10 times rock and metal artists collaborated with classical musicians
Examining the ancestry of rock’n’roll, one finds two heritages at the trunk of the family tree: the blues and classical music. While the former has remained relevant in the thick, sexy riffing of rock and metal artists, the latter often takes a backseat, due in part to the sheer number of bows on the shoes of 19th Century composers. But the sweep and drama of classical is deeply important to good rock, giving it a cinematic quality that warms listeners’ hearts and makes them feel like they’re on the epic quest that is their everyday lives.
Over the years, a handful of artists have attempted to reclaim rock’s classical background by teaming up with or bringing into their ranks composers and orchestras. Sometimes, this feels longwinded and ridiculous, but often it bears strangely delicious fruit.
Here are 10 times that rock has traded its steel for brass:
Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony
Without a doubt, the most famous example of rock and classical coming together in Metallica’s S&M album. Alongside the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the band performed a compelling, ambitious set of Metallica tracks elevated by the sweeping power of a full orchestra. The album sold eight million copies worldwide as of 2013, and inspired 2019’s epic S&M2 performance, proving that even the most unlikely of collaborations can become game-changing successes.
Cradle Of Filth and the Budapest Film Orchestra
For their major-label debut, vampire metallers Cradle Of Filth decided to take their “symphonic” designation to a whole new level. Damnation and a Day was recorded with the help of the Budapest Film Orchestra and the Budapest Film Choir, who lend a sense of massive scope to the concept album’s narrative following that of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The effect is immediately audible, with Damnation sounding less like a gothic black metal album and more like a sweeping, cinematic tribute to the band’s influence over the black metal genre as a whole.
Yngwie Malmsteen and the New Japan Philharmonic
In a lot of ways, guitar wizard Yngwie Malmsteen is an orchestra unto himself. However, for the live performance of his album Concerto Suite With Electric Guitar And Orchestra, the Swedish tour de force enlisted the help of the New Japan Philharmonic to make the ambitious project an onstage reality. The result is deeply entertaining for awhile, though Yngwie’s guitar gymnastics don’t always give their orchestral accompaniments much room to breathe.
Nightwish and the London Session Orchestra
It may have taken about €250,000 to make, but Nightwish’s 2004 album Once was worth the budget. The record features the London Session Orchestra providing symphonic back-up, making the operatic goth metal band sound bigger and more compelling than ever. The result was selling over 2.3 million units and becoming the band’s most successful record to date, with tracks like Wish I Had An Angel, Nemo, and Planet Hell becoming some of their most iconic tracks. For some bands, an orchestra feels absolutely necessary, and this is one of them.
Katatonia and the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra
In 2017, Swedish doom metallers Katatonia celebrated the 10th anniversary of their album The Great Cold Distance the same way any band would: performing the whole thing live in a Bulgarian amphitheater with a complete orchestra. Though the band’s sound is a little kinetic for your average symphony, the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra rose to the task, adding beautiful brass and string accents throughout. Katatonia released the performance as a live record, giving fans one hell of a reward for a decade of appreciation.
Scorpions and the Berliner Philharmoniker
One might not hear Scorpions’ Rock Me Like A Hurricane and think it could use a full symphony behind it. But maybe that’s why Moment Of Glory, the band’s 2000 collaboration with the Berlin Philharmonic, is so interesting – it’s not a predictable album, and as such is a learning experience to listen to even at its most confusing. Much like the album, the cover, featuring a Velociraptor in formal opera jewellery, is as awesome as it is bizarre and off-putting. Metallica knew not what doors they were opening with S&M.
Dimmu Borgir and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
2003’s Death Cult Armageddon was a genre-defining moment for Norse symphonic black metallers Dimmu Borgir. Part of what made the album so huge for the band was its scope – aided in small part by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. With a full retinue of classical musicians behind them, Dimmu sounded like the planet-destroying demons they sang about. Whether they got the orchestra to dress in spiked shinguards and corpsepaint throughout has not been determined as of press time.
Fleshgod Apocalypse and Francesco Ferrini
It says something about your band when you promote your pianist and orchestral arranger to full-time member. After signing to Nuclear Blast in 2011, Italian death metal crew Fleshgod Apocalypse brought pianist Francesco Ferrini into the fold to help them write and arrange string sections and orchestral effects. The addition was a game-changed for the band, who became known the world over for their grandiose merging of brutal death metal and classical music. The inclusion of classical elements has obviously become a permanent fixture in Fleshgod’s work, as the band brought a string quartet on tour with them last year.
Aerosmith with the Boston Pops
Sometimes, a band have a big enough personality to warrant a live orchestral performance. Aerosmith certainly rose to the challenge, performing with the Boston Pops Orchestra at their annual Fireworks Spectacular in 2006. Both symphony and band work perfectly together, with Aerosmith’s ultra-catchy arena rock being complemented by the orchestra’s symphonic overkill. Certain bands exist almost solely to perform at a show referred to as a “fireworks spectacular”.
Dethklok and London Philharmonic (RIP)
The collaboration that almost was… Dethklok’s concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra was supposed to be the biggest, most celebrity-studded charity event of all time, complete with a massive laser light show. Unfortunately, an equipment malfunction resulted in the lasers being a little too powerful and slicing the entire orchestra in half. While some audio recordings of the event remain intact, the visual aspect is more snuff film than genre collaboration. Still pretty metal, though.
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