Judge Paul Corupe thinks that even a six-fingered man would have trouble keeping up with Yngwie Malmsteen's Olympic-level guitar wankery.
Classic rock or classical rock?
Speedy-fingered, dexterous fret bashers know there's only one lord of the strings, and that's guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen. Here's a guy who has made an entire career out of being as virtuosic as possible on the heavy metal guitar, and maintained an incredible level of popularity doing so. Known primarily as a "musician's musician," Malmsteen doesn't play the kind of music you would really want to spin after a hard day at work or for your next dinner party. It's exclusively for the admiration of other budding and seasoned guitarists who are floored by the speed and precision of what can only be described as Olympic-level guitar wankery.
While several heavy metal bands have recorded an album backed by a symphonic orchestras in the past few years, none may have been better suited to the task than Malmsteen. He's one of the few metal artists whose work often shares more similarities with classical music than what most people traditionally consider metal. This 2001 concert, in which Malmsteen performs with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, features 18 classical pieces composed and arranged specifically by Malmsteen for the occasion. Here's the pretentiously titled-set list:
1. Black Star Overture
Malmsteen is often criticized for playing music that is so focused on prowess that it has no real soul ot heart—it's as hollow and empty as his guitar case. This is a fair point, and there's really nothing on Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra to challenge it. The man plays well, but there's no real emotional connection with anything he does; just awe at his proficiency. That said, Malmsteen is among the most technically skilled players ever to pick up the instrument, and his complex playing is a good match with the classical music setting. Ignoring the suspectly named "New Japan Philharmonic" and the fact that real classical music aficionados would probably laugh Malmsteen's compositions back to the Baroque period, the songs really aren't so bad. The guitar has been ingeniously woven into the fabric of each song, especially on the few acoustic pieces he does here. Aside from a few covers of his older material, this is more than just a novelty heavy metal performance with a symphony behind the band. This is a carefully written and performed concerto that seeks to meld the two worlds together. And for that, Malmsteen deserves credit, no matter how ultimately barren his music can seem.
But what really irks me about this DVD is the way it's been put together. Maybe they thought that real metal guitar fans couldn't sit still for anything longer than a three minute guitar solo, because this concert is hyper-edited beyond belief. Literally, none of these shots last longer than a few seconds, as we're bludgeoned with angle after angle of the concert hall. For example, you get a brief peek at the French horns, followed by a studious close-up of Malmsteen's finger work, then a long shot of the whole hall, then a one-shot of Malmsteen, then yet another finger spotlight, back to the conductor, an angle from behind the backs of the performers, and more flying fingers. The pace is completely incongruous with the musical accompaniment, and is more than enough to give you a headache on its own. Note to the director: just because you have 30 cameras doesn't mean you have to use them all.
Filmed in fullframe, Yngwie Malmsteen: Concerto Suite for Guitar and Orchestra presents a remarkably clear image, with no artifacts or grain to speak of. The sound, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, is passable for a heavy metal DVD, but it's not so good for a classical release, lacking the proper presence and coming across as slightly anemic. There are two extras on this release by music DVD specialists Eagle Eye. The bonus track "Evil Eye," Malmsteen's best known song, is performed by the guitarist and the band (why isn't this just in the show?), and there's also a four minute phone interview with Malmsteen who talks briefly about his intentions with the concerto and how he feels it is his "crowning achievement."
And really, who am I to try and take that away from him? Aside from the seizure-inducing editing, Malmsteen fans are going to be extremely pleased with this DVD, no matter what I say. So let's just give the man his due: he is an amazingly skilled guitarist.
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