Neoclassical metal

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For the historical, original neoclassical music see Neoclassicism (music)

Neo-classical metal (also known as Shred metal) is a subgenre of heavy metal music heavily influenced by classical music in its style of playing and composing. It implies a very technical performance and the use of elements borrowed from classical music and/or by famous classical music composers.


Neo-classical metal is a concept distinct from neoclassicism in music. Real neoclassical music refers to the movement in musical modernism in which composers drew inspiration from the Classical period, popular during the years in between the two World Wars. This type of music can be seen as a direct reaction towards the prevailing trend of 19th Century Romanticism, and of the music of Richard Wagner in particular. Composers such as Igor Stravinsky[1] and Paul Hindemith[2] fused elements from the music of Classical composers, such as a return to "common practice" harmony and strict adherence to form, with their own unique "advanced" harmonic vocabularies and (perhaps most importantly) rhythmic variety.

On the other hand, neo-classical metal music does not restrict itself to a return to classical aesthetic ideals, such as equilibrium and formalism. Actually, it has more influences borrowed from the Baroque and Romantic periods than from the Classical period in music, which roughly spans from 1750 to 1810 and has among its notable proponents Mozart, Haydn, and the early Beethoven as well as Paganini and Bach. Therefore, it is not a form of Neoclassicism by its traditional definition, which may cause confusion and span discussions. Neo-classical metal treats the suffix "classical" as roughly what most people understand as classical music- the repertoire from the Baroque to the Romantism and early Modernists-, and not as a revival of the ideals from the classical period, as it is accepted in classical music. Due to this confusion, some see the label "neoclassical" as improper, misleading and even pretentious. For further discussion, see the controversy section in the end of the article.

History of the genre and influences

Although Yngwie J. Malmsteen is probably the form's best-known proponent, and the '80s decade which saw the ascension and consolidation of the genre, classical elements used in heavy metal and hard rock date back to Brian May of Queen, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Uli Jon Roth and Randy Rhoads'[3] innovations in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and progressive rock musicians have, since the origin of the genre in the late '60s, incorporated classical elements in their music. Many are classically trained, such as Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman and guitarist Steve Howe. The popularization and growth of neo-classical metal is closely related to the ascension of the Guitar Shredding movement, as many neo-classical metal guitarists took inspiration from the impressive violin solos of Niccolò Paganini.

The classically-trained Randy Rhoads displayed classical influences in his playing and was one of the first notable players to actually incorporate Classical playing techniques to innovate his guitar playing and overall technique. For the introduction to 1981's "Diary of a Madman", Rhoads borrowed heavily from Cuban classical guitar composer Leo Brouwer's "Etude #6". Like many other metal guitarists in the 1980s, Rhoads quite earnestly took up the study of musical theory and helped to solidify the minor industry of guitar pedagogy magazines (including Guitar for the Practicing Musician) that grew during the decade. The shredding movement was made popular by guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, who would transcribe and adapt classical music for the electric guitar. As a result, neo-classical metal developed as a standalone metal sub-genre.

Queen has also been cited as a major influence on the genre by Yngwie Malmsteen.


Since its early foundations, neo-classical metal has attracted a great number of very loyal listeners and admirers - especially among guitar players - but, nevertheless, faces extensive criticism from both popular and classical musicians, listeners and scholars. Some of the most common controversies:

Naming controversy

The use of the term "neoclassical" to describe this genre of metal continues to generate debate. Western classical music, historically defined as erudite music and contrasted with popular and folk music[4] , spans from the Low Middle Ages to the present. Within classical music, neoclassicism refers to the style which developed in the early 20th century that employed some of the aesthetic ideals and formal structures of the Classical period. Composers who worked within this well-defined framework found it suited to modern objectives including explorations of 'new' harmony and rhythm. Its best-known proponent was Igor Stravinsky. In a similar fashion, Neoclassical artists and architects work with perceived former ideals of proportions and equilibrium, especially those associated with ancient Greece. Neo-classical metal, however, uses the word "neoclassical" differently: here the "-classical" refers to the whole Western classical music. This is also the subject of controversy as it implies a view that classical music is something long gone. For these reasons, it is more commonly known as shred metal, or simply shred.

Depth of the classical music influence

Popular music has always been borrowing elements from erudite music since the Middle Ages, and the contrary is also true. Famous and important composers have been using elements from folk and popular extensively, and popular musicians have always transposed rich ideas from classical music.

Despite the fact that many metal musicians have cited classical composers as inspiration, neo classical metal is not the modern descendant of classical music.[5] As many critics and analysts have observed, heavy metal musicians (including neo-classical metal ones) focus on and borrow only superficial aspects of classical music, such as motifs, melodies, and scales. Heavy metal bands, including progressive and shred metal bands, generally do not try to observe the basic compositional and aesthetical exigencies of classical music. Classical music is erudite music, whereas heavy metal (including neo-classical metal) is popular music.[6]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Arnold, Denis (1983). " Art Music, Art Song," in The New Oxford Companion to Music, Volume 1: A-J, Oxford University Press, p. P.111, . ISBN 0-19-311316-3
  5. ^ Historical classical music's true descendant is contemporary classical music.
  6. ^ Cook, Nicholas, and Nicola Dibben (2001). "Musicological Approaches to Emotion," in Music and Emotion. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-1926-3188-8, p. 56.