bassist, Rex Brown, also participated in the effort, which even features a guest appearance from Hank Williams III.
Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho
Children of Bodom’s late frontman, Alexi Laiho, told his biographer Petri Silas that as a young child his ”attitude was also heavily influenced by N.W.A., Eazy-E’s solo material and other Californian gangsta rap.”
Always ready to whip out their sense of humor, Children of Bodom had a greater number of quirky covers than any other metal band. They took on the likes of Kenny Rogers, Britney Spears, Eddie Murphy, and Stan Jones. Laiho performed Bon Jovi material live with CoB and the hard rock supergroup The Local Band, who also covered The Veronicas. Mastadon’s Brann Dailor revealed to Metal Hammer that Laiho’s love for the “Born to Be My Baby” singer and other less-than-extreme picks really irked him while on tour with CoB: “All they listened to was 80s hair metal. Skid Row [Laiho loved Sebastian Bach] and Winger. I was like, ‘I got to get off this bus. I don’t want to listen to Bon Jovi anymore, guys!’”
Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde
Zakk Wylde has dropped kind words about pop idols like Lady Gaga and ABBA. Keep in mind that this fun-loving family guy’s a bit of a jokester: Zakk posted a video of himself getting punched out while singing Adele’s “Hello” and has quipped about listening to Barry Manilow’s records backwards for the Satanic messages.
Although some of the above may be a bit hard to process, one thing that everyone will surely understand is Wylde’s soft spot for Sir Elton John. He told AXS TV’s Stranded that after he and his wife Barbaranne, renewed their vows, they attended a concert by Sir Elton and even managed to meet him, thanks to Sharon Osbourne: ”… I actually had my Elton John book from when I was eight years old, from 1975. And he actually signed that book that my parents got me. So, that was pretty awesome.”
Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth
We think that Mr. Niklas Kvarforth is metal’s most multifaceted personality. This genius never fails to turn your expectations upside down. Niklas has expressed his love for groups like the Swedish pop rockers Kent, whom he has brilliantly covered. Niklas told Ave Noctum:
“I have always wanted to cover Michael Jackson but that would be impossible, I can’t sing those lines. Alien Ant Farm did a cover and that came out pretty good actually. Also maybe Prince, Madonna and I’m a huge fan of Rihanna now.”
Niklas added that Russian ’80s hits: “… are so good, I mean they are so fucking depressing it’s not even funny, but it’s quality!” Although one could argue that Niklas’ doom and gloom are Scandinavian traits, at times, he certainly sounds like a Russian dedushka in the best of ways. Niklas has also stated that he respects some rappers more than most of today’s metal bands. That’s because, figuratively and literally, very few black metal artists cut as deep as Niklas.
Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt
Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt has expressed that while he hates a lot of the music his kids like, he doesn’t mind Billie Eilish. He’s also partial to Joni Mitchell, Linda Perhacs, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, etc. However, what really captures our attention is the fact that Åkerfeldt has repeatedly spoken of his relationship to ABBA. The rockstar explained to BraveWords: “When I go to bed, I still listen to ABBA for some reason. It just makes me feel comfortable. It makes me feel at home.” Åkerfeldt told Rolling Stone about how he “got to dance… with the ‘Dancing Queen‘ [Agnetha Fältskog]” after recording Heritage (2011) at the same studio where ABBA used to make their albums.
ABBA is actually beloved by more metal artists than you might think. After all, musicians like Yngwie Malmsteen, Ville Valo, and Ghost’s Tobias Forge have covered these Swedish pop icons. In The Cult Never Dies: Vol. One, Dayal Patterson quoted Satyricon’s Satyr regarding what really happens in metal karaoke bars: “… when people are really drunk and then someone sings ABBA or something non-metal, that’s when people come alive…”
Yes, Emperor’s Ihsahn actually likes Ghost — one of the most polarizing bands around. In 2020, Ihsahn revealed his favorite ‘80s pop songs to The Pit. The list features A-ha, whom he has covered, and Phil Collins. Earlier that year, Ihsahn made headlines when he, like the pick above, confessed his feelings for Billie Eilish to Ultimate Guitar. Ihsahn has admitted that he has taken inspiration from Kanye West. He enjoys trip hop and hip hop and is especially fond of Childish Gambino. This year, when speaking with Metal Hammer, the black metal legend came clean about his admiration for The Weeknd:
“Maybe it’s just me being old and grumpy, but there’s so much new metal coming out where there’s no danger. I listen to a lot of commercial R&B like The Weeknd. That’s darker and more edgy and more experimental than most new extreme metal bands, to be honest.”
Okay, this guy is the music police! Fenriz, a DJ and radio/podcast host, has an especially broad musical palate. Check out his mix for The Wire, which dishes up calypso, samba, Indian music, and more. It blew our minds wide open! Although the mighty Fenriz is obsessed with techno, he doesn’t want to learn how to make this kind of music lest he ruin the magic he feels as a listener. You might be surprised to learn that Fenriz sports a Hanoi Rocks tattoo — Hanoi Rocks often played at his former haunt, the now shuttered Elm Street Rock Café. (Imagine Fenriz wearing one of Michael Monroe’s outfits!)
Perhaps the most shocking fact of all is that Fenriz, the author of so many songs about spilling Christian blood, has expressed his admiration for the Jesus-loving Stryper — the most unjustly hated band in metal. When Darkthrone went to Stockholm to record Soulside Journey (1991), Fenriz bought a Stryper record at the famous House of Kicks, partially to piss everyone off but also because he has always been a fan of their guitar sound.
Like so many black metal pioneers, Fenriz and his Darkthrone collaborator, Nocturno Culto, also love old-school rock. Although this may not sound surprising in itself, our jaws definitely dropped when Fenriz broke out into Grand Funk Railroad’s “So You Won’t Have to Die” on national Norwegian television.
Mayhem’s Euronymous & Crew
Although Mayhem’s late Euronymous strove to project an image of absolute evil, he actually had a very eclectic taste in music. Growing up, Euronymous was crazy about Kiss just like everyone else, including even Pelle Ohlin. Euronymous was especially fond of Pink Floyd and Marillion. During a trip to Europe, Euronymous slept outside the home of the late Conrad Schnitzler of Tangerine Dream until he was eventually received indoors. Euronymous later asked Schnitzler to send him a track. As a result, Deathcrush (1987) opens with “Silvester Anfang,” which Schnitzler simply plucked from his studio desk. Euronymous’ open-mindedness was demonstrated by his support of Enslaved, despite the fact that their ideology was quite different from his.
Unfortunately, Euronymous wasn’t always so kind. He used to play loud synth music to annoy Pelle Ohlin. On one such occasion, Pelle fled into the woods with his pillow. Euronymous followed and began firing at birds with his shotgun. Thus, Pelle hurled a large rock at him. Vocalist Attila Csihar recalled in Quadrivium #5 that collaborator Varg Vikernes similarly used techno to “piss off” Euronymous, whom he eventually killed. Yet, Vikernes has stated that he really did mine inspiration from techno, rave, and house music. He even made some techno recordings.
Ex-Mayhem’s Manheim probably has the most sophisticated taste in music. He worked with Euronymous in the experimental project L.E.G.O. Although Manheim would abandon metal early on, he would discover a passion for making noise music. As part of the group Big Robot, Manheim collaborated with Schnitzler himself. Check out his other thought-provoking projects, such as Against the Grain, which you can find below. When Cadaver’s Anders Odden called Manheim in 2013 to ask him to join the black/death group he was founding called Order, Manheim finally returned to metal. This absolutely superb black/death supergroup also features Mayhem’s “original” vocalist Billy Messiah, who is a punk veteran as well. Billy appears on Mayhem’s latest EP, Atavistic Black Disorder / Kommando (2021), the second side of which features punk covers. Yes, Mayhem likes the Ramones.