Heavy metal is a genre known for its hard-hitting riffs, thunderous drums, and aggressive vocals. But what happens when you add an orchestra to the mix? The result is symphonic metal, a subgenre of heavy metal that combines the power and intensity of metal with the epic grandeur of classical music.
Symphonic metal has become increasingly popular over the past few decades, with bands like Nightwish, Epica, and Within Temptation leading the charge.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the key characteristics of symphonic metal, explore the evolution of the subgenre, and examine its impact on popular culture and beyond.
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Key Characteristics of Symphonic Metal
One of the defining characteristics of symphonic metal is its use of orchestral instrumentation. This can include everything from strings and brass to woodwinds and percussion. Many symphonic metal bands also incorporate choirs or operatic vocals, creating a truly grand and majestic sound.
Use of Operatic Vocals
Another hallmark of symphonic metal is its use of operatic vocals. Many symphonic metal vocalists have classically trained voices, and they use their range and power to create a dramatic and emotional impact. This can include everything from soaring high notes to haunting whispers.
Emphasis on Melody and Atmosphere
Finally, symphonic metal is characterized by its emphasis on melody and atmosphere. While other forms of metal may focus more on aggression and speed, symphonic metal is all about creating a sense of grandeur and awe.
This is achieved through the use of orchestration, operatic vocals, and intricate arrangements that are designed to take the listener on an emotional journey.
Notable Symphonic Metal Bands
One of the most famous and influential symphonic metal bands is Nightwish. Hailing from Finland, Nightwish has been around since the mid-1990s and has released a string of successful albums that have helped to define the genre.
Their music is characterized by its use of orchestration, operatic vocals, and a strong emphasis on melody and atmosphere.
Another notable symphonic metal band is Epica, a Dutch group that has been active since the early 2000s. Epica’s music combines the grandeur of symphonic metal with the heaviness of death metal, creating a sound that is both epic and brutal.
Their lyrics often deal with themes of spirituality, philosophy, and mythology.
Finally, Within Temptation is a symphonic metal band from the Netherlands that has been around since the mid-1990s. Their music combines the grandeur of symphonic metal with the intensity of gothic metal, creating a sound that is both dark and beautiful.
Their lyrics often deal with themes of love, loss, and redemption.
The Evolution of Symphonic Metal
Early Pioneers of the Genre
Symphonic metal emerged in the mid-1990s, with bands like Therion and Nightwish being among the first to combine orchestral instrumentation with heavy metal. Therion’s album “Theli” (1996) is often cited as a key influence on the development of symphonic metal, as it featured a full choir and orchestral arrangements alongside heavy guitars and drums.
Similarly, Nightwish’s album “Oceanborn” (1998) showcased the band’s unique blend of symphonic elements with heavy metal and helped to establish the basic sound and style of the genre.
Other early pioneers of symphonic metal included bands like Tristania, Within Temptation, and After Forever. These bands helped to establish the basic template for symphonic metal and paved the way for other bands to experiment with the genre.
Symphonic Metal Subgenres
Today, symphonic metal has splintered into a variety of subgenres, each with its own unique sound and style. Some of the most notable subgenres of symphonic metal include:
- Folk metal: This subgenre combines symphonic elements with traditional folk music from around the world. Bands like Eluveitie and Ensiferum are known for their use of traditional instruments like flutes, bagpipes, and hurdy-gurdies, as well as their incorporation of folk melodies and themes into their music.
- Gothic metal: This subgenre combines symphonic elements with the dark and brooding sound of gothic rock. Bands like Lacuna Coil and The Gathering are known for their use of atmospheric keyboards and moody melodies, as well as their incorporation of gothic imagery and themes into their music.
- Symphonic black metal: This subgenre combines symphonic elements with the harsh and abrasive sound of black metal. Bands like Dimmu Borgir and Emperor are known for their use of orchestral arrangements alongside blast beats and shrieking vocals, creating a sound that is both brutal and majestic.
Each of these subgenres adds new elements and influences to the basic symphonic metal formula, creating a diverse and vibrant genre of music.
Influence on Other Genres of Music
Symphonic metal has also had an enormous influence on other genres of music. Many mainstream artists have incorporated symphonic elements into their work, including Metallica, who famously collaborated with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra on the album “S&M.”
Nightwish’s former vocalist, Tarja Turunen, has also collaborated with classical musicians on a number of occasions, including a performance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.
Additionally, many classical composers have been influenced by symphonic metal, with some even composing works specifically for metal bands. Finnish composer Timo Tolkki composed a guitar concerto for Stratovarius guitarist Timo Kotipelto, while German composer Henning Pauly composed a symphony for the band Warrel Dane.
Overall, the influence of symphonic metal can be felt across a wide range of musical genres, as musicians and composers continue to explore the possibilities of combining orchestral elements with heavy metal.
Controversies and Criticisms
Criticisms of the Genre as Being Too Theatrical or Cheesy
One of the most common criticisms of symphonic metal is that it can be too theatrical or cheesy for some listeners. Critics argue that the grandiose orchestral arrangements and operatic vocals can come across as over-the-top or melodramatic and that the genre’s emphasis on melody and atmosphere can be seen as indulgent or self-indulgent.
Furthermore, some critics argue that the use of orchestration and other symphonic elements can detract from the heaviness and intensity of the music, making it feel watered down or diluted.
Defence of the Genre as a Form of Artistic Expression
Despite these criticisms, many fans and musicians argue that symphonic metal is a valid and important form of artistic expression. They point out that the genre’s use of orchestration and operatic vocals allows for a level of grandeur and emotional impact that is difficult to achieve with traditional heavy metal instrumentation.
Moreover, they argue that symphonic metal offers a unique and powerful way to explore themes and ideas that might not be possible with other genres of music. Through their use of orchestration and other symphonic elements, symphonic metal bands are able to create complex and layered compositions that explore a wide range of emotional and intellectual territory.
Furthermore, defenders of the genre argue that symphonic metal represents an important evolution in the history of heavy metal. By combining the raw power of heavy metal with the grandeur and majesty of classical music, symphonic metal has opened up new creative possibilities for musicians and fans alike.
It is clear that the genre has an important place in the world of heavy music. Despite its controversies and criticisms, symphonic metal continues to inspire and challenge listeners around the world, and its influence can be felt across a wide range of musical genres. Whether you love it or hate it, there is no denying the power and impact of symphonic metal.
Symphonic Metal in Popular Culture
Use of Symphonic Metal in Movies and TV Shows
Symphonic metal has been featured in a number of movies and TV shows over the years, often as a way to create a sense of grandeur or intensity. One of the most notable examples is the movie “Underworld,” which features several songs by the band Lacuna Coil. Other movies that have featured symphonic metal include “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” “Highlander: Endgame,” and “Queen of the Damned.”
Symphonic metal has also been used in TV shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Supernatural,” and “Game of Thrones.” In each of these cases, the use of symphonic metal helps to create a sense of epic grandeur and emotional intensity.
Impact on Fashion and Merchandise
Symphonic metal has also had an impact on fashion and merchandise, inspiring a unique and distinctive aesthetic that is instantly recognizable to fans of the genre. Many symphonic metal bands have their own lines of merchandise, including t-shirts, hoodies, and accessories, which often feature striking artwork and designs that reflect the grandeur and majesty of the music.
In addition, symphonic metal has also had an impact on fashion trends, particularly among female fans. Many symphonic metal vocalists are known for their elaborate and dramatic stage costumes, which often incorporate elements of gothic and fantasy fashion.
These styles have influenced a generation of fans, who have embraced the look and created their own unique interpretations of the symphonic metal aesthetic.
Fan Culture and Community
Finally, symphonic metal has a dedicated fan culture and community, with fans attending concerts and festivals all over the world and supporting their favourite bands through merchandise purchases and social media engagement. Fans of symphonic metal are known for their passion and dedication, and many have formed close bonds with fellow fans and with the bands themselves.
Symphonic metal has also inspired a number of online communities and forums, where fans can connect with each other, share their favourite music and art, and discuss the latest news and trends in the genre. Through these communities, symphonic metal fans have been able to create a sense of belonging and camaraderie that extends beyond the music itself.
In conclusion, symphonic metal has made a significant impact on popular culture, influencing everything from movies and TV shows to fashion and merchandise. Its dedicated fan culture and community are a testament to the power and passion of the genre, and its influence is likely to continue to be felt for years to come.
Symphonic metal may not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate the epic grandeur and power of heavy metal and classical music, it offers a unique and compelling listening experience.
From its use of orchestral instrumentation and operatic vocals to its emphasis on melody and atmosphere, symphonic metal continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in heavy music.
As symphonic metal continues to evolve and adapt, incorporating new influences and pushing the boundaries of the genre, it’s clear that it will continue to inspire and challenge listeners around the world. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a curious newcomer, symphonic metal has something to offer everyone who appreciates the power and majesty of heavy music.
What is symphonic metal music?
Symphonic metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that combines the elements of symphonic classical music with the aggressive and powerful sound of metal. The music typically features operatic vocals, complex orchestrations, and the use of instruments such as keyboards, guitars, and drums.
Is symphonic metal real metal?
Yes, symphonic metal is a real subgenre of metal music that has been around since the 1990s. It is characterized by the use of classical music elements, such as symphonic instrumentation and choral arrangements, blended with the aggressive sound of heavy metal.
What instruments are in symphonic metal?
Symphonic metal typically features a combination of traditional metal instruments, such as electric guitars and drums, along with classical instruments, such as strings, brass, and woodwinds. Keyboards and synthesizers are also commonly used to create the symphonic elements in the music.
What genre is symphonic?
Symphonic is not a standalone genre, but rather a term used to describe a type of music that incorporates symphonic elements, such as complex orchestration and arrangements. It can be applied to a variety of different genres, including metal, rock, and classical music.
Is a symphonic band harder than a concert band?
It’s difficult to compare the two as they are both different types of ensembles with different styles of music. A symphonic band typically performs a more complex and challenging repertoire than a concert band, with a greater emphasis on classical and contemporary works. However, both types of ensembles require a high level of skill and musicianship.
What makes a band a symphonic band?
A symphonic band is a type of concert band that emphasizes a more complex and diverse repertoire, often incorporating symphonic elements such as complex arrangements and instrumentation. The ensemble typically features a wider range of instruments, including brass, woodwinds, percussion, and sometimes strings. Symphonic bands often perform works by contemporary composers as well as classical pieces.
About the Author
Mark Nye is a writer and guitar teacher with a passion for heavy metal and hard rock. With years of experience playing and teaching guitar, Mark has developed a deep appreciation for the music and culture of the genre. In addition to teaching guitar, he enjoys writing about heavy metal and hard rock music and sharing his knowledge and insights with others. When he’s not teaching or writing, you can find Mark listening to his favourite bands and discovering new music to add to his collection.