[12 January 2006]
The concept and approach of shred guitar has many roots and applications, stemming from 18th century violinist Niccolo Paganini and coming to a head in 1980s heavy metal. There were always flashes of it—some Canon in D on string-skipped arppegios here, a little some acoustic baroque there, but by and large, shred is just smart rock music played really fast. Eddie Van Halen was shred, Paul Gilbert was shred, Steve Vai was shred. But Yngwie Malmsteen, though impossibly fast, has always been neo-classical.
Sure, the vocal songs were always awful ‘80s metal songs (“Queen in Love”, “I’ll See The Light Tonight”), and the arrangements of the instrumentals have always been rock (bass, drums, keys). The tools were, and still are, pure rock—the Yngwie signature Fender scallop-necked Strat and Marshall amps. But, with his blistering arpeggios, exotic scale runs and infatuation with harmonic minor, Malmsteen has always been more Bach than Blackmore. And, in 1998, he took his first legitimate stab at dropping the “neo” from the moniker with Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E Flat Minor, Op. 1.
Now, a performance of said material is released on DVD, with Malmsteen performing with the New Japan Philharmonic. The setting is perfect—the tight, technical orchestra under the direction Massya Yasue and an audience of the Japanese, with whom Malmsteen is still extremely popular. Malmsteen has composed and arranged the entire performance, and he has succeeded amazingly well at not melding rock with classical music but rather making classical music that features electric guitar.
The style suites Malmsteen better than anything else he’s ever done. Now you don’t have to suffer through ridiculous faux-goth imagery and musician’s-only instrumentation, or, worse yet, the painful ‘80s metal male vocals. Being a guitar player and a music critic, the trap of someone like Malmsteen has always torn me between myself and the respective communities—rock snobs think his music is insufferable and guitarists don’t understand how anyone can dismiss his musical genius.
In a classical setting, however, Malmsteen comes guilt-free. He’s got the virtuosity of many classical players but the added distinction of being the composer and arranger of the material. And classical purists shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss this work. I can understand all the strikes against such a concept from the beginning, but you can’t tell me that there is anymore rock in these performances and solos than in Paganini or Liszt.
There are a handful of old Malmsteen tunes on here that get the “classical” treatment—“Triolgy Suite”, “Brothers”, “Blitzkrieg”, “Far Beyond the Sun”—but for the most part, this is a composed-as and performed-as classical music. “Prelude to April” and “Sarabande” feature Malmsteen on acoustic, dazzling as a harp would normally function in such an environment. The intricacy and beauty of the Vivace is as striking as Bach’s Vivace in Concerto for Two Violins and as powerful as any metal tune.
The DVD quality isn’t 35mm or anything but it is far better than the VHS copies of Malmsteen performances that circulated throughout the ‘80s, with plenty of close-ups of the man’s ring-laden fingers in action. The DVD also features a bonus performance of the staple “Evil Eye” and an audio-only, non-revelatory interview with Malmsteen.
Yes, he may be over-the-top, flashy, decadent—and he may or may not be wearing an actual Seinfeld puffy shirt. But one thing is for certain: love him or hate him, Yngwie Malmsteen is as original as his first name implies.