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What Is Symphonic Metal?

Symphonic metal is played on guitars through amplifiers with heavy distortion.
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  • Written By: Lee Johnson
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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Symphonic metal is heavy metal music with symphonic or classical-influenced elements. Generally, the term "symphonic metal" can be used in conjunction with other descriptions to provide a clearer idea of genre. Bands such as Epica, Nightwish and Trans-Siberian Orchestra can all be classed as symphonic metal, but each would also need additional description in order to convey a full understanding of the band's style of music.

Symphonic metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal, which usually relies heavily on distorted and chunky-sounding guitars, riffs and blistering guitar solos. Heavy metal was pioneered by Black Sabbath, but the phrase was first used to describe Led Zepplin’s music. Some well-known metal bands include Metallica, Pantera and Slayer.

Heavy metal music is further divided into many different sub-genres. This can make metal music difficult to understand for a newcomer. Different and more common sub-genres of metal include death metal, black metal, power metal, thrash metal, and folk metal. Each of these sub-genres has a distinct sound, but all still employ some of the key components of heavy metal. Symphonic metal is another in the ever-growing list of sub-genres.

Symphonic metal was pioneered by Savatage, with the album “Gutter Ballet.” It initially toyed with the idea of using symphonic elements in heavy metal, and the band's later work further explored this idea. Savatage showed the metal world that the combination of classical elements within heavy metal can have a powerful effect, and other bands such as Rage soon began using similar ideas.

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Other bands such as Nightwish, Rhapsody and Dark Moor then took the genre of symphonic metal further, and it continued to gain popularity throughout the late '90s. Even bands like Metallica, which had roots in thrash and has since swayed to a more general style of metal, took to the idea of using orchestral sounds. They released a like album performed with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, titled “S & M,” which presented symphonic editions of classic tracks such as “Master of Puppets.”

The main sub-sets of symphonic metal are symphonic power metal, symphonic death metal and symphonic black metal. Symphonic power metal bands include Nightwish, which uses a female, operatic vocalist and classical-influenced melodies in its music. Symphonic death metal bands include Hollenthon and Eternal Tears of Sorrow. Black metal bands that add a symphonic element into their music include Dimmu Borgir and Emporer. Dimmu Borgir also occasionally uses an operatic vocal in its tracks, although ordinarily the vocals are gravelly, which is more stereotypical of black metal music.

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