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Bombastic Playlist

March 13, 2014

Some of us here at SFCV (including this writer) didn’t know that, in some circles, “bombastic” is a positive descriptor, not a downside. Apparently, many heavy metal fans are always looking out for good, head-banging, thrashing classical music. And because so many metal guitarists have classical training (and serious chops), there’s a whole genre of “neoclassical metal” (look it up in Wikipedia) in which bands cover classical tunes, or take inspiration from classical genres. So if you know someone who agrees with the P.D.Q. Bach definition of great music (“Fast is good, loud is better, fast and loud is best”), then this is the playlist for him or her.


1. “O fortuna” from Carmina Burana (Carl Orff); London Philharmonic
The obvious starting point: If the orchestra is a great instrument for creating a lot of sound, when you combine it with massed choirs you get the ultimate in classical power chords.

2. “Montagues and Capulets” from Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev); Epica, off the album Classical Conspiracy
Live recording of Epica’s cover of this classic. If Mercutio and Tybalt dueled with rocket launchers, this could be the soundtrack.

3. “The Enemy God and the Dance of the Spirits of Darkness” from Scythian Suite (Prokofiev); Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, conductor.
Although the title makes it sound as if this is a heavy metal track, it was actually written a hundred years ago, and is part of Prokofiev’s ballet score, which is obviously indebted to Stravinsky’s pathbreaking The Rite of Spring.

4. “Dies Irae” from Requiem Mass (Verdi); Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond.
It’s not a heavy metal playlist without someone singing the “Day of Wrath” sequence from the Catholic mass for the dead. So here’s an excerpt of Verdi’s famous setting. But you’d do fine with Berlioz also.

5. “St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain” (Modest Mussorgsky); Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Erich Kunzel, conductor.
Russian classical composers frequently tap something deep in the heavy metal fan’s psyche. This piece, which is most famous for its use in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, is on every classical metal playlist.

6. “Badinerie” from Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor (Bach); Evil Masquerade, off the album Welcome to the Show.
Bach’s flashy showpiece for flute gets the thrashing guitars its always wanted.

7. “Hanuman” by Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero, off the album 11:11.
Rodrigo y Gabriela are a well-known duo, originally from Mexico, who became a hit by doing covers of metal hits on classical guitars. They’ve even performed for President Obama. This is an original piece, dedicated to legendary guitarist Carlos Santana.

8. “Allegro con fuoco,” Symphony No. 4 (Tchaikovsky); Vienna Philharmonic, Valery Gergiev, cond.
Speed metal meets its match in Tchaikovsky’s spectacular and — yes — bombastic finale to his Fourth Symphony.

9. “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Mendelssohn); Lux Aeterna.
As an encore to their live concert, this metal band shreds the Wedding March.

10. “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin); Rodrigo y Gabriela, off the album Rodrigo y Gabriela.
A fabled rock classic, one of the original sources of heavy metal, played on classical, acoustic guitars.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.