Symphonic metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music which combines the heavy drums and guitars of metal with different elements of orchestral classical music, such as symphonic instruments, choirs and sometimes a full orchestra. Keyboards reminiscent of power metal are also sometimes featured.
Symphonic metal bands often feature classically trained female vocalists, giving rise to the nickname opera metal or operatic metal, and it is not uncommon for them to feature a second vocalist performing growls, a more common characteristic of gothic metal. Perhaps the most typical and prominent examples of symphonic metal bands are Dutch bands Epica, and Within Temptation, Finnish band Nightwish, and Swedish band Therion, all four of which place a large focus on elements prevalent in film scores on top of the more basic classical components utilized more widely in the genre.
|Cultural origins||Early 1990s, Scandinavia and the Netherlands|
Nightwish is one of the prime acts on the symphonic metal scene. The use of keyboards through traditional piano and strings and the soprano vocals of Tarja Turunen, until her departure from the band in 2005, were distinct parts of their original sound.
Music workstation keyboards and orchestras are often the focal point of the music, which, in essence, distinguishes the subgenre from other metal subgenres. Other instruments including guitars, bass and drums typically play relatively simple parts in contrast to the complex and nuanced keyboard and/or orchestral parts. Bands that do not use live orchestral instrumentation on their recordings or when playing live typically utilize factory presets on workstation keyboards (i. e., strings, choirs, pianos, pipe organs etc.) to conjure up a "pseudo-orchestral" sound, where parts are played idiomatically according to keyboard technique. This is particularly characteristic of less-known bands on tighter budgets. Some symphonic metal bands abstain from using keyboards entirely, choosing to use orchestral backing tracks, either recorded by a live symphony orchestra and/or choir during an album session, or recorded using virtual software instruments in a sequencer. This is particularly characteristic of bands that feature deeper and more complex arrangements that would be more difficult for one or even two keyboardists to reproduce in a live performance.
It is more difficult to generalise about the guitar and bass work found in this style. As with gothic metal, this can often be described as a synthesis of other rock and metal styles, with black metal, death metal, power metal, and progressive metal elements being the most common; but unlike in gothic metal, elements of classical music are frequently present as well. With varying frequency, the majority of bands in this subgenre employ these instruments (as well as the lead vocals) to play more simple, catchy melodies which arguably makes symphonic metal (along with power metal, which shares this characteristic) one of the more accessible metal subgenres.
Songs are often highly atmospheric, though more upbeat than those of other metal subgenres; even songs with morbid themes routinely feature prominent major-key fanfares. Particularly central to creating mood and atmosphere is the choice of keyboard sounds.
Lyrics cover a broad range of topics. As with two of symphonic metal's otherwise most dissimilar influences, power metal and opera (but also symphonic progressive rock), fantasy and mythological themes are common. Concept albums styled after operas or epic poems are not uncommon.
Bands in this genre often feature a female lead vocalist, most commonly a soprano. There is sometimes a second, male vocalist, as is also common in gothic metal. Growling, death-metal-style vocals are not unknown, but tend to be used less frequently than in other metal genres that make use of this vocal style (however, a notable example of its usage is by Mark Jansen in Epica). Further backup up to and including a full choir is sometimes employed.
It is very common for bands, almost exclusively female-fronted bands, to feature operatic lead vocals. Such bands can be referred to as operatic symphonic metal and include the likes of Epica, Nightwish (Tarja Turunen, then Floor Jansen), Haggard, Therion, Operatika, Dremora, Dol Ammad, Visions of Atlantis, Aesma Daeva, Almora and countless others. The operatic style is not exclusively tied to symphonic metal, and also appears in avant-garde metal, progressive metal, gothic metal and melodic metal.
The roots of symphonic metal are found in early death metal and gothic metal bands, who made some use of symphonic elements in their music, notably Swiss extreme metal pioneers Celtic Frost on their 1987 album Into the Pandemonium, whose 1985 release To Mega Therion inspired the naming of symphonic metal pioneers Therion.
One of the earliest symphonic metal songs was "Dies Irae" by American thrash metal group Believer. Appearing on their 1990 album Sanity Obscure foreshadowed the operatic approach used by the bands Therion and Nightwish. According to Jeff Wagner in his book Mean Deviation, the song was a creative watershed in metal, and except for Mekong Delta, no other extreme metal band at the time had merged the genre with classical music so seamlessly.
The band Therion were influential in forming the genre through their use of a live orchestra and classical compositional techniques; gradually these elements became a more important part of Therion's music than their death metal roots. Another key early influence was Finnish progressive metal band Waltari's album Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! Death Metal Symphony in Deep C. In mid-1996 Rage released Lingua Mortis, the band's first collaboration with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Nightwish and Within Temptation released their first albums in 1997, which were heavily inspired by Therion's symphonic turn. Within Temptation was more influenced by gothic metal, and therefore musically simpler than the more power metal-influenced Nightwish, but both bands shared two key symphonic metal elements - powerful female lead vocals from Tarja Turunen and Sharon den Adel respectively, and the heavy use of classically influenced keyboard playing. Haggard, which started as a progressive death metal band, had released some demos and EPs some years ago using only their death metal style, but, in 1997, they went a step forward. They chose to change their style and to turn it into a mix of classical music with real classical and medieval instruments such as, violin, viola, cello, flute, oboe, clarinet, crumhorn, keyboards and death metal, releasing their first symphonic metal studio album.
Many new symphonic metal bands appeared or came to wide attention in the early to mid 2000s, including Rain Fell Within, After Forever, Epica, Delain, Leaves' Eyes, Xandria, and Edenbridge, all featuring the characteristic keyboards and female vocals. Power metal, with its relatively upbeat fantasy themes and stylized keyboard sounds, tended to be an important influence on these groups.
The term "symphonic metal" has sometimes been applied to individual songs or albums by bands that are primarily death metal, doom metal, gothic metal, power metal, or black metal, for example renowned black metal act Dimmu Borgir, who Simone Simons of Epica personally referenced as an inspiration. While this article has mainly discussed symphonic metal as a distinct subgenre, it is worth noting that the term is sometimes used to describe stylistic elements that can be found in nearly any heavy metal subgenre.
The term "symphonic metal" is used to denote any metal band that makes use of symphonic or orchestral elements; "symphonic metal" then is not so much a genre as a cross-generic designation. A few bands refer to themselves as "symphonic metal," particularly Aesma Daeva, and the term could probably be applied to generically ambiguous metal bands like Epica and Nightwish.
Symphonic black metal has similar components as melodic black metal, but uses keyboarding or instruments normally found in symphonic or classical music. It can also include black metal bands that make heavy usage of atmospheric keyboarding in the music, akin to symphonic metal or gothic metal. The symphonic aspects of this genre are normally integral parts of a band, and as such are commonly used throughout the whole duration of a song. The prototypical symphonic black metal bands are Dimmu Borgir, Emperor and Carach Angren.
|Symphonic power metal|
|Cultural origins||Early to mid-1990s, Finland, Italy and Japan|
Symphonic power metal refers to power metal bands that make extensive usage of keyboards, or instruments normally found in classical music, similar to symphonic metal. These additional elements are often used as key elements of the music when compared to normal power metal, contributing not only an extra layer to the music, but a greater variety of sound. Bands in this genre often feature clean vocals, with some bands adding relatively small quantities of screams or growls.
The first prototypical symphonic power metal song was "Art of Life", a twenty-nine-minute song performed by Japanese heavy metal band X Japan in 1993. Finnish band Nightwish was another band that performed early symphonic power metal songs. Songs by Nightwish that illustrate the genre well are "Wishmaster" from the album Wishmaster, "Ghost Love Score" from the album Once, "The Poet and the Pendulum" on the album Dark Passion Play and "The Greatest Show on Earth", a 24-minute song from the album Endless Forms Most Beautiful. These songs follow the epic scope and extended formal structures characteristic of power metal while making extensive use of orchestral elements.
Another band fitting this description is Rhapsody of Fire, an Italian band different from most typical symphonic metal bands in that it is not fronted by a female vocalist. With a blend of guitars, drums and extremely large soundscapes including, in their later years, a full choir and a symphonic orchestra, they take heavy influence from early classical music and in particular baroque music. Most of their albums are a part of an epic high fantasy saga. Songs by Rhapsody of Fire that illustrate the genre well are "The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight" on the album Triumph or Agony and "Emerald Sword" from the album Symphony of Enchanted Lands. Other examples of bands fitting this description are Angra, Avantasia, Dark Moor, Derdian, Dragonland, Epica, Kamelot, Pathfinder, Phoenix Rising, Sonata Arctica, Solar Crown Serenity, Theocracy, Twilight Force, and Versailles.
|Symphonic gothic metal|
|Cultural origins||Mid 1990s, Norway and the Netherlands|
One of the first gothic metal bands to release a full album featuring "Beauty and the Beast" vocals, where death metal vocals are contrasted with clean female vocals, was the Norwegian Theatre of Tragedy in 1995. From then on after the departure of lead singer, Liv Kristine, in 2003, she and her future husband, Alexander Krull went on to form the symphonic metal band, Leaves' Eyes. The band is one of the pioneers of the "Beauty and the Beast" vocal style scene. Other bands, such as the Dutch Within Temptation in 1996, expanded on this approach. A debut album Enter was unveiled in the following year, followed shortly by an EP The Dance. Both releases made use of the beauty and beast approach delivered by vocalists Sharon den Adel and Robert Westerholt. Their second full length Mother Earth was released in 2000 and dispensed entirely with the death metal vocals, instead "relying solely on den Adel's majestic vocal ability," apart from one b-side track that did not make the final album release. The album was a commercial success with their lead single "Ice Queen" topping the charts in Belgium and their native Netherlands. Their third album The Silent Force arrived in 2004 as an "ambitious project featuring a full orchestra and 80-voice choir accompanying the band". The result was another commercial success across Europe and introduced "the world of heavy guitars and female vocals" to "a mainstream audience".
Within Temptation's brand of gothic metal combines "the guitar-driven force of hard rock with the sweep and grandeur of symphonic music". The critic Chad Bowar of About.com describes their style as "the optimum balance" between "the melody and hooks of mainstream rock, the depth and complexity of classical music and the dark edge of gothic metal". The commercial success of Within Temptation has since resulted in the emergence of a large number of other female-fronted gothic metal bands, particularly in the Netherlands.
Another Dutch band in the symphonic gothic metal strain is After Forever. Their debut album Prison of Desire in 2000 was "a courageous, albeit flawed first study into an admittedly daunting undertaking: to wed heavy metal with progressive rock arrangements and classical music orchestration - then top it all of with equal parts gruesome cookie-monster vocals and a fully qualified opera singer". Founding member, guitarist and vocalist Mark Jansen departed After Forever only a few months after the release of this album. Jansen would go on to form Epica, another Dutch band that performs a blend of gothic and symphonic metal. A debut album The Phantom Agony emerged in 2003 with music that combines Jansen's death grunts with the "angelic tones of a classically trained soprano, Simone Simons, over a lush foundation of symphonic power metal". The music of Epica has been described as combination of "a dark, haunting gothic atmosphere with bombastic and symphonic music". Like Within Temptation and After Forever, Epica has been known to make use of an orchestra. Their 2007 album The Divine Conspiracy was a chart success in their home country.
This blend of symphonic and gothic metal has also been arrived at from the opposite direction. The band Nightwish from Finland began as a symphonic power metal act and introduced gothic elements on their 2004 album Once, particularly on the single "Nemo". They continued to mix their style of "bombastic, symphonic and cinematic" metal with a gothic atmosphere on their next album Dark Passion Play in 2007. The Swedish group Therion also introduced gothic elements to their brand of symphonic metal on their 2007 album Gothic Kabbalah.
|Symphonic death metal|
|Cultural origins||Late 1990s and early to mid 2000s, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and Italy|
Bands described as symphonic death metal include Ex Deo, Necronomicon, Septicflesh, Children of Bodom, Epica, and Fleshgod Apocalypse. Haggard's 2000 album, Awaking the Centuries, has been described as death metal-styled symphonic metal. Much of Make Them Suffer's earlier material was considered symphonic death metal by Metal Injection.
After Forever was a Dutch symphonic metal band with strong progressive metal influences. The band relied on the use of both soprano vocals and death grunts.
In February 2009, it was announced that After Forever had disbanded. Singer Floor Jansen and keyboardist Joost van den Broek both collaborated again in bands ReVamp's and in Star One. In 2013, Jansen also joined symphonic metal band Nightwish. Former rhythm guitarist Mark Jansen also created the band Epica in 2002 after his departure from After Forever.Angtoria
Angtoria was a symphonic metal band composed of British singer Sarah Jezebel Deva and Swedish brothers Chris and Tommy Rehn.
Singer Sarah Jezebel Deva joined with the brothers in 2001 to create the band. Their debut album, God Has a Plan For Us All, was released in April 2006. The name Angtoria derives its origin from the title of a song by the band Moahni Moahna where Tommy was a member between 1992–1997.Delain
Delain is a Dutch symphonic metal band formed in 2002 by former Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, and Charlotte Wessels. The name of the band comes from the Kingdom of Delain in Stephen King's novel, The Eyes of the Dragon.Edenbridge (band)
Edenbridge are a symphonic metal band from Austria. Established in 1998, the band has so far released nine studio albums.Epica (band)
Epica is a Dutch symphonic metal band, founded by guitarist and vocalist Mark Jansen after his departure from After Forever.
Formed as a symphonic metal band with gothic tendencies, later Epica have incorporated into their sound strong death metal influences. Starting from the third album, even progressive metal attitudes have become evident. In addition, the band often uses thrash metal and groove metal riffs, black metal passages (mostly in the drum technique), power metal moments and references to Arabic music. Some songs also have electronic shades, djent transitions and folk metal melodies derived from middle eastern, Chinese and Celtic traditions. Epica is also known for the attention to the vocal lines that, in contrast to the heavy context, weave very catchy, easy to hold, sophisticated and emotional melodies. In the band's sound the use of female vocals and male growls, performed by Simone Simons and Mark Jansen respectively, is fundamental. They primarily write their own lyrics, which often deal with philosophical, psychological, spiritual, moral, scientific, environmental, socio-political, global and topical and personal themes. Epica is also known for their wide use of orchestra and opera choirs.
In 2003, Epica's debut album The Phantom Agony was released through Transmission Records. Consign to Oblivion followed in 2005, and debuted at No. 12 in the Dutch charts. They moved labels to Nuclear Blast following Transmission's bankruptcy, and in 2007, released their third studio album The Divine Conspiracy, which charted at No. 9 in the Netherlands. 2009's Design Your Universe was met with yet greater success, debuting at No. 8 in the Dutch Albums Chart, and charting across Europe, also garnering much critical acclaim. Epica's fifth studio album Requiem for the Indifferent was released in 2012. Well received by critics, it achieved international success, entering the US's Billboard 200 at No. 104, and Japan's Oricon Albums Chart at No. 172.At the beginning of May 2014 the band released their sixth album, The Quantum Enigma, which was a huge international success, debuting on No. 110 on US Billboard 200 and peaking at No. 4 in Epica's homeland Netherlands. In June 2015 Epica was awarded the Music Export Awards, which is given to the Dutch act with the most international success in the past year. Their seventh album, The Holographic Principle, was released in September 2016.Ghosts (Rage album)
Ghosts is the 13th full-length album by the German heavy metal band Rage with the Lingua Mortis Orchestra. It was released in 1999.Globus (music)
Globus is a Santa Monica-based movie trailer music-inspired band consisting of a mix of producers, musicians, and vocalists. Their music style is primarily symphonic rock and Epic Music and some elements of symphonic metal.
Globus' live world premiere took place in The Grand Hall, Wembley, London, on 26 July 2006 and an album was released in August of that year. Feeder's Mark Richardson is featured on drums.Haggard (band)
Haggard () is a German symphonic metal musical group founded in 1989. The group combines classical music and early music with death doom metal.Imperia (band)
Imperia is a symphonic metal band. The group was formed in 2004 by Norwegian singer Helena Iren Michaelsen following her dismissal from Dutch band Sahara Dust (currently known as Epica). The band is a true cross-border unit of musicians originating from different European countries: Norway, Finland, Germany and Belgium.Leaves' Eyes
Leaves' Eyes is a German symphonic metal band from Germany and Norway. They were formed in 2003 by Liv Kristine, the former lead singer of Theatre of Tragedy and the entire line-up of Atrocity. To date, the band has released seven studio albums, a single, six EPs, one live album and a DVD.
Most of Leaves' Eyes' lyrics, written by Liv Kristine, concern Norse mythology and the Viking Age. The melodic singing vocals of Liv Kristine are occasionally backed up by death growled vocals from Krull, identified under the vocal style Kristine refers to as "beauty and the beast".List of symphonic metal bands
This is a list of symphonic metal bands, including bands that at some point in their career played symphonic metal.Lunatica
Lunatica is a Swiss symphonic metal band, formed in Suhr, Switzerland in 1998.Mayan (band)
Mayan (stylized as MaYaN) is a Dutch symphonic death metal band founded by vocalist Mark Jansen, guitarist Frank Schiphorst, and keyboardist Jack Driessen. The band features many different vocalists (either full-time members or guests) in a mix of clean vocals, growled vocals, and screams, supported by an instrumentation combining both heavy metal and symphonic metal elements.
Created in 2010, the band has released three studio albums to date, Quarterpast in 2011, Antagonise in 2014 and Dhyana in 2018. The name was chosen by Jansen out of his fascination for the ancient Maya civilization. Lyrical themes include religion, politics, and world events, as well as philosophy, meditation, existence, and inner struggles.Napalm Records
Napalm Records is an Austrian independent record label focused on heavy metal and hard rock. Originally, Napalm focused mainly on black metal bands such as Abigor and Summoning and folk metal bands such as Falkenbach and Vintersorg. Later on, the label expanded its roster by adding gothic metal, symphonic metal, power metal, doom metal, metalcore and nu metal bands, as well as stoner rock acts Monster Magnet, Karma to Burn, and Brant Bjork. Napalm has its own publishing house named Iron Avantgarde Publishing.Northern Kings
Northern Kings was a Finnish symphonic metal cover supergroup, made up of four well known musicians: Jarkko Ahola from Teräsbetoni, ex-Dreamtale, Marco Hietala from Nightwish and Tarot, Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica and Juha-Pekka Leppäluoto from Charon and Harmaja.
Their first single, "We Don't Need Another Hero", (originally performed by Tina Turner) was released in 2007, followed by their debut album Reborn. In late 2008, their second album Rethroned was released, headlined by the single "Kiss from a Rose" (originally performed by Seal). They last released a single "Lapponia" in 2010.ReVamp
ReVamp was a Dutch progressive metal band formed by singer-songwriter Floor Jansen after her previous band After Forever disbanded in 2009.Speak of the Dead
Speak of the Dead is the 17th studio album by the German heavy metal band Rage, released in 2006 by Nuclear Blast. The album contains a mix of different heavy metal music genres, ranging from symphonic and progressive to fast and brutal thrash metal. The band go back to the album Lingua Mortis' themes and atmospheres in the suite that opens the album, called "Suite Lingua Mortis" that consists in 8 parts, using a full symphonic orchestra recorded in Minsk, Belarus.Therion (band)
Therion (formerly Blitzkrieg, Megatherion) is a Swedish symphonic metal band founded by Christofer Johnsson in 1987. Its name was inspired by the Celtic Frost album To Mega Therion. "To Mega Therion" is Greek for "The Great Beast" and was a title used by occultist Aleister Crowley. Originally a death metal band, Therion adjusted its musical style by adding orchestral elements, including choirs, classical musicians, and even a full orchestra at their concert performances. As a result, they are considered pioneers of the symphonic metal genre.Therion takes its themes from different mythologies and practices, including occultism, magic and ancient traditions and writings. Thomas Karlsson, the head and founder of the magical order Dragon Rouge, provided lyrics for the band since 1996-2010.Xandria
Xandria is a German symphonic metal band, founded by Marco Heubaum in 1994.