When I was 12 I saw Iron Maiden on Top of the Pops and thus began an obsession with Heavy Metal that lasted most of my teenage years. I don't listen to it much anymore, however I credit my Heavy Metal guitar heroes for pushing me to develop my guitar skills and opening a door into classical, folk and jazz guitar. Some of the below tracks have hints of those genres. I've deliberately picked some pieces which show the mellow side of metal, and also some thunderingly heavy tracks. The playlist demonstrates how bands like Iron Maiden, Slayer and Metallica prepared me for some of the big powerful orchestral works that I came to love. Stravinsky, Bruckner, Holst and Shostakovich have moments that sound just like heavy metal to me. Just sample some of these symphonic masterpieces, before you delve into my heavy metal playlist!
Bruckner - Symphony No.9 'Scherzo' (1894) - Pounding Metal Power Chords in the 19th Century!
Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring 'Dance of the Adolescents' (1913) Russian Metal!
Holst - The Planets Suite i. Mars (1916) - The First Wave of British Heavy Metal!
Shostakovich - Symphony No.11 (1957) - Heavy Metal Riff Extravaganza in Movement 2!
Now, on to my playlists - The Youtube Playlist tracks are described below, The Spotify playlist has a lot more pieces on it, just to give a wide overview of the variety that can be found in the heavy metal genre.
Iron Maiden - Infinite Dreams (live)
Iron Maiden were the first metal band to really grab my attention when I saw them play 'Infinite Dreams' on Top of the Pops when I was 12. The song was epic, the twin guitars of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray were straight out of the Thin Lizzy playbook and singer Bruce Dickinson a fantastic showman. I'd actually heard Iron Maiden before that without knowing, as their song 'Phantom of the Opera' was on a famous Lucozade Ad with Olympic athlete Daley Thompson. My Dad hated heavy metal, but even he liked that music!
Black Sabbath - Planet Caravan
Black Sabbath are the originators of Heavy Metal. Tony Iommi's guitar playing was the definition of heavy. Yet he could be mellow too, such as this otherworldly song, which even has a jazz guitar solo. These kind of mellow metal moments opened my ears to classical music, folk and jazz. I finally got to see Black Sabbath at an Austrian festival in 2015, they were by far the oldest band there, yet also the heaviest, they made some of the younger speed demons sound pathetic!
Led Zeppelin - Ramble On
Led Zeppelin aren't strictly Heavy Metal, but they hugely influenced the genre and their famous 'Immigrant Song' is definitely heavy metal. Despite this heavy edge they are the band that really opened my mind to acoustic music. Initially drawn in by the raw power of Jimmy Page's guitar, John Bonham's drums, John Paul Jones' bass and Robert Plant's vocals, I soon became obsessed with their largely acoustic third album. It was through this album that I began to learn about alternate tunings, like the Open-G tuning used in 'That's the Way'. I use Open-G to this day when backing Irish trad music. Possibly my favourite Led Zep song though is 'Ramble On' a song about 'The Lord of the Rings'. It shows the versatility of Jimmy Page, who plays folky acoustic guitar, melodic electric harmonies and heavy power chords.
AC/DC - Back in Black
AC/DC are one of the few bands who cross-over between pop/rock music fans and metal fans. They are heavy, yet also write pretty conventional 'boy wants girl' rock n'roll songs. In Angus Young they have a charismatic lead guitarist who is worshipped by bedroom guitarists the world over. I used to be one of them and learnt how to play all the classic AC/DC songs, including their biggest hits 'Thunderstruck' and 'Back in Black'.
Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads - Diary of a Madman
When Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath he discovered an unusual guitar virtuoso, Randy Rhoads. He was an unconventional metal guitarist at the time because he studied classical guitar. Apparently he would seek out classical guitar teachers in every town when he was on the road. The intro to 'Diary of a Madman' is hugely influenced by a classical guitar etude composed byLeo Brouwer. I learnt it as a teenager without knowing this, only discovering the fact years later when studying Brouwer's music. Lots of Metal guitarists since Rhoads followed his example and studied classical guitar, thus spawning the sub-genre 'Neo-Classical Metal'!
Guns N'Roses - Welcome to the Jungle
The late 80's were probably the high-point of heavy metal, especially when Guns N'Roses burst onto the scene with an almost punk-like attitude. They were different to any other Metal band, more about sex, drugs and rock n'roll than the fantasy and literary driven world of Iron Maiden and their like. Slash and Izzy Stradlin were a formidable guitar partnership and I still admire the way Stradlin plays off of Slash's epic leads on the album 'Appetite for Destruction'. They also did mellow acoustic ballads too, like 'Patience', which every bedroom guitarist in 1989 learnt!
Metallica - One
Another seminal Top of the Pops moment for me in 1989 was seeing the video for Metallica's 'One'. The song is a bit of a rock cliché now, but back then it was really ground-breaking. The mix between mellow, almost classical guitar lines and extremely heavy music paved the way for the Grunge revolution that would soon follow. I spent hours playing the guitar lines of Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield from then until my mid-teens. Other Metallica songs that have this mix of classical mellowness and thrash metal power include 'Battery', 'Fade to Black', 'Welcome Home - Sanitarium'' and 'To Live is to Die' which begins with an Early classical music intro, before getting very heavy indeed.
Joe Satriani - Flying in a Blue Dream
By 1990 I was fully immersed in epic metal guitar solos. I was getting Rock Guitar magazines and teaching myself all the riffs from guitar tabs. It was in these magazines I heard about Joe Satriani, then I saw him on MTV and his guitar playing blew me away. His 'Flying in a Blue Dream' album was a constant in my life back then, I had the guitar TAB book. The title track is one of the best rock instrumentals for driving down the highway. He makes beautiful use of controlled feedback here. He could rock hard but also play classical-influenced mellow pieces in his virtuoso 'finger-tapping' style, such as 'Midnight', 'Days at the Beach' and 'The Forgotten Part 1'.
Megadeth - Hangar 18
Megadeth were the next band to listen to after anyone discovered Metallica, because frontman Dave Mustaine used to be in Metallica. Their 1990 album Rust in Peace was a firm favourite of mine for a couple of years and their hit single Hangar 18 sees Mustaine and Marty Friedman playing riff after riff of metal guitar heaven! Funny story about Megadeth I heard back in the day. They played in Dun Laoghaire's Top Hat Theatre in the 80's, an audience member was badly injured when he did a stage-dive at the end of the show when everyone was leaving, no one was there to catch him!
Slayer - Seasons in the Abyss
It doesn't get much heavier than Slayer and so I guess it was natural that by the time I hit puberty and full-on teen angst at 13 I would seek out the heaviest of metal bands. When I saw 'Seasons in the Abyss' on MTV I was transfixed by the awesome power of it, and the haunting clean guitar arpeggios, straight out of Flamenco! Many years later I brought my teenage half-sister to a heavy metal festival in Austria as she had become a metal fan too. Slayer were there and they momentarily brought me back to my 13-year old self, the power of their performance was astounding!
I hope this playlist and blogpost goes some way to explaining how a heavy metal teenager could become a trad and classical guitarist and composer. I'll end with an excerpt from my 2nd String Quartet 'The Cranning', which is meant to sound like Metallica played with violins, viola and cello!