Neoclassical metal

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Neoclassical metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that is heavily influenced by classical music and usually features very technical playing, [1] [Note 1] consisting of elements borrowed from both classical and speed metal music. Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore pioneered the subgenre by merging classical melodies and blues rock. Later, Yngwie Malmsteen became one of the most notable musicians in the subgenre, and contributed greatly to the development of the style in the 1980s. [1] [Note 2] [2] Other notable players in the genre are Randy Rhoads, John Petrucci, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Uli Jon Roth, Stéphan Forté, Wolf Hoffmann, [3] [4] [ circular reference ] Timo Tolkki, and Marty Friedman. [1] [Note 3]

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre's lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.

Classical music broad tradition of Western art music

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820, this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.

Speed metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that originated in the late 1970s from new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) roots. It is described by AllMusic as "extremely fast, abrasive, and technically demanding" music.



Neoclassical metal takes its name from a broad conception of classical music. In this it is a concept distinct from how neoclassicism is understood within the classical music tradition. Neoclassical music usually refers to a movement in musical modernism which developed roughly a century after the end of the Classical period and peaked during the years in between the two World Wars.

Neoclassicism (music) music genre

Neoclassicism in music was a twentieth-century trend, particularly current in the interwar period, in which composers sought to return to aesthetic precepts associated with the broadly defined concept of "classicism", namely order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint. As such, neoclassicism was a reaction against the unrestrained emotionalism and perceived formlessness of late Romanticism, as well as a "call to order" after the experimental ferment of the first two decades of the twentieth century. The neoclassical impulse found its expression in such features as the use of pared-down performing forces, an emphasis on rhythm and on contrapuntal texture, an updated or expanded tonal harmony, and a concentration on absolute music as opposed to Romantic program music.

Modernism (music) philosophicoesthetic stance, part of the modernist movement, underlying the change/development in musical language in the early 20th century, challenging/reinterpreting older music with new organization/approach to harmony, melody, timbre, and rhythm

In music, modernism is a philosophical and aesthetic stance underlying the period of change and development in musical language that occurred around the turn of the 20th century, a period of diverse reactions in challenging and reinterpreting older categories of music, innovations that led to new ways of organizing and approaching harmonic, melodic, sonic, and rhythmic aspects of music, and changes in aesthetic worldviews in close relation to the larger identifiable period of modernism in the arts of the time. The operative word most associated with it is "innovation". Its leading feature is a "linguistic plurality", which is to say that no one music genre ever assumed a dominant position.

Inherent within musical modernism is the conviction that music is not a static phenomenon defined by timeless truths and classical principles, but rather something which is intrinsically historical and developmental. While belief in musical progress or in the principle of innovation is not new or unique to modernism, such values are particularly important within modernist aesthetic stances.

On the other hand, neoclassical metal music does not restrict itself to a return to classical aesthetic ideals, such as equilibrium and formalism. Its influences include both the Romantic musical period and the Baroque period of the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries. The music of late Baroque composers such as Vivaldi, Handel and Bach was often highly ornate. Neoclassical metal musicians such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Joshua Perahia are inspired by this aspect of Baroque music [1] [Note 4] and also by later composers such as the violinist Niccolò Paganini in using runs and other decorative and showy techniques in their performances. Neoclassical metal music thus looks to classical music as broadly understood by the general public and not to the more specialist technical definition used within classical circles.

Classical period (music) genre of Western music (c.1730-1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.

Romantic music is a period of Western classical music that began in the late 18th or early 19th century. It is related to Romanticism, the Western artistic and literary movement that arose in the second half of the 18th century, and Romantic music in particular dominated the Romantic movement in Germany.

Baroque music Style of Western art music

Baroque music is a period or style of Western art music composed from approximately 1600 to 1750. This era followed the Renaissance music era, and was followed in turn by the Classical era. Baroque music forms a major portion of the "classical music" canon, and is now widely studied, performed, and listened to. Key composers of the Baroque era include Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Henry Purcell, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Arcangelo Corelli, Tomaso Albinoni, François Couperin, Giuseppe Tartini, Heinrich Schütz, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Dieterich Buxtehude, and Johann Pachelbel.

History of the genre and influences

Yngwie Malmsteen (to the right of Tim Owens), a key figure in neoclassical metal Yngwie Malmsteen 5.jpg
Yngwie Malmsteen (to the right of Tim Owens), a key figure in neoclassical metal

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were many works that influenced this subgenre, Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra being the most important one. Other bands, like Rainbow also featured neoclassical influences. Early classical influences within hard rock and heavy metal are most notably found in the playing of Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth and Randy Rhoads. But it was in the 1980s when neoclassical metal became a distinct subgenre. [1] [Note 5]

Deep Purple English rock band

Deep Purple are an English rock band formed in Hertford in 1968. The band is considered to be among the pioneers of heavy metal and modern hard rock, although their musical approach changed over the years. Originally formed as a progressive rock band, the band shifted to a heavier sound in 1970. Deep Purple, together with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, have been referred to as the "unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal in the early to mid-seventies". They were listed in the 1975 Guinness Book of World Records as "the globe's loudest band" for a 1972 concert at London's Rainbow Theatre, and have sold over 100 million copies of their albums worldwide.

<i>Concerto for Group and Orchestra</i> 1969 live album by Deep Purple, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold

The Concerto for Group and Orchestra is a concerto composed by Jon Lord, with lyrics written by Ian Gillan. It was first performed by Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold on 24 September 1969 and released on vinyl in December 1969. After the score was lost in 1970, it was performed again in 1999 with a recreated score.

Rainbow (rock band) English rock band

Rainbow are a British rock band led by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, active from 1975 until 1984, 1993 until 1997, and 2015 until present. They were originally established with Ronnie James Dio's American rock band Elf, but after their first album, Blackmore fired the backing members and continued with Dio until 1979. Three British musicians joined in 1979—singer Graham Bonnet, keyboardist Don Airey and then-former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover—and this line-up gave the band their commercial breakthrough with the single "Since You Been Gone". Over the years Rainbow went through many personnel changes, with each studio album recorded with a different lineup, and leaving Blackmore as the band's only constant member. The singers Joe Lynn Turner and Doogie White followed Bonnet, and numerous backing musicians have come and gone. In addition to Blackmore, Rainbow's current lineup includes Ronnie Romero on vocals, Jens Johansson on keyboards, Bob Nouveau on bass and David Keith on drums.

Heavy metal guitar technique developed rapidly from its late-1960s beginnings to its late-1980s peak, but before the 1980s, few metal guitarists displayed the advanced technical proficiency which is a hallmark of the neoclassical metal style. The popularization and growth of neoclassical metal is closely related to the ascension of the guitar "shredding" movement.

Shred guitar

Shred guitar or shredding is a virtuoso lead guitar solo playing style for the guitar, based on various advanced and complex playing techniques, particularly rapid passages and advanced performance effects. Music critics have stated that shred guitar is associated with "fast alternate picking, sweep-picked arpeggios, diminished and harmonic scales, finger-tapping and whammy-bar abuse", while others contend that it is a fairly subjective cultural term used by guitarists and enthusiasts of guitar music. It is commonly used with reference to heavy metal guitar playing, where it is associated with rapid tapping solos, fast scale and arpeggio runs and special effects such as whammy bar "dive bombs". Metal guitarists playing in a "shred" style use the electric guitar with a guitar amplifier and a range of electronic effects such as distortion, which create a more sustained guitar tone and facilitate guitar feedback effects.

The "golden age" of neoclassical metal in the middle to late 1980s revolved around the sizeable roster of flashy electric-guitar soloists who recorded mostly instrumental albums for Mike Varney's Shrapnel Records label. Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, widely regarded as the originator [Note 6] and still-reigning king of neoclassical metal, [5] was brought to the United States by Varney to sign with Shrapnel Records in 1982.

Mike Varney is an American musician, record producer, music publisher and impresario. He is the founder of the Shrapnel Label Group, which includes Shrapnel Records, Tone Center Records and Blues Bureau International. He also has a 50% stake in Magna Carta Records, a New York-based label. currently lists over 790 albums as being released by record labels founded or owned by Mike Varney. He is often credited with being the individual most responsible for popularizing the mid-1980s shred guitar boom, and has continuously specialized in producing highly acclaimed musicians within the genres of instrumental rock, hard rock, jazz, jazz fusion, blues, blues-rock, progressive metal and speed metal.

Shrapnel Records record label

Shrapnel Records is a guitar-oriented record label started in 1980 by record producer Mike Varney.

Yngwie Malmsteen Swedish musician

Yngwie Johan Malmsteen is a Swedish guitarist, songwriter and bandleader. Malmsteen first became known in the 1980s for his neoclassical metal playing style in heavy metal, and has released 20 studio albums in a career spanning almost 40 years. In 2009, Time magazine rated Malmsteen as number 7 among the 10 greatest electric guitar players of all time.

Many subsequent Shrapnel artists, [1] [Note 7] including Tony MacAlpine, [1] Vinnie Moore, [1] Joey Tafolla, Michael Angelo Batio, Paul Gilbert, David T. Chastain, Jason Becker, [1] and Marty Friedman, emerged in the latter 1980s as exemplars of the neoclassical style.

In recent years, appreciation of the neoclassical metal oeuvre has been largely confined to guitarists in more of an underground setting, as the style is not well known beyond the realm of guitarists. Today, there are many more bands that contribute as a whole as opposed to the "solo" musicians in the past. Some of today's notable neoclassical metal performers are Rhapsody of Fire, Vitalij Kuprij, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Herman Li, Cacophony, Symphony X, Rata Blanca, Narnia, Time Requiem, At Vance, Galneryus, Mastercastle, Versailles, Sound Horizon, Concerto Moon, Pier Gonella, Adagio, Dark Moor, Dimmu Borgir, Artension and Stratovarius.

A common practice in the genre is to transcribe classical pieces and play them in a rock/metal band format. The Baroque and Classical periods have been particularly influential to the genre because of their unique sound and techniques that blend into a rock setting effectively.[ citation needed ]

Styles and theory

Although neoclassical metal differs in theory and structure than neoclassical orchestral music, there are distinct styles and progressions that make a metal piece neoclassical. The complexity of keys and scales make playing neoclassical metal difficult without a strong foundation in music theory. In contrast to most music, neoclassical metal often switches keys in the middle of the song to compliment each other and allow for more artistic freedom. Minor keys are often used for their unique note progressions and often dissonant sounds.

A commonly used feature in Neoclassical metal is the use of diminished seventh arpeggios. As diminished seventh chords are essentially an equidistant scale consisting of stacked minor thirds, they become a useful tool for modulation, as it is possible to move by minor thirds through the chord/arpeggio, then use the diminished chord as a leading tone to resolve to the tonic a semitone above it. Pentatonic scales are also prevalent and conveniently have the same picking structure as minor thirds on the guitar. Playing back and forth between the two scales is common and a good example of how neoclassical metal uses different scales stacked on top of each other to progress melodic ideas.

See also

Related Research Articles

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  1. "L'arrivée du néoclassique remet au goût du jour la virtuosité et le travail de l'instrument", "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, p.14
  2. "C'est véritablement en 1984, avec son premier album solo "Rising Force", que le virtuose suédois Yngwie Malmsteen fait découvrir au monde son mélange unique de baroque et de heavy metal", "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, p.14
  3. "Toute un pléiade de guitars heroes va deferler, pour la plupart révélés par le label Shrapel records, parmi lesquels les plus légendaires sont John Petrucci, Jason Becker, Jacky Vincent, Tony MacAlpine, Timo Tolkki et Vinnie Moore", "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, p.14
  4. "C'est véritablement en 1984, avec son premier album solo "Rising Force", que le virtuose suédois Yngwie Malmsteen fait découvrir au monde son mélange unique de baroque et de heavy metal", "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, p.14
  5. "C'est véritablement en 1984, avec son premier album solo "Rising Force", que le virtuose suédois Yngwie Malmsteen fait découvrir au monde son mélange unique de baroque et de heavy metal", "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, p.14
  6. "Si l'on peut clairement considérer Randy Rhoads, Uli Jon Roth et Ritchie Blackmore, comme les précurseurs, c'est véritablement en 1984, [...] que le virtuose suédois Yngwie Malmsteen fait découvrir au monde son mélange unique de baroque et de heavy metal", "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, p.14
  7. "Toute une pléiade de guitars heroes va déferler, pour la plupart révélés par le label Shrapnel Records, parmi lesquels les plus légendaires sont Jason Becker, Tony McAlpine et Vinnie Moore", "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, p.14


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Stephan Forté, "Metal néoclassique" in Guitarist Magazine Pedago, Hors Série #29, "Les secrets du metal- Etudes de Style", March 2009, pp.14–15.
  2. Farley, Helen (2013). "Demons, The Occult Devils and Witches: in Heavy Metal Music". In Bayer, Gerd (ed.). Heavy Metal Music in Britain. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 80–81. ISBN   978-1-409493853.
  4. Wolf Hoffmann
  5. Yngwie Malmsteen biography,, retrieved 13-9-2009

4. Adams, Ricci "Specific Intervals"