A Study of Neoclassical Through the Music of Yngwie Malmsteen and Exmortus

Was that headline pretentious enough to compliment the stereotypes associated with Classical music or the Metal sub-genre equivalent Neo-Classical? No? Well fuck you. I study music theory for fun these days! Though that said, it's not like I get much of a chance to put what I've been learning into practice lately. Damn it!

My love for various hybrids of Classical and Metal dates back to when I was just discovering what I loved most about music in general back in Middle School. What these forms of musical expression have in common is far more important than what's different. In fact recent studies into what music fans' brains are doing when listening to their favorite tunes show that fans of metal and classical were the most similar and looked for similar qualities in the music they listened to.

When I was in seventh grade I took orchestra as my elective and chose to learn violin. At the same time I was delving into the music I heard so much as a child - Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, and Sepultura were just a few bands that I have memories of listening to as a young child on my brother-in-law's stereo system. I didn't continue playing violin after that first year. Nothing will kill a metal head's enjoyment of playing in a school orchestra quite like disco. Soon after I was playing guitar and the rest was history.

Here are some examples of bands working with classical musicians for live performances. Metallica had worked with Michael Kamen, conductor of the San Francisco Symphany Orchestra first on the orchestra parts of "Nothing Else Matters" and later for their live album featuring the SFSO 'S&M'. KISS had released 'KISS Symphony: ALIVE IV' accompanying the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I'd heard several of the tracks originally when they appeared in the video game Tony Hawk's Underground. Both of the aforementioned live albums also saw video releases and the following couple of years I was listening to many more bands that would blend metal and classical both in the studio and live and in the world of black metal Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth being two such examples. By 2003 both bands had recorded full albums accompanied by orchestras. Much more recently the trend of performing live with classical musicians has continued as Dimmu Borgir has released a double disc DVD 'Forces of the Northern Night' and fellow Norwegian black metal act Satyricon were accomplanied by a full choir for 'At the Opera'.

For a different take on the blending classical music with metal I'll be reviewing the 80's shredder Yngwie Malmsteen and opener Exmortus (pay close to the spelling) two very contrasting styles of neo-classical metal that rather than being accompanied by scores of classical musicians and instead injects the classical stylings directly into the metal guitarists repertoire. Exmortus is a four piece from California blending technical death metal and neo-classical in a twin guitar virtuoso style that would have gotten Beethoven to bang his head even though he was, you know... deaf.

Their lyrics remind me greatly of such acts as Manowar and 3 Inches of Blood. Conjuring images of orcs and swords. Their antics on stage as such as the two guitarist fretting each others instruments during one of their songs as well their blend of musical genres remind me greatly of Children of Bodom especially COB's material pre-Hate Crew Deathroll when that band's classical feel was much more apparent. Their cover of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" Act 3 on their album Slave to the Sword definitely stood out among their set of original songs. That said their full catalog as well as their live show is certainly worth a listen.

The headliner, electric guitar giant Yngwie Malmsteen was a bit of what I expected with a few surprises thrown in. That the man took up the spotlight was a give-in, the backing band nearly hidden to the audience on the far left side of the House of Blues. The songs themselves sounded to me less than the full experiences and rather sounded like they were excerpts that ran into one another.

Malmsteen takes to center stage and shows off to the crowd. And if it's not obvious I'm a big fan of an artists' antics during a live performance. His were impressive in that he'd perform them flawlessly time and time again. Rather than simply flicking or tossing picks into the crowd he's toss them and then kick them even further. Over and over again. Tossing the guitar around, bumping it in order to mess with the feedback in an attempt to make it at least more musical. Wow.

My only beef with his performance was the haphazard way the set progressed, and the way that the band was as hidden as they could possibly be. The keyboard player who was the singer for the two half songs with lyrics might as well have been completely absent for anyone at the bar. That said I do understand the idea. You're here for one guy and the band would only block off the backdrop of dummy Marshall heads and cabinets that shit's expensive to take onto the road with you after all. That was sarcasm by the way. Except the cost- though less than if they were fully loaded.

And the end of the day, I was glad to have been there. The opener was kick ass and I enjoyed Yngwie more than I was expecting to. Go out of your way to find out if either is to your taste and good day to you metal heads.

Leave a reply