Symphonic metal

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Symphonic metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music which combines the heavy drums and guitars of metal with different elements of orchestral classical music, such as symphonic instruments, choirs and sometimes a full orchestra. Keyboards reminiscent of power metal are also sometimes featured.[ citation needed ]

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.

Orchestra large instrumental ensemble

An orchestra is a large instrumental ensemble typical of classical music, which combines instruments from different families, including bowed string instruments such as the violin, viola, cello, and double bass, brass instruments such as the horn, trumpet, trombone and tuba, woodwinds such as the flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, and percussion instruments such as the timpani, bass drum, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, and mallet percussion instruments each grouped in sections. Other instruments such as the piano and celesta may sometimes appear in a fifth keyboard section or may stand alone, as may the concert harp and, for performances of some modern compositions, electronic instruments.

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.


Symphonic metal bands often feature classically trained female vocalists, giving rise to the nickname opera metal or operatic metal, and it is not uncommon for them to feature a second vocalist performing growls, a more common characteristic of gothic metal. Perhaps the most typical and prominent examples of symphonic metal bands are Dutch bands Epica and Within Temptation, Finnish band Nightwish, and Swedish band Therion. All four bands place a large focus on elements prevalent in film scores in addition to the more basic classical components utilized more widely in the genre.

Death growl voice type

A death growl is a vocal style usually employed by death metal singers but also used in other heavy metal styles, such as metalcore. Death growls are sometimes criticized for their "ugliness". However, the harshness of death growls is in keeping with death metal's abrasive music style and often dark and obscene subject matter. The progressively more forceful enunciation of metal vocals has been noted from heavy metal to thrash metal to death metal.

Gothic metal is a fusion genre combining the heaviness of heavy metal with the dark atmospheres of gothic rock. The music of gothic metal is diverse with bands known to adopt the gothic approach to different styles of heavy metal music. The genre originated during the early 1990s in the United Kingdom originally as an outgrowth of death-doom, a fusion of death metal and doom metal. Lyrics are generally dark and introspective with inspiration from gothic fiction as well as personal experiences.

Epica (band) Dutch symphonic metal band

Epica is a Dutch symphonic metal band, founded by guitarist and vocalist Mark Jansen after his departure from After Forever.

Musical characteristics

Tarja Turunen at Obras Stadium 2008 02.jpg
Nightwish is one of the prime acts on the symphonic metal scene. The use of keyboards through traditional piano and strings and the soprano vocals of Tarja Turunen, until her departure from the band in 2005, were distinct parts of their original sound. [1] [2]

The main musical influences on symphonic metal are early gothic metal, power metal and the new wave of British heavy metal.

Power metal is a subgenre of heavy metal combining characteristics of traditional heavy metal with speed metal, often within symphonic context. Generally, power metal is characterized by a faster, lighter, and more uplifting sound, in contrast with the heaviness and dissonance prevalent for example in extreme metal. Power metal bands usually have anthem-like songs with fantasy-based subject matter and strong choruses, thus creating a theatrical, dramatic and emotionally "powerful" sound. The term was first used in the middle of the 1980s and refers to two different but related styles: the first pioneered and largely practiced in North America with a harder sound similar to speed metal, and a later more widespread and popular style based in Europe, South America and Japan, with a lighter, more melodic sound and frequent use of keyboards.

The new wave of British heavy metal was a nationwide musical movement that started in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and achieved international attention by the early 1980s. Journalist Geoff Barton coined the term in a May 1979 issue of the British music newspaper Sounds to describe the emergence of new heavy metal bands in the mid to late 1970s, during the period of punk rock's decline and the dominance of new wave music.

Music workstation keyboards and orchestras are often the focal point of the music, which, in essence, distinguishes the subgenre from other metal subgenres. Other instruments including guitars, bass and drums typically play relatively simple parts in contrast to the complex and nuanced keyboard and/or orchestral parts. Bands that do not use live orchestral instrumentation on their recordings or when playing live typically utilize factory presets on workstation keyboards (i. e., strings, choirs, pianos, pipe organs etc.) to conjure up a "pseudo-orchestral" sound, where parts are played idiomatically according to keyboard technique. This is particularly characteristic of less-known bands on tighter budgets. Some symphonic metal bands abstain from using keyboards entirely, choosing to use orchestral backing tracks, either recorded by a live symphony orchestra and/or choir during an album session, or recorded using virtual software instruments in a sequencer. This is particularly characteristic of bands that feature deeper and more complex arrangements that would be more difficult for one or even two keyboardists to reproduce in a live performance.

A music workstation is an electronic musical instrument providing the facilities of:

A music sequencer is a device or application software that can record, edit, or play back music, by handling note and performance information in several forms, typically CV/Gate, MIDI, or Open Sound Control (OSC), and possibly audio and automation data for DAWs and plug-ins.

It is more difficult to generalise about the guitar and bass work found in this style. As with gothic metal, this can often be described as a synthesis of other rock and metal styles, with black metal, death metal, power metal, and progressive metal elements being the most common; but unlike in gothic metal, elements of classical music are frequently present as well. With varying frequency, the majority of bands in this subgenre employ these instruments (as well as the lead vocals) to play more simple, catchy melodies which arguably makes symphonic metal (along with power metal, which shares this characteristic) one of the more accessible metal subgenres.

Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. It typically employs heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking, deep growling vocals, aggressive, powerful drumming featuring double kick and blast beat techniques, minor keys or atonality, abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes, and chromatic chord progressions. The lyrical themes of death metal may invoke slasher film-stylized violence, religion, occultism, Lovecraftian horror, nature, mysticism, mythology, philosophy, science fiction, and politics, and they may describe extreme acts, including mutilation, dissection, torture, rape, cannibalism, and necrophilia.

Progressive metal is a fusion genre melding heavy metal and progressive rock that combines the loud "aggression" and amplified guitar-driven sound of the former with the more experimental, cerebral or "pseudo-classical" compositions of the latter.

Songs are often highly atmospheric, though more upbeat than those of other metal subgenres; even songs with morbid themes routinely feature prominent major-key fanfares. Particularly central to creating mood and atmosphere is the choice of keyboard sounds.

Lyrics cover a broad range of topics. As with two of symphonic metal's otherwise most dissimilar influences, power metal and opera (but also symphonic progressive rock), fantasy and mythological themes are common. Concept albums styled after operas or epic poems are not uncommon.

Progressive rock is a broad genre of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom and United States throughout the mid- to late 1960s. Initially termed "progressive pop", the style was an outgrowth of psychedelic bands who abandoned standard pop traditions in favour of instrumentation and compositional techniques more frequently associated with jazz, folk, or classical music. Additional elements contributed to its "progressive" label: lyrics were more poetic, technology was harnessed for new sounds, music approached the condition of "art", and the studio, rather than the stage, became the focus of musical activity, which often involved creating music for listening rather than dancing.

Concept album album with a theme

A concept album is an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical. Sometimes the term is applied to albums considered to be of "uniform excellence" rather than an LP with an explicit musical or lyrical motif. There is no consensus among music critics as to the specific criteria for what a "concept album" is.

Bands in this genre often feature a female lead vocalist, most commonly a soprano. There is sometimes a second, male vocalist, as is also common in gothic metal. Growling, death-metal-style vocals are not unknown, but tend to be used less frequently than in other metal genres that make use of this vocal style (however, a notable example of its usage is by Mark Jansen in Epica). Further backup up to and including a full choir is sometimes employed.

It is very common for bands, almost exclusively female-fronted bands, to feature operatic lead vocals. Such bands can be referred to as operatic symphonic metal [3] and include the likes of Epica, Nightwish (Tarja Turunen, then Floor Jansen), Haggard, [3] Therion, Operatika, Dremora, Dol Ammad, Visions of Atlantis, Aesma Daeva, Almora and countless others. The operatic style is not exclusively tied to symphonic metal, and also appears in avant-garde metal, progressive metal, gothic metal and melodic metal.

Origins and evolution

The roots of symphonic metal are found in early death metal and gothic metal bands, who made some use of symphonic elements in their music, notably Swiss extreme metal pioneers Celtic Frost on their 1987 album Into the Pandemonium , whose 1985 release To Mega Therion inspired the naming of symphonic metal pioneers Therion.

One of the earliest symphonic metal songs was "Dies Irae" by American thrash metal group Believer. [4] Appearing on their 1990 album Sanity Obscure foreshadowed the operatic approach used by the bands Therion and Nightwish. [5] According to Jeff Wagner in his book Mean Deviation , the song was a creative watershed in metal, and except for Mekong Delta, no other extreme metal band at the time had merged the genre with classical music so seamlessly. [5]

Therion's Lori Lewis and Christofer Johnsson with symphonic orchestra and choir during the live classical show at the Miskolc Opera Festival, Hungary, 2007. C. Johnsson and L. Lewis.jpg
Therion's Lori Lewis and Christofer Johnsson with symphonic orchestra and choir during the live classical show at the Miskolc Opera Festival, Hungary, 2007.

The band Therion were influential in forming the genre through their use of a live orchestra and classical compositional techniques; gradually these elements became a more important part of Therion's music than their death metal roots. Another key early influence was Finnish progressive metal band Waltari's album Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! Death Metal Symphony in Deep C . In mid-1996 Rage released Lingua Mortis , the band's first collaboration with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

Nightwish and Within Temptation released their first albums in 1997, which were heavily inspired by Therion's symphonic turn. Within Temptation was more influenced by gothic metal, and therefore musically simpler than the more power metal-influenced Nightwish, but both bands shared two key symphonic metal elements - powerful female lead vocals from Tarja Turunen and Sharon den Adel respectively, and the heavy use of classically influenced keyboard playing. Haggard, which started as a progressive death metal band, had released some demos and EPs some years ago using only their death metal style, but, in 1997, they went a step forward. They chose to change their style and to turn it into a mix of classical music with real classical and medieval instruments such as, violin, viola, cello, flute, oboe, clarinet, crumhorn, keyboards and death metal, releasing their first symphonic metal studio album.

Many new symphonic metal bands appeared or came to wide attention in the early to mid 2000s, including Rain Fell Within, After Forever, Epica, Delain, Leaves' Eyes, Xandria, and Edenbridge, all featuring the characteristic keyboards and female vocals. Power metal, with its relatively upbeat fantasy themes and stylized keyboard sounds, tended to be an important influence on these groups.

The term "symphonic metal" has sometimes been applied to individual songs or albums by bands that are primarily death metal, doom metal, gothic metal, power metal, or black metal, for example renowned black metal act Dimmu Borgir, who Simone Simons of Epica personally referenced as an inspiration.[ citation needed ] While this article has mainly discussed symphonic metal as a distinct subgenre, it is worth noting that the term is sometimes used to describe stylistic elements that can be found in nearly any heavy metal subgenre.

Symphonic metal subgenres

The term "symphonic metal" is used to denote any metal band that makes use of symphonic or orchestral elements; "symphonic metal" then is not so much a genre as a cross-generic designation. A few bands refer to themselves as "symphonic metal," particularly Aesma Daeva, and the term could probably be applied to generically ambiguous metal bands like Epica and Nightwish.

Symphonic black metal

Symphonic black metal has similar components as melodic black metal, but uses keyboarding or instruments normally found in symphonic or classical music. It can also include black metal bands that make heavy usage of atmospheric keyboarding in the music, akin to symphonic metal or gothic metal. The symphonic aspects of this genre are normally integral parts of a band, and as such are commonly used throughout the whole duration of a song. The prototypical symphonic black metal bands are Dimmu Borgir, Emperor and Carach Angren.

Symphonic power metal

Symphonic power metal refers to power metal bands that make extensive usage of keyboards, or instruments normally found in classical music, similar to symphonic metal. These additional elements are often used as key elements of the music when compared to normal power metal, contributing not only an extra layer to the music, but a greater variety of sound. Bands in this genre often feature clean vocals, with some bands adding relatively small quantities of screams or growls.

The first prototypical symphonic power metal song was "Art of Life", a twenty-nine-minute song performed by Japanese heavy metal band X Japan in 1993. Finnish band Nightwish was another band that performed early symphonic power metal songs. Songs by Nightwish that illustrate the genre well are "Wishmaster" from the album Wishmaster , "Ghost Love Score" from the album Once , "The Poet and the Pendulum" on the album Dark Passion Play and "The Greatest Show on Earth", a 24-minute song from the album Endless Forms Most Beautiful . These songs follow the epic scope and extended formal structures characteristic of power metal while making extensive use of orchestral elements.

Another band fitting this description is Rhapsody of Fire, an Italian band different from most typical symphonic metal bands in that it is not fronted by a female vocalist. With a blend of guitars, drums and extremely large soundscapes including, in their later years, a full choir and a symphonic orchestra, they take heavy influence from early classical music and in particular baroque music. Most of their albums are a part of an epic high fantasy saga. Songs by Rhapsody of Fire that illustrate the genre well are "The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight" on the album Triumph or Agony and "Emerald Sword" from the album Symphony of Enchanted Lands . Other examples of bands fitting this description are Angra, Avantasia, Dark Moor, Derdian, Dragonland, Epica, Kamelot, Pathfinder, Phoenix Rising, Sonata Arctica, Solar Crown Serenity, Theocracy, Twilight Force, and Versailles.

Symphonic gothic metal

One of the first gothic metal bands to release a full album featuring "Beauty and the Beast" vocals, where death metal vocals are contrasted with clean female vocals, was the Norwegian Theatre of Tragedy in 1995. From then on after the departure of lead singer, Liv Kristine, in 2003, she and her future husband, Alexander Krull went on to form the symphonic metal band, Leaves' Eyes. The band is one of the pioneers of the "Beauty and the Beast" vocal style scene. Other bands, such as the Dutch Within Temptation in 1996, [6] expanded on this approach. A debut album Enter was unveiled in the following year, followed shortly by an EP The Dance . [7] Both releases made use of the beauty and beast approach delivered by vocalists Sharon den Adel and Robert Westerholt. Their second full length Mother Earth was released in 2000 and dispensed entirely with the death metal vocals, instead "relying solely on den Adel's majestic vocal ability," apart from one b-side track that did not make the final album release. [7] The album was a commercial success with their lead single "Ice Queen" topping the charts in Belgium and their native Netherlands. [8] Their third album The Silent Force arrived in 2004 as an "ambitious project featuring a full orchestra and 80-voice choir accompanying the band". [9] The result was another commercial success across Europe [9] and introduced "the world of heavy guitars and female vocals" to "a mainstream audience".

Within Temptation's brand of gothic metal combines "the guitar-driven force of hard rock with the sweep and grandeur of symphonic music". [9] The critic Chad Bowar of describes their style as "the optimum balance" between "the melody and hooks of mainstream rock, the depth and complexity of classical music and the dark edge of gothic metal". [10] The commercial success of Within Temptation has since resulted in the emergence of a large number of other female-fronted gothic metal bands, particularly in the Netherlands.

Another Dutch band in the symphonic gothic metal strain is After Forever. Their debut album Prison of Desire in 2000 was "a courageous, albeit flawed first study into an admittedly daunting undertaking: to wed heavy metal with progressive rock arrangements and classical music orchestration - then top it all of with equal parts gruesome cookie-monster vocals and a fully qualified opera singer". [11] Founding member, guitarist and vocalist Mark Jansen departed After Forever only a few months after the release of this album. [12] Jansen would go on to form Epica, another Dutch band that performs a blend of gothic and symphonic metal. A debut album The Phantom Agony emerged in 2003 with music that combines Jansen's death grunts with the "angelic tones of a classically trained soprano, Simone Simons, over a lush foundation of symphonic power metal". [13] The music of Epica has been described as combination of "a dark, haunting gothic atmosphere with bombastic and symphonic music". [14] Like Within Temptation and After Forever, Epica has been known to make use of an orchestra. Their 2007 album The Divine Conspiracy was a chart success in their home country. [15]

This blend of symphonic and gothic metal has also been arrived at from the opposite direction. The band Nightwish from Finland began as a symphonic power metal act [16] and introduced gothic elements on their 2004 album Once , [17] particularly on the single "Nemo". [18] They continued to mix their style of "bombastic, symphonic and cinematic" metal with a gothic atmosphere on their next album Dark Passion Play in 2007. [19] The Swedish group Therion also introduced gothic elements to their brand of symphonic metal on their 2007 album Gothic Kabbalah . [20]

Symphonic death metal

Bands described as symphonic death metal include Ex Deo, Necronomicon, [21] Septicflesh, [22] Children of Bodom, [23] Epica, [24] and Fleshgod Apocalypse. [25] [26] Haggard's 2000 album, Awaking the Centuries , has been described as death metal-styled symphonic metal. [27] Much of Make Them Suffer's earlier material was considered symphonic death metal by Metal Injection. [28]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Therion (band) Swedish symphonic metal band

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Simone Johanna Maria Simons is a Dutch singer-songwriter. She is best known for being the lead singer of Dutch symphonic metal band Epica, where she joined at the age of seventeen, releasing seven studio albums and touring the world. In her singing career, she has also collaborated with bands such as Kamelot, Leaves' Eyes, Primal Fear, Ayreon, and Angra.

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Invisible Circles is the third studio album by Dutch symphonic metal band After Forever. It was released on 25 March 2004, by the small Dutch label Transmission Records. It is After Forever's first full-length album since the dismissal of guitarist and composer Mark Jansen, whose musical tastes had strongly influenced the sound of their first work Prison of Desire (2000) and their successful second offering Decipher (2001). In this work After Forever choose a new musical direction, mostly revolving around elements of progressive metal instead of the gothic and symphonic metal of previous albums. The creative process for Invisible Circles took more than a year and required the use of three recording studios in the Netherlands and Germany. A long tour to support the album brought the band to some of the most important European rock festivals and to Central and South America.

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METALWINGS is a Symphonic metal band from Sofia, Bulgaria. The band was formed in Autumn 2010 by lead singer and songwriter Stela Atanasova. Her idea was to combine elements of classical music with the melodic genres of metal. The style is considered as symphonic gothic metal with female operatic vocals. The band were soon joined by the guitarist and male singer Velislav Uzunov. Drummer Emilian Arsov, bassist Konstantin Uzunov and the keyboardist Angel Kitanov then joined. In December 2013, METALWINGS announced Boyan Boyadjiev as Uzunov’s replacement. Boyan also took over the male vocalist role previously filled by Uzunov. In December 2014, Boyan Boyadjiev was replaced by Grigor Kostadinov. In November 2015, METALWINGS announced Krastyo Jordanov as a second guitarist of the band. After the release of their EP "Fallen Angel In The Hell" (2016) METALWINGS announced Nikola Ivanov (Blackie) as Arsov’s replacement. In March 2018, Konstantin Uzunov was replaced by Milen Mavrov.


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