I’ve been on a symphonic metal kick for the past few months, across the spectrum of metal subgenres. Perhaps I’m just getting bored of traditional metal instrumentation, but I think it’s refreshing whenever I hear a metal band incorporate orchestral instrumentation into their music. This is particularly true of the symphonic metal bands that choose to keep their music heavy.
At the risk of sounding a little bit elitist, for years I've had a slight aversion towards symphonic metal bands just because of how often they tended to cut back on the aggression. However, this is not always the case. String ensembles, choirs, and orchestral percussion can really add an epic feeling of body and depth to any kind of metal song. Here is a list of five different songs by five different bands for those who want to dip their toes into the world of symphonic metal, without having to give up an ounce of heaviness.
1. Mors Principium Est – “A Day For Redemption”
I’m actually scratching my head as to why Mors Principium Est is not more popular than they already are. Just listen to how the rhythm guitars match the string ensemble that opens up "A Day For Redemption." Even without the strings, “A Day For Redemption” and everything else from their 2020 album Seven makes for excellent melodic death metal riffage.
The well-arranged strings in many of the songs only serve to enhance the other instruments, never overpowering them despite being such a central part of the mix.
2. Fleshgod Apocalypse – “No”
Despite being known for their signature sound that combines blistering technicality with a massive cinematic orchestra, I appreciate how Fleshgod Apocalypse manages to maintain their sense of humor. Case in point: see their symphonic death metal cover of Eiffel 65’s “Blue.” I personally cannot stand the original song, but there’s no denying that Fleshgod Apocalypse’s version is well made and funny as hell.
Anyways, their most recent 'serious' release – “No” – is a larger-than-life orchestral banger with unexpected pop culture references. In this case, Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.” More, please!
3. Ne Obliviscaris – “Intra Venus”
Unfortunately their anticipated fourth album has been indefinitely delayed due to COVID restrictions, but I think we’re all looking forward to hearing Australian progressive metal favorites Ne Obliviscaris’ new material. Could we see the album drop sometime this year? I suppose that’s up to the vaccine rollouts to decide.
Nevertheless, I am eagerly awaiting violinist/clean vocalist Tim Charles’s contributions to their upcoming album.
4. Unlucky Morpheus – “Black Pentagram”
Somehow, despite their songs routinely receiving hundreds of thousands of streams and their videos often breaking a million views, Japanese technical power metal prodigies Unlucky Morpheus are not well-known in the West. They don’t even have an English Wikipedia page! However, they’re easily the best symphonic band I’ve 'discovered' this year. While many symphonic power metal bands tend to veer into the realm of cheesiness, Unlucky Morpheus manages to stay heavy in every song.
After listening to “Black Pentagram” and their more recent singles, check out their violinist Jill’s impressive collection of metal/rock covers.
5. Architects – “Animals (Orchestral Version)”
While Architects’ new sound has divided many longtime fans of their earlier metalcore music, the chart performance of their recent album For Those Who Wish To Exist is impressive in its own right. Especially in this orchestral rendition of their lead single “Animals,” Architects has managed to bring in heavy-handed symphonic influences in a way that manages to retain all of the original recording’s heaviness.
The live orchestra at the famed Abbey Road Studios honestly looks like they're having more fun than Architects themselves, at times. I am unsure how far they want to take this musical direction, but it would be mind-blowingly cool if they were to record an entire album in this symphonic style. Fingers crossed!
Given the number of similarities often found between metal and Western Classical music, it shouldn’t really be a surprise how well orchestral and metal music can go together. Symphonic metal is hardly a new genre, but the genre appears to be improving sonically and growing in popularity. Let’s keep this ball rolling because I’d love to see even greater innovation in this branch of metal music!