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Symphonies Can Be Badass Too!

We may be a bit hung-over from The Babelsberg Orchestra’s performance of A. R. Rahman’s compositions of late, but we know for a fact that an orchestra is capable of more than just filmy or classical music. Metallica’s S&M album is merely the tip of the iceberg.


When the people of our generation think of a combination rock or metal with a full orchestra, the first thing that inevitably comes to mind is Metallica. Their 1998 Symphony and Metallica album, recorded with the San Francisco Symphony and conducted by Michael Kamen was definitely a hallmark in this aspect. Besides rearranging their older songs, they even came up with a new composition – No Leaf Clover, ostensibly for the purpose of giving this album some new flesh. As such, it was quite possibly the best number from that album – probably because we hadn’t heard it before.

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This is probably one of the most popular albums, primarily because it was, after all, a Metallica product. Which means it was well produced and well marketed, and it had the Metallica brand value for weightage. But that doesn’t mean the entire album was actually that great. In fact, so many other songs seemed very watered down, in comparison. While the symphonic aspects were stellar, the rest of the band’s sound wasn’t living up to their initial standards. That might have actually been a good thing, since that paved the way for their listeners to open up their minds to newer, and perhaps better things as well.

One such example is the song Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria. Check it out for yourselves (and try to focus more on the audio than the video):

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The intro itself is a force to reckon with – the flamenco-esque guitar, the buildup with electric guitars and bass – and then the strings come in, supporting the heavy use of pedals… all seems to go well until Claudio Sanchez starts singing – and hey, if you can filter that out too, you will see how truly well written this song is, incorporating the melodic aspects of both, the orchestra as well as the band itself, in a rhythmic, semi-repetitive format throughout the verse and chorus sections. And then, around 4 minute mark, you get to the solo parts, and this is where words fail to explain just how badass this song really is.

To take things to another extreme, one just cannot ignore one of Iced Earth’s most popular songs – Angel’s Holocaust.

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Once again, it is the intro that really sets the mood. The choir, the drums, the power chords, and the orchestra, together create a tone that is at first, apocalyptic enough to suit something as gruesome as the holocaust, followed by an acoustic bridge, which is suitably…err… angelic. Throughout the song, there are sporadic bursts of distorted riffs and drumbeats, along with Matt Barlow’s trademark baritone vocals and screams, backed up by the choir. Even if all such technicalities are ignored, there is no denying the sheer power of music in this song.

Since we’re on the topic of angels, lets take a slightly different approach. Picture this – a sickeningly sweet female mezzo-soprano voice (courtesy of a very beautiful Sharon Den Adel) and a chunky but simple, distortion-heavy, power-chord led song structure, dominated by an orchestra. One such example of what you get is Angels by Within Temptation:

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The first 45 seconds of the song will indicate that this is a ballad at best, but it is when the drums, bass and guitars that make their presence felt over and above the choir, strings and keyboards that one is forced to retract the convenient label of ‘ballad’. Den Adel’s witch-like sways and hand movements would probably distract most viewers, but if you close your eyes and zero in on the music, you will realize that a majority of the riffs are actually played out on cellos and violins. Although not badass by conventional standards, it still stands out as an example of where symphony and rock can coexist well.

Of course, when dealing with symphony and metal, one cannot simply ignore symphonic metal, a genre which has gained cult status and some popularity. Theorists would assert that the very genre of metal has its roots in classical music. For that matter, let us look at one song that, no matter how many times it has been covered, will never be ‘badass’ enough. Without further ado, here is Swedish band Therion’s cover of Carl Orff’s O Fortuna.

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Granted, the focus is more on the choir than on the instruments, but it is the incorporation of both, the orchestral setting, especially with the thumping bass, the cellos and the to-and-fro ‘riffs’ on the violins, which, when played with more contemporary drums and percussion, makes for an eerie but awe-inspiring setting at the same time.

There are numerous other instances of orchestra & rock! What do YOU guys think?

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