Is punk rock related to heavy metal

The intermediate realm between heavy metal and classical music

translation Tobias Ruderer cover photo Peter Nicolai Arbo, Valkyrien (Public Domain)

Metallica may be a highly acclaimed heavy metal band, and the most commercially successful one at that. But their career is in large part due to the fact that they keep scratching the status quo: be it through lawsuits involving millions against Napster or through abrupt stylistic U-turns.

Nevertheless, in 2000 the decision to employ a cellist as support Prelude - to take on board for the Germany tour in 2000, hardly any pierced-raised eyebrows provided. It is all the more astonishing, since Daniel Müller-Schott always played an entire Bach suite at the performances, and that is really hardly the correct sound for the "Circle of Death" like that Mosh pit for the most die-hard fans. Or is it?

Even if the two “genres” appear on the surface to be incompatible or even completely incompatible, the distant relationship between heavy metal and classic is as old as heavy metal itself. Genetically, heavy metal has its origins in the blues and rock of the 1960s. He took the elements of a counterculture in its prime, turned it up to the max, provided it with super-fast, through-the-chord changes and croaked, aggressive vocals from the likes of Ozzy Osbourne from Black Sabath, Ian Gillan from Deep Purple and Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. The music was, on the surface at least, an even more direct affront to the old world establishment, whose music was, of course, the classical canon. Because of the occult images and themes and the regular use of the tritone, heavy metal became synonymous with "devil music". No Christian chamber music niceties, well.

By the 1970s, metal was an autonomous musical genre, with a highly developed ecosystem of musicians and fans. Nowadays it's also big business with myriad sub-genres - Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal, Power Metal and - Neoclassical Metal.

Deep Purple's Richie Blackmore was the first in the 1970s to cross the seemingly defensive rifts between classical and metal by subtracting baroque glamor and medieval influences for his virtuoso guitar playing. Even if he had only taken classical guitar lessons for a year, he built his guitar playing on it in later years, especially with his proto-baroque heavy metal group Rainbow.


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"I was never sure where I wanted to be," he told Guitar World magazine in 1991. “The blues were too limited for me. I was always of the opinion - with all due respect, the B.B. King is due - that you couldn't just play with three chords. On the other hand, classical music was always too strictly regulated for me. I always played in the space, somehow in a musical no man's land.

Classical music was crucial for the development of heavy metal as an independent genre in the tradition of rock ’n’ roll. If you type in "classical metal guitarist" in the Internet search, you are exposed to a rush of YouTube films with long-haired metal representatives who play their fingers bloody with arrangements by Mozart, Vivaldi and the musician who is most revered among metal heads is due to his virtuosity and the closeness to the bodily, which is repeatedly imputed to him in various representations. What you see leaves you speechless, often due to insane tastelessness, but now and then also because of technical ability. This is called the rapid fire technique shredding (cut up), and their forefathers are Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen and - most pompous - the Swede Yngwie Malmsteen. You have shaped a generation of would-be Paganini metallers who all too often have perfection over passion.

"I really don't like this bad show-off at all." Richard Tognetti laughs through the phone from Australia. He heads the Australian Chamber Orchestra (the group is also known as »classic rock stars«). Tognetti has made a career at the highest level in the classical world. But he also grew up with hard rock in the working class town of Wollongong. Now he's exploring the connections between popular styles and classical styles, at the time of the interview he is preparing the performance of a new work by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greeenwood, Water, in Sydney in October 2014.


"There seems to be a special connection between these legends, Lord of the Rings, Wagner and Heavy Metal."


"In paganism (paganism) and in paganiniism, classic and heavy metal meet," jokes Tognetti. “Seriously, of course Wagner is the important interface. The huge orchestra at Wagner and the overwhelming force of the heavy metal bands have something in common. It goes back to gods, monsters and the origins of the ring cycle ... and Iceland too! The Icelandic sagas, pagan mythology, also the Kalevala (a Finnish epic based on many myths) - so many metal bands refer to it exactly. There seems to be a special connection between these legends Lord of the rings, Wagner and Heavy Metal. "

The Nordic countries in particular are known for their preference for heavy metal, and there are many successful bands there who also melt down classical music, such as the Finnish »opera metal« pioneers Nightwish - whose first singer Tarja Turenen singing opera at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and the Karlsruhe University of Music. Therion from Sweden is also such a metal band that taps a lot from Nordic mythology and classical music - from sampling classical passages to the massive use of classical instruments.

There is an argument, especially in Northern Europe, according to which heavy metal naturally follows the classical tradition - as European music that uses modern popular instruments, but is a birth from Wagner, Shostakovich and Sibelius. For the proponents of this thesis, the Ritt der Wallküren is just as much a metal anthem as it is a classic masterpiece.

"What really interests me musically rather than just theoretically is the connection between the discomfort and fear that one gets when listening to the Second Wiender School with Webern, Schönberg and Berg, and from there on to Shostakovich through to punk and metal." , continues Tognetti. He recently tried a heavy metal / classical collaboration to play works by Wagner.

“When you talk about the power of music, you have to see Metallica play in Moscow. If the lead singer would say, here, this is the Kremlin, come on, we're walking in there, there would be an overthrow of the government. That's the power of heavy metal. Every musician wants to achieve something like that, doesn't it? "

Metal and classical music share one or the other preference and sometimes a tendency towards drama, which they also want to convey to the audience. The two genres also create mutual respect for each other due to the devotion of their respective fans. Except - maybe - for jazz, country and techno there are hardly anywhere such loyal followers. The continued sustainable success of the heavy metal industry is based as much on merchandise as it is on selling music - and the industry is just geared towards metal. This consequent limitation leads some metal fans to classical music, which for many represents a similarly profiled ecosystem.


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Many are satisfied with the fact that this is a one-way street: from "pop" musicians who upgrade their own reputation through "serious" music. But this overlooks, for example, that many of the heavy metal superstars have a classic education, but consciously choose a completely different career. Apocalyptica, the cello trio with drums, is a heavy metal "brand" through and through: The band is on classic metal world tours and has sold over four million albums.

"Metal and classical music are just styles of expression that are sometimes called 'genre'", this is the thesis of the American guitarist Tony MacAlpine. He graduated from the Springfield Conservatory of Music in Connecticut, USA, with a degree in classical guitar, names Chopin, Scriabin, Liszt, Bach and Rachmaninoff as the strongest influences - and is one of the most important heavy metal guitarists in the world. On the now legendary album Edge of Insanity then there are also Chopins Preludes op. 16 and 28 in addition to Schrammel hymns such as The Witch and the Priest.

“I never really thought about the fact that I could offend any listener if I did a Chopin prelude in the middle of a heavy metal instrumental program. These contrasts within the material actually make it much easier to see what similarities my compositional style has with Liszt's. I have played so much by these composers that it is natural for me to express an equivalent in another genre. "


Apocalyptica: Path


Approaches seem to be becoming increasingly normal. The wedding between Bach and Metallica seemed a bit weird in 2000, but in 2008 Daniel Müller-Schott was invited to the Roskilde Festival, where Metallica, Iron Maiden, Tool, Slayer, Slipknot, Megadeth, Black Sabbath and Judath Priest all metal greats have played. He played Shostakovich, Britten and Stravinsky with the Copenhagen Philharmonic. "The essence, the inner musical message, came across fully," he later described. “It was intense. I had the impression that a window was opening. ”It may be a window, but slowly more and more seemingly impregnable barricades between classical and heavy metal are being thrown down. (After all, it is called heavy metal.)

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