In many ways, the story of Yngwie Malmsteen goes hand-in-hand with the story of Mike Varney, at least in the beginning. Varney is the founder of Shrapnel Records, the label responsible for virtually creating the shred movement, and for launching the careers of guys like Paul Gilbert, Tony MacAlpine, Richie Kotzen, and of course Yngwie Malmsteen. Not long after starting up Shrapnel Records, Mike Varney was asked by Guitar Player Magazine to write a column called “Spotlight” (Yes, this column is in tribute to the original), where he would feature up & coming shredders who had submitted their material to him. In 1982, Varney received a tape from an 18 year old Swedish guitar player, Yngwie Malmsteen. Varney was so impressed with Malmsteen’s demo that he asked him to come to the States and join the Nashville-based metal band Steeler. Steeler’s 1983 self-titled debut album featured a level of guitar playing way beyond anything seen before that point. The intro to their track “Hot on Your Heels” is the first real taste of the Paganniesque stlye of playing Yngwie would later become famous for worldwide.
Right after Steeler was released, Yngwie split and joined Alcatrazz for their debut album, No Parole From Rock ‘N’ Roll. The classical influence became even more apparent in his work with Alcatrazz, but singer Graham Bonnet wanted to push the band in a more commercial direction, as is evident in songs Like “Island in the Sun”. The song and video are both pretty standard for 80’s rock, but the solo at 2:25 is phenomenal.
Right after No Parole From Rock ‘N’ Roll was released, Yngwie began working on his first solo album, and eventually left Alcatrazz altogether. His debut solo album, Rising Force, is considered one of the best shred albums to date. And I agree entirely. It really is an album that shows the skills of a musician coming to fruition. His talent had been sampled in his previous work with other bands, but he hadn’t had the opportunity to be the driving force behind the direction of the music. In Rising Force, we see the first real fusion of classical music and metal. Throughout the album, we’re exposed to the dramatic and moody elements of symphonic music, played out a rock ‘n’ roll set-up. But most importantly, on his debut album, Yngwie Malmsteen delivers loads upon loads of insanely fast, and crisp shredded out licks. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be a guitar player in 1984, hearing Rising Force for the first time. I probably would have wanted to quit playing altogether. Just to put things in perspective: In 1983 Metallica put out Kill ‘Em All, with the largely blues based (and pretty sloppy) lead work by Kirk Hammett. Iron Maiden put out Piece of Mind (one of my favorite albums of all time) and the technicality isn’t even comparable. Even to this day, with all of the other neo-classical spin-off shredders that came about from this album, Rising Force is still a cut above the rest. I should also say that Jeff Scott Soto handles the vocal duties for the couple of songs on the album with vocals, and he does a damn good job. Soto would be featured on Yngwie’s second solo album, as well as on an album in the 90’s. Here is easily my favorite track on the album, “Black Star”, the first song on Rising Force. This was the first Malmsteen song I had ever heard, probably in around late 2006 (shortly after I had started playing guitar). I love the main theme, I find myself whistling it still today when I’m walking around a lot. Weird right?
Alright, I’m cutting the first part right here, just for the sake of your sanity. I’ll be posting part two this Sunday, so make sure you check it out! And as always, listen to my radio show tonight at 9 PM central, on WSUM. And check out my own blog, Night of the Living Shred, for more shred every day of week!