|Stylistic origins||Gothic metal
Melodic power metal
|Cultural origins||mid-late 1990s, Continental Europe (mainly Scandinavia and the Netherlands)
(this regards symphonic metal proper; for symphonic variations on other styles of metal, especially extreme metal, the cultural origins are in late 1980s-early to mid 1990s in Switzerland and Scandinavia)
|Typical instruments||Guitar - Bass - Keyboards - Piano - Drums - Violin - other acoustic and electronic instruments - occasionally backing choirs|
|Mainstream popularity||Almost mainstream in parts of Europe, moderately large cult following elsewhere.|
|Symphonic power metal
Symphonic gothic metal
Symphonic black metal
|Timeline of heavy metal|
Symphonic metal is a term used to describe heavy metal music that has symphonic elements; that is, elements that are either borrowed from classical music or, as with progressive rock music, create a style reminiscent of it, e.g. operatic female lead vocals; instrumentation that includes acoustic guitars and different types of keyboards instead of relying solely on electric guitars; asymmetrical meters such as 5/4 and 7/8, and classical thematic material in addition to characteristically heavy metal power riffs.
When referring to bands from other genres, it refers to bands who use minor classical and operatic themes in their music similar to what one finds in the symphonic metal genre, to show they are more "symphonic" than other bands within their genre.
Keyboards are normally the focal point of the music. While other instruments typically play relatively simple parts, the keyboard parts can be very complex and technically challenging, often played in a wide variety of classical styles and emulating anything up to and including full orchestral arrangements. An actual orchestra is sometimes employed, both live and in the studio, to similar effect.
Bands in this genre nearly always feature a female lead vocalist (and emphasize this in their promotion), most commonly a soprano performing in an operatic style. There is sometimes a second, male vocalist, as is also common in gothic metal. Growling, death metal style vocals are rare, but not unknown. Further backup up to and including a full choir is sometimes employed. Male vocalists are more common in the symphonic power metal category.
It is more difficult to generalize 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. Many of these bands at least sometimes use these instruments (as well as the lead vocals) to play simple, catchy melodies which make symphonic metal (along with power metal, which shares this characteristic) one of the more accessible current 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, fantasy and mythological themes are common. Concept albums styled after operas or epic poems are not uncommon.
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. Particularly important was Therion's 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.
Nightwish and Within Temptation both released their first albums in 1997, each heavily influenced 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.
Many new symphonic metal bands appeared or came to wide attention in the early 2000s, including Rain Fell Within, After Forever, Epica, Haggard, 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 even black metal. 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 sub-genre.
By either definition, symphonic metal tends to be popular in in the same regions as the above-mentioned subgenres, mainly central and northern Europe.
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 Therion.
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.
Many black metal purists discount this genre as having nothing to do with 'black metal,' due to the heavy similarities some of its bigger bands hold with gothic metal. Claims that keyboards, female vocals and other gothic metal characteristics are inconsistent with the essence of "true" black metal have often resulted in confusion between symphonic black metal and gothic metal bands. Emperor, Thy Serpent, Cradle of Filth, Anorexia Nervosa, and Dimmu Borgir have all been subjects of this claim.
The symphonic death metal scene emerged from the melodic death metal scene, incorporating more symphonic elements. Bands seemingly stemmed away from the power metal influences of "melo-death" and used orchestration in its place.
Key bands in the genre show the progressive development of the genre, such as with Septic Flesh,Be'lakor, Hollenthon, Stormlord, and Inactive Messiah; this showed a merging of symphonic and death metal on a more balanced scale than shown in melo-death metal.
The symphonic power metal was developed in the early nineties as the Brazilians Angra (who in 1993 with the debut "Angels Cry", managed to fuse the power metal with classical music and symphonic), and the Italians Skylark (1994) and Rhapsody of Fire (1994). Skylark had a relative success in Europe but became very popular in Japan and China becoming the first Italian metal band ever to attend to whole tour in Japan and China while Rhapsody of Fire have had excellent feedback from the public and critics around the world.
The first gothic metal band 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. 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". 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.
|Problems listening to these files? See media help.|
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". A second album Decipher followed in 2001 with music that was described by guitarist Sander Gommans as being in the style of Within Temptation. 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 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 mezzo-soprano named 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.