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Neoclassical metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that is heavily influenced by classical music and usually features very technical playing,[Note 1] consisting of elements borrowed from both classical and speed metal music. Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore pioneered the subgenre by merging classical melodies and blues rock. Later, Yngwie Malmsteen became one of the most notable musicians in the subgenre, and contributed greatly to the development of the style in the 1980s.[Note 2] Other notable players in the genre are Randy Rhoads, Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Uli Jon Roth, Stéphan Forté, Wolf Hoffmann[better source needed] and Timo Tolkki.[Note 3]
Neoclassical 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 a movement in musical modernism which developed roughly a century after the end of the Classical period and peaked during the years in between the two World Wars.
On the other hand, neoclassical 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. Neoclassical metal musicians such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Joshua Perahia are inspired by this aspect of Baroque music[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. Neoclassical 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.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there were many works that influenced this subgenre, Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra being 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 Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth and Randy Rhoads. But it was in the 1980s when neoclassical metal became a distinct subgenre.[Note 5]
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 neoclassical metal style. The popularization and growth of neoclassical metal is closely related to the ascension of the guitar "shredding" movement.
The "golden age" of neoclassical 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 6] and still-reigning king of neoclassical metal, was brought to the United States by Varney to sign with Shrapnel Records in 1982.
Many subsequent Shrapnel artists,[Note 7] including Tony MacAlpine,Vinnie Moore,Joey Tafolla, Michael Angelo Batio, Chris Impellitteri, Paul Gilbert, David T. Chastain, Jason Becker, and Marty Friedman, emerged in the latter 1980s as exemplars of the neoclassical style.
In recent years, appreciation of the neoclassical 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 neoclassical metal performers are Epica, Rhapsody of Fire, Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Children of Bodom, Vitalij Kuprij, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Herman Li, Cacophony, Symphony X, Mekong Delta, Rata Blanca, Narnia, 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, Obscura and Stratovarius. Even more recently there has been a sudden burst of slight neoclassical influence within mainstream metal acts such as 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.
Although neoclassical metal differs in theory and structure than neoclassical orchestral music, there are distinct styles and progressions that make a metal piece neoclassical. The complexity of keys and scales make playing neoclassical metal difficult without a strong foundation in music theory. In contrast to most music, neoclassical metal often switches keys in the middle of the song to compliment each other and allow for more artistic freedom. Minor keys are often used for their unique note progressions and often dissonant sounds.
A commonly used feature in Neoclassical metal is the use of diminished seventh arpeggios. As diminished seventh chords are essentially an equidistant scale consisting of stacked minor thirds, they become a useful tool for modulation, as it is possible to move by minor thirds through the chord/arpeggio, then use the diminished chord as a leading tone to resolve to the tonic a semitone above it. Pentatonic scales are also prevalent and conveniently have the same picking structure as minor thirds on the guitar. Playing back and forth between the two scales is common and a good example of how neoclassical metal uses different scales stacked on top of each other to progress melodic ideas.
4. Adams, Ricci "Specific Intervals" http://www.musictheory.net/lessons/31