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Neo-classical Metal

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Title: Neo-classical Metal  
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Subject: Lori Linstruth
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Neo-classical Metal

Neo-classical metal
Stylistic origins Heavy metal, speed metal, progressive rock, shredding
Cultural origins Late 1970s and early 1980s, Sweden, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina
Typical instruments Electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards
Other topics

Neo-classical 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 heavy metal music. Deep Purple pioneered the sub-genre with the famous Concerto for Group and Orchestra composed by Jon Lord. Later, Yngwie Malmsteen became the most notable musician in the sub-genre, and contributed greatly to the development of the style in the 1980s.[1][Note 2] Other notable players in the genre are Jason Becker, Tony McAlpine, Vinnie Moore, and Timo Tolkki.[1][Note 3]


Neo-classical 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 the movement in musical modernism in which composers gained influence from the Classical period. This period roughly spans the years from 1750 to 1810 with the best known composers of strictly classical music including Mozart and Haydn and also Beethoven during the early part of his career before he laid the musical foundations of the Romantic movement in music. The Classical period was a time in which rigidly structured musical forms such as the sonata, symphony and string quartet were developed. Musical neoclassicism developed roughly a century after the end of the Classical period and peaked during the years in between the two World Wars. It was a reaction against late 19th and early 20th-century Romanticism as embodied in the works of composers such as Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler who had stretched both musical language and musical form to produce massive works where the limits of tonality were broken. Neoclassical composers include both Igor Stravinsky[2] and Paul Hindemith.[3]

On the other hand, neo-classical 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. Neo-classical metal musicians such as Yngwie J. 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. Neo-classical 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.

History of the genre and influences

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were many works that influenced this subgenre, being Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra 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 Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth and Randy Rhoads. But was in the 1980s when neo-classical metal definitely became a distinct subgenre.

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 neo-classical metal style. The popularization and growth of neo-classical metal is closely related to the ascension of the guitar "shredding" movement.

The "golden age" of neo-classical 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 5] and still-reigning king of neo-classical metal,[4] was brought to the United States by Varney to sign with Shrapnel Records in 1982.

Many subsequent Shrapnel artists,[1][Note 6] including Tony Macalpine,[1] Vinnie Moore,[1] Joey Tafolla, Paul Gilbert, David T. Chastain, Jason Becker,[1] and Marty Friedman, emerged in the latter '80s as exemplars of the neo-classical style.

In recent years, appreciation of the neo-classical 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 neo-classical metal performers are Vitalij Kuprij, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Herman Li, Cacophony, Symphony X, Mekong Delta, Rata Blanca, Narnia, Rhapsody of Fire, Time Requiem, At Vance, Galneryus, Mastercastle, Versailles, Sound Horizon, Necrophagist, Heavenly, Magic Kingdom, Concerto Moon, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Pier Gonella, Adagio, Dark Moor, Warmen, Ayreon, Artension and Obscura. Even more recently there has been a sudden burst of slight neo-classical influence within mainstream metal acts such as Children of Bodom, Protest the Hero and The Human Abstract.

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.

See also




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