Tag Archives: Metal

Sweden, Home of the Metal Gods

A common refrain in heavy metal music refers to the “gods of heavy metal”, which is probably a sign of the influence of paganism on the genre. I have no idea if the heavy metal gods actually exist, but if they do, I’m pretty sure they live in Sweden. Why, you ask? Let me explain.

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a decent chance you’re a fan of heavy metal. However, if you’re a Swede that’s reading this blog, there’s an excellent chance of you being a metal fan. The Swedes are MASSIVE fans of heavy metal. Just check out this nifty info graphic showing the number of metal bands per 100,000 people in countries around the world:

Metal Band Popularity

Now, technically, Finland has more metal bands per capita than Sweden, and many of them are excellent, but the quality of bands that Sweden has produced is incredible. Bathory helped establish both the black metal and Viking metal genres. Candlemass was instrumental in pioneering doom metal. HammerFall is one of Europe’s most successful power metal bands. Gothenburg, Sweden birthed the incredible genre of melodic death metal, which started with At the Gates, Dark Tranquility, and In Flames, and the country has held a stranglehold on the genre ever since through powerhouses like Amaranthe, Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Scar Symmetry, and Soilwork.

People in Sweden are crazy over heavy metal, and they know it. A guy was clinically diagnosed with “heavy metal addiction” and awarded government funded disability benefits to help supplement his job as a dishwasher (during which his employer lets him rock out to Slayer). A popular venture capitalist released a book on Heavy Metal Management, which was the bestselling book in Sweden in December of the year it was released and sold over 10,000 e-books in the first two weeks of January alone!

So why is Sweden so metal crazy? Well, if the fine folks over at Citylab would have you believe that the trend has something to do with the wealth of nations, given that wealthier countries around the world are generally more fond of heavy metal. But, as they themselves admit, correlation does not equal causation. I have an alternative theory.

The gods of heavy metal live there.

Why would they do that? Well, let me put forth a few other seemingly random correlations:

Gorgeous, no?

–       Sweden is a land of intense natural beauty. Seriously, check the place out. It’s gorgeous. Let me also mention that many old pagan religions emphasize a strong bond with nature, sometimes making it a fundamental point of their religion. Coincidence?

–       As beautiful as it is, Sweden is also unbelievably, bitterly cold, and in the winter months, parts of Sweden are bathed in eternal darkness. Sounds like the stuff of metal songs, does it not?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, well what about Antarctica? It’s super dark and cold there, and some might call it beautiful.

True, but here’s the kicker: Vikings.

Scandinavia was the ancestral home of these fierce warriors, who believed in paganism, devoted themselves to Thor and Odin, the gods of war and death, and believed strongly in the ideals of battle, kinship, and mysticism. Now, you could say that heavy metal merely is a modern manifestation of many of these same ideals, and that the genre is so popular in Sweden due to the lingering influence of the Vikings on the culture. Or perhaps, the metal gods, those same ones who granted the Vikings their strength and power, are now granting that same boon to heavy metal musicians, who are harnessing said power and converting it into incredible, earth-shattering music.

I mean, honestly, which is more plausible? I rest my case.

Image credit: Featured image by Mazurw (CC-BY-2.5) via Wikimedia Commons. Post images by unknown (CC BY-SA 2.0) and netzanette (CC BY-NC 2.0) via Flickr.

The 10 Best Melodic Death Metal Songs

I’m a huge fan of melodic death metal. Don’t ask me why, but it’s always appealed to me ever since I first heard In Flames’ Colony back at the tail end of the 90’s. So what better way to celebrate my love of the genre than to compile a list of the ten best melodic death metal songs of all time?

First of all, all the usual caveats to these sorts of lists apply, namely:

–       I can only judge those songs that I have heard,

–       I get to decide what qualifies as melodic death metal, and

–       These are my opinions, nothing more.

I also decided that I would only feature one song per band. If I were to be of the opinion that the top 10 best songs in the genre were all from In Flames or Children of Bodom (which I’m not), the list would be rather boring. Better to feature each artist’s (arguably) best work.

Also, given that I’m only presenting the top ten, there’s some notable bands that got left out of my list, including but not limited to Amon Amarth, At the Gates, and Solution .45.

Now, the list:

#10 – Arch Enemy – Stigmata

I’m not a fan of Arch Enemy. Their music was always a touch heavier and more aggressive than most of the other melodic death metal bands, and Angela Gossow’s voice just grates on me. They’re just not for me. That said, however, the instrumental track “Stigmata” is a classic melodeth tune. Short, sweet, with a primary focus on the trademark melodic death metal wailing guitars.

#9 – Dark Tranquility – The Sun Fired Blanks

Dark Tranquility is one of the three godfathers of melodic death metal and the only band of the three to have released nothing but true melodeth music since their inception. While they are legendary in the genre, I’ve always found that their music just didn’t have quite the same impact as that of other latecomers. Like many other bands on this list, they’ve incorporated progressive elements into their music over the years, but it never really fully worked. Take 1999’s Projector which blends melodeth and goth rock, two very disparate musical genres. The album as a whole is just odd, but it does feature arguably their best song in “The Sun Fired Blanks”.

#8 – Blood Stain Child – Sirius VI

Believe it or not, not all of the best melodic death metal bands come out of Europe, just 90+ percent of them. Blood Stain Child is a Japanese outfit that blends melodic death metal with electronica and J-pop. I guarantee you have never heard anything quite like them. They are awesome, however.

#7 – Raintime – Apeiron

Italian band Raintime fuses melodic death metal with power metal in spectacular fashion. They’re not particularly well-known, but they should be. “Apeiron”, off of their 2007 album Flies & Lies, melds the best elements of both genres and is a fun sonic blast from start to finish.

6 – Disarmonia Mundi – Celestial Furnace

Another Italian Band, Disarmonia Mundi is basically comprised of two dudes, Ettore Rigotti and Claudio Ravinale, one of whom (Rigotti) pretty much plays all the instruments in the entire band. They then got renowned death metal vocalist Björn “Speed” Strid (of Soilwork) to do some singing for them, and the result was a truly masterful album.

5 – Amaranthe – Invincible

A choice that is sure to draw ire. Amaranthe is a strange beast, a mixture of melodic death metal, power metal, and pop. Some people hate them, some people love them. I’m in the latter camp, as evidenced by my inclusion of their song “Invincible” as my number five pick. In my opinion, their most recent album, The Nexus, is among the most entertaining metal releases of all time.

4 – In Flames – Embody the Invisible

I’ve talked about In Flames before. They are without a doubt my favorite melodic death metal band of all time. Virtually any of their songs from their album Colony, or roughly half of the songs from Clayman and Whoracle could have made this list. And so, it’s a little surprising that my favorite song of theirs, “Embody the Invisible”, only came in at number four on my list. I think that just speaks to the quality of choices one through three.

3 – Children of Bodom – Follow the Reaper

Children of Bodom is another band that just seems to produce unbelievably awesome, earth-shattering melodic death metal by the fistful (although they don’t strictly consider themselves to play melodeth music at all). Their 2000 album Follow the Reaper is one of the best in the genre, and the title track from said album leads the charge.

2 – Soilwork – Needlefeast

Ahh, Soilwork. I don’t consider their body of work to be as consistently amazing as some of the other bands on this list, but boy, when they’re on, they are ON. I strongly considered including “The Living Infinite I” and “II” from their most recent double album (titled The Living Infinite – go buy it, now!), but ultimately, Needlefeast won out. I can’t praise this song highly enough. Just strap in and enjoy the ride.

1 – Scar Symmetry – Ghost Prototype I – Measurement of Thought

The number one honor, however, goes to Scar Symmetry, featuring possibly the most versatile vocalist in the genre, Christian Älvestam. This song is pure joy to listen to from start to finish.

Well, hopefully you enjoyed the list. If you want easy access to all the songs in one place, check out the YouTube playlist of these songs that I put together.

As always, feel free to argue my choices in the comments.

Image credit: Featured image by soaronski (CC BY-NC 2.0), via Flickr.

Awesome Tracks – Amaranthe – 1.000.000 Lightyears

Amaranthe is a band I stumbled across recently. Having released their first album just two years ago, they’re a relatively new group who has developed an incredibly unique sound, a sort of heavily pop-infused mixture of melodic death metal and power metal.

If that sounds strange, well, it is, but it’s also incredibly awesome, although others disagree with me vehemently. Their slick, tailored sound has earned Amaranthe quite a bit of ire from certain corners of the metal fanatics’ kingdom, but you know my philosophy about metal haters: they need to get a life, enjoy the things they like, and stop hating the things they don’t.

So where does the name Amaranthe come from? Well apparently ‘amaranthe’ comes from the Greek ‘amarantha’ meaning unfading, and amaranth (with no ‘e’) is a type of flowering plant that produces a seed that is high in protein and is a staple in some parts of South America. The band, however, apparently chose the name Amaranthe as it had a ‘mysterious’ ring to it – that, and they had to abandon their initial choice of Avalanche due to copyright issues.

Anyway, on to this week’s song: “1.000.000 Lightyears”. (Yes, that means one million. Amaranthe is Swedish, and it’s common in most parts of Europe to use a period rather than a comma as the delimiter). There’s no official music video for the song, but the band did release a fun video of themselves performing the song in Japan mixed with footage of their trip there. As always, I’ve added my own running commentary after the video.

0:24 – The first singer is Jake E, the band’s clean male vocalist.

0:27 – That’s the band’s clean female vocalist, Elize Ryd.

0:30 – And finally, the band’s harsh vocalist, Andreas Solveström.

0:39 – Keep an eye on the bassist’s facial expressions throughout. Here, he shows off his crazy face.

0:44 – Bassist (in the middle) is not amused.

0:46 – Now he’s sporting the ‘dude bro’ face.

1:16 – Note the fan sporting the most metal of all personal accessories: the leopard print man purse.

2:29 – The guitarist, Olof Mörck, is a very underrated soloist, IMO.

2:52 – Take note: the only acceptable piece of clothing for a heavy metal fan is a black T-shirt.

3:00 – Wait – there’s an interloper. A girl in a school uniform! How did she get in?

Well, that’s it for today. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Image credit: Featured image by Cecil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Better Know a Sub-Genre – Symphonic Metal

Ever wished you could listen to a version of The Phantom of the Opera infused with Trans-Siberian Orchestra-like musical sensibilities? If yes, then congrats, you’re a fan of symphonic metal, the focus of this iteration of ‘Better Know a Sub-Genre’.

Symphonic metal is a heavy metal sub-genre featuring symphonic elements, such as acoustic guitars, keyboards, orchestral accompaniments, and operatic vocals. The genre is heavily influenced by gothic metal, power metal, and classical music, and frequently features important characteristics including:

–       Prevalent use of keyboards and/or piano

–       Classical influence in both guitar melody and song composition

–       Use of orchestral instruments (woodwinds, horns, and strings)

–       An operatic, bombastic sound

–       Thematic elements of fantasy and mythology, often with dark undertones

–       A female singer, usually in the mezzo-soprano range

Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation
Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation

While metal bands have used the occasional symphonic element in songs for decades, symphonic metal as a genre did not start to develop until the second half of the 1990s. In 1996, the band Therion, previously a death metal band, decided to step off the beaten path and experiment with a more symphonic sound on their album Theli, which featured two full choirs. The following year, symphonic metal frontrunners Nightwish and Within Temptation both released their first albums, each featuring female vocalists, in Tarja Turunen and Sharon den Adel respectively, and heavy use of classically-inspired keyboards. In the early 2000s, symphonic metal started to emerge as a mainstream genre, with numerous similar female-fronted bands emerging, including After Forever, Delain, Epica, Leaves’ Eyes, and Xandria.

Like many recently developed metal genres, symphonic metal emerged primarily in northern Europe, with the Netherlands being a particular hotbed of activity (Within Temptation, After Forever, Delain, and Epica are all Dutch). Several other symphonic metals bands hail from Germany and Austria, with some penetration of the genre into the traditional black/death metal countries of Finland and Sweden.

Simone Simons of Epica
Simone Simons of Epica

Given the influence of both power metal and goth metal on symphonic metal, it’s no surprise to find that some symphonic bands lean more heavily towards one base genre or the other. The two most famous symphonic metal bands, Nightwish and Within Temptation, are a perfect example of this dichotomy, with Nightwish initially featuring the heavier guitars, epic scope, and fantastic themes of power metal while Within Temptation featured darker themes and a more gloomy, atmospheric sound. More than 15 years since their inception, both bands have refined their sound, with Nightwish becoming more bombastic and Within Temptation becoming both more folksy and more pop-oriented.

Another common element in symphonic metal is the “beauty and the beast” style vocals, an import from goth metal that features vocal harmonies between a female, operatic singer and a male singer performing death growls. This style was pioneered by the Norwegian band Theater of Tragedy, and while Theater of Tragedy’s lead singer went on to found the symphonic metal band Leaves’ Eyes, Theater of Tragedy remains solidly a goth metal outfit.

My personal favorite symphonic metal bands include Nightwish and the quartet of Dutch bands previously mentioned, but some other notable bands include Rhapsody of Fire (another heavily power metal-inspired group), Sirenia (a heavily goth metal-inspired band), and Dimmu Borgir (a black metal band with substantial symphonic elements).

Given that I’m always on the lookout for more quality music, feel free to fill the comments section with suggestions of more bands in the vein of Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica, etc. Also, let me know what sub-genre, if any, you’d like for me to tackle next.

Image credit: Featured image by cgo2 (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr. Post images by Fabrizio Zago (CC BY-SA 2.0) and rjforster (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via Flickr.

The 17 Best Heavy Metal Guitar Solos

Here is it, the definitive list of the 17 best guitar solos in all of heavy metal. Before we begin, a few notes of interest:

–       What makes a great guitar solo? Is it technical proficiency? Difficulty? Heaviness? Seamless cohesion into a song? I think all of those things are important. But to me, the most important aspect of a guitar solo is it’s lasting impact. Does it stick in your mind long after you’ve heard the song? Does it keep you up at night with its awesome, face-melting delivery? Does it spring to mind like a long-lost friend as soon as the song reaches the appropriate moment? If yes, then it’s a great solo.

–       Despite the conviction of my intro, this is not actually a definitive list. There’s a near 100% chance that there exist solos deserving of acclaim that are not on this list due to a combination of writer ignorance, neglect, and creative differences. Like music reviews, ‘best of’ lists are subjective horse slobber, but they are both fun to read and to write, so I figured “Why not…”

–       Why 17? Because that’s all I felt like compiling.

Have I answered all your questions? No? Doesn’t matter! On to the list:

17. Under a Glass Moon – Dream Theater

Dream Theater burst onto the progressive metal scene with 1992’s Images and Words, which showcased both their amazing technical ability and creativity. “Under a Glass Moon” is a brilliant song that features not only a great guitar solo, but a fantastic keyboard solo as well.

16. Through the Fire and the Flames – Dragonforce

There’s a reason Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and the Flames” garnered worldwide fame as the hardest song in the hit video game Guitar Hero. It’s blisteringly fast, and the guitar work is so furious and intricate throughout that it’s almost hard to distinguish where the chorus stops and the solo starts (hint: right after the “whoah whoah whaooooh” part). When the solo does hit, strap yourself in for a two minute long, dual guitar sonic assault.

15. Paradise Lost – Symphony X

Sometimes, more is less, as Symphony X shows in “Paradise Lost.” While Symphony X at times showcases technical ability on par with Dream Theater, this solo is far simpler. However, its seamlessly perfect fit and soulful melody land it at number 15 in this list.

14. No More Tears – Ozzy Ozbourne

Zakk Wylde is now a well-known heavy metal guitarist in his own right, but he first rose to prominence as a member of Ozzy Ozbourne’s crew. In “No More Tears”, he produced a near perfect solo – short, sweet, melodic, and heavy. Having it follow a short, mellow musical interlude was a stroke of genius.

13. Rainbow in the Dark – Dio

“Rainbow in the Dark” is often regarded as Dio’s best song, and the solo is an important part of why. It’s fast, has structured layers, and is executed flawlessly. Traditional, early 80’s metal just doesn’t get any better than this.

12. Round and Round – RATT

People don’t often associate hair metal bands with amazing guitar solos, but Ratt’s “Round and Round” is a notable exception. What the solo lacks in technical proficiency, it more than makes up for in brilliant composition. It fits the song like a glove, and if you needed evidence of the band’s technical ability, you need look no further than the song’s second solo, which sadly fades out partway through.

11. Painkiller – Judas Priest

Judas Priest is one of the most influential bands in all of metal, but in the late 80s, a couple of sub-par releases forced the band to reconsider their sound and try something new. The result was 1990’s power/speed metal hybrid Painkiller. Enjoy.

10. Rock Bottom – UFO

Is it metal? Well, I’ll answer that another day, but you can probably guess what my feelings are. Regardless, it features an absolutely brilliant guitar solo by Michael Schenker that just goes on and on and on without losing anything in terms of intensity or precision.

9. Holy Wars…The Punishment Due – Megadeth

Megadeth has always been somewhat underrated in terms of their guitar work, or at least as underrated as one of the most important and successful metal bands of all time can be. In “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due,” lead guitarist Marty Friedman teases with a few short solo bursts before bringing the pain with a furious solo to finish out the song. Not only is the solo fantastic, but it’s one of Megadeth’s best songs overall.

8. Cemetery Gates – Pantera

Normally, it’s the top ten of any list that really shines, but in my opinion, it’s these top 8 that truly stand head and shoulders above the rest. The first of the best is Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates,” a hauntingly melodic song that I believe is one of the best ever in all of metal, bar none. The solo, which starts at around the five-minute mark, is so powerful and so memorable, that I can recall it’s every note and nuance, despite my complete ignorance of how to play guitar. Yes, really.

7. 2 Minutes to Midnight – Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden, apart from being one of the best metal bands of all time, is also notable for being one of the first bands to reject the idea of a band needing a “lead” guitarist and a “rhythm” guitarist, instead using two simultaneous leads in Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Their ability to weave notes together into layered melodies produced some spectacular results at times, “2 Minutes to Midnight” being one of the best.

6. Lines in the Sand – Dream Theater

John Petrucci, Dream Theater’s lead guitarist, is one of the best guitarists ever in any genre, and he proves it here in 1997’s “Lines in the Sand.” This solo is so good, it makes me want to cry.

3. Fade to Black, Master of Puppets, Orion – Metallica

Forget songs 4 and 5, as the number 3 song is a three-way tie featuring Metallica’s best efforts. Metallica is generally considered the greatest metal band of all time, and part of the reason for that has always been Metallica’s fundamental understanding of the need for balance. Heaviness must be balanced by quiet, and aggression must be balanced by melody. This, in addition to fantastic composition, is what made solos on “Fade to Black”, “Master of Puppets”, and “Orion” so memorable. Enjoy them, as each is a shining beacon of the brilliance of metal.

2. Powerslave – Iron Maiden

As fantastic as Metallica’s solos are, their brilliance still couldn’t land them in the top two. Instead, the runner-up honor goes to Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave.” Though Iron Maiden, as one of the most important bands in the new wave of british heavy metal, is usually pigeonholed as traditional heavy metal, the fact is that in many ways, Iron Maiden was (and still is) a progressive metal band, and Powerslave was their first real progressive metal album.  Here, Murray and Smith again weave a radiant sonic tapestry together, rife with classical guitar influences but possessing all the full force of heavy metal. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

1. Tornado of Souls – Megadeth

Well, we’ve reached number one on my list of the 17 best heavy metal guitar solos, and though I believe Metallica and Iron Maiden to be the two greatest metal bands of all time, the honor of the best guitar solo in metal goes to Marty Friedman of Megadeth. This solo is perfectly crafted. It features everything you could possibly want from a solo: speed, difficulty, flawless composition, fantastic song integration, heaviness, power, and aggression without sacrificing melody, not to mention it features a minute long run-up to boost anticipation before the solo. Sheer perfection. So congrats Megadeth on being number 1. Enjoy!

One final note of interest: of the four bands that landed on my list more than once, three of the four had songs selected from the same album (Iron Maiden’s Powerslave, Megadeth’s Rust in Peace, and Metallica’s Master of Puppets). I have listened to virtually the entire catalog of songs released by all three bands, and yet their best solos, in my opinion, came from singular albums. I guess it just goes to show that when a band is in a zone, it’s capable of masterful music.

Anyway, feel free to lambast me in the comments for omitting your favorite metal solos.

Image credit: Featured image by Lilly M pl.wiki: Lilly M real name: Małgorzata Miłaszewska (Own work) (CC-BY-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.