"A generation which ignores history has no past and no future." Robert Heinlein
By Sam Graham
1984 is typically seen as the beginning of heavy metal’s peak, and for the guitarist of [insert metal band here], playing the genre typically went like this: Chug on the thick strings for a bit while the other bloke sings, then anytime he’s not doing something, play a solo. Fundamentally that’s still how it works today, but one day back in ’84, a guy with bamfy hair came out of Stockholm, Sweden, packing a yellow Fender Stratocaster, and showed the world of metal who’s boss. Nobody could pronounce his name, but once they’d heard him play, everybody knew who he was.
Yngwie Malmsteen (pronounced Ing-Vay Mahlm-Steen), with the help of the vocal talents of Jeff Scott Soto and former Jethro Tull drummer Barriemore Barlow, created his debut album Rising Force and since that day, the man has been cemented as one of the most technically proficient musicians in the world.
Rising Force opens with the soft, harp-like sounds of the instrumental, Black Star. It may sound a bit cliché, trying a bit too much to sound classical, but if I said that every time this album, or this man did that, I’d never say anything else. Just take it for what it is and try to enjoy it. The bass-line is one of the few constants about this song and aside from the recurring guitar hook later on, the song becomes a mass flurry of notes. If it’s the first time you’ve heard it, it’s quite mind-blowing to hear, but after years, the novelty does wane. When it’s slower and more rhythmical, it’s very good, but like every song on this album, it’s a showcase for Malmsteen’s playing abilities. Thankfully Black Star has enough hooking moments to make it feel less gratuitous.
Far Beyond The Sun is much like Black Star just with that extra bit of gratuity packed back in. The instrumental kicks straight in with some more of his now-trademark classical sounds, and wastes no time building up to where he can let rip. In fact, it’s fair to say that this entire song is one big guitar solo. Like Black Star, it’s got enough hooks to keep interest (well it had to have really) and the parts that aren’t widdly are a treat for the ears. Far Beyond The Sun may be only a minute longer than the predecessor, at 5:50, but it feels like it’s up in the seven-minute mark, purely because of the gratuitous shredding. Just as you’ll be thinking “yeah, OK, I get it, you’re amazing at guitar”, the song does come back to one of its hooks which leads to the end. It’s good to know that Malmsteen understands song structure too.
The third song finally features some vocals! It’s very welcomed as Soto is a fantastic singer. It’s just a shame he doesn’t get to exercise his impressive range on this song. Now Your Ships Are Burned is where the gratuity starts to take it a bit too far. It’s sort of excusable for instrumentals, but when you’ve got a good singer on the roster, use him, don’t just wedge him in as a gasket between solos. While this song may have more of the usual tropes that makes a song, it’s the least musical on the album so far, purely because Malmsteen and his scalloped fretboard can’t get out of his own way.
Soto didn’t really have much to do on this album did he? The fourth track, Evil Eye is another patented Malmsteen instrumental and in all honesty, he made such poor use of the singer in the last song that I’m glad he’s back to them. It begins with another slow intro that sounds like something you’d expect to hear from the Gods’ scenes in Clash of the Titans (1981). It’s that cliché ‘harmonious’ sound. The guitar takes over shortly and then leads into the main riff. Naturally, what follows is a lot of notes. Notes everywhere! Everywhere I say!
While Black Star and Far Beyond The Sun had a natural ebb and flow to them, Evil Eye sounds a bit more disjointed, a little more forced. The gratuitousness is still just as prevalent as ever, but this song just lacks the punch that the previous instrumentals had. Maybe it’s that riff; I just don’t like it.
Following Evil Eye comes the pretentiously titled (yes, even more so that Far Beyond The Sun) Icarus Dream Suite Opus 4. Say it. Actually say it out loud. I dare you. Icarus Dream Suite Opus 4. Without question it takes elements from older music, allegedly from musicologist and biography writer Remo Giazotto’s Adagio in G Minor, which was allegedly written by Venetian composer Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni. That was a history lesson I was unprepared to give, I can tell you.
It’s the longest track on the album and with a title like that, rightly so. If it was a flimsy three-minute little thing, I’d have felt ripped-off. As is Malmsteen’s forte, it’s an instrumental, but actually has a lot of rhythm work put into it. It starts off slow, and spends a long time building up. There are a few pauses here and there that break up the shredding that makes the song actually quite nice to listen to. Just after the five-minute mark is the best part. Honestly, that bit that starts there could have been a song on its own and I wouldn’t have said anything bad about it. The same again goes for the bit at the seven-minute mark. Interestingly, the lead guitar over that section is very Iron Maiden sounding, believe it or not.
Icarus Dream Suite Opus 4 actually surprised me. I was expecting another self-fellating shred piece; and while that does occur at parts, this song seems to be one of the most thought out on the album.
When you hear the intro to As Above So Below, if you don’t instantly think Toccata & Fugue byBach, you’ve either never heard it, or you’re lying. There’s that Bach reference again, three reviews running. I swear I’m not doing this on badness.
And finally we have a song that shows off Soto’s range! Hallelujah! Once the Bach sycophantism is over, the guitar comes in with a decent intro, but what makes this song stand out from the rest is Soto. He reminds me of Ronnie James Dio, especially in this song, and it’s the distinct lack of him on this album that makes this song enjoyable.
The interlude, just before Malmsteen allows himself to go mental, is in a vein that would be heard again two years later when the Japanese company Konami made Castlevania. I say that to give you, the reader, an idea of how it sounds. It’s a very well-made section of the song, only to be trampled on by licks that we’ve heard on all of the previous songs.
When Little Savage starts, it’s pretty metal. A nice solid riff that’s intermixed with the odd lick here and there works to create another build-up. As the frequency of the licks increases, I think we all know what it’s building up to, but this time we’re wrong! Oh I’ve never been so glad to be wrong! Right when you think the song’s going to go mental, it reverses and slows down, lightens up and becomes a bit more soulful. Malmsteen even reigns himself in a bit (for now), which is a nice surprise. When the main riff returns, it brings the ego-boosting solo with it. After that however, the song ends on a high note (pun not intended) as it becomes somewhat cheesy with the keyboard taking the rhythm duty. It sounds a bit like the music to Push it to the Limit (1983) by Paul Engemann which you’ll probably know as the montage song from Scarface (1983), except with more guitars.
Rising Force ends as it begin, with literally the same bit, only now it’s called Farewell. It’s only fifty-seconds long, so as we’re treated to some harp-like harmonic notes, we say farewell to Mr Malmsteen and farewell to this album.
The good points and the bad points of this album are both Yngwie Malmsteen. The good points being that yes, he is a very talented guitarist and knows a lot about the playing of it, but the bad thing is that he is very, very aware of it. Everyone who knows of this man thinks the same thing about him. You’re probably thinking it right now. There’s no denying that the man can play, but there’s also no denying he sometimes doesn’t know when to get out of his own way. A few more songs with vocals would have been nice. If I was going to hire someone who could wail like Jeff Scott Soto, I’d want to make full use of him.
Has it stood the test of time?
Well let’s face it, Malmsteen’s music really only has one niche audience: guitar players. Not to say that others can’t appreciate him, because they do, but most of his fanbase seem to be guitarists. I’ll admit, back in my own salad days, I used to worship people like Malmsteen, Michael Angelo Batio, and Paul Gilbert, but as I grew up and learned the valuable lesson that there’s a hell of a lot more to music than playing it fast and flurridly, I found myself turning away from them, and finding their onslaughts to be a bit ridiculous. In fact the thing that irritates me the most about Malmsteen and the gang of ‘super shredders’ is the fans. They’re so sycophantic and they bitch on and on to everyone available about who is better, who is faster than who, like it’s ‘my dad’s harder than your dad’, and don’t even get me started on those bedroom-shredders that have oversaturated YouTube by trying to cover Far Beyond The Sun and Eruption by Van Halen(1978). Jesus… My only hope for them is that one day they learn the same lesson I did and look back on their past rosy-eyed days with a sense of humour.
As far as Malmsteen’s entire discography goes, it’s this album that usually stands out the most. The man has had eighteen solo albums to date and out of all of his music, songs like Far Beyond The Sun and Black Star are still the most mentioned.
I’m not against guitar solos; I live for them, but there’s always a time and a place. Solos should be there to accentuate the music, whereas most of this album sounds like he’s just jamming along to a backing track. For years I didn’t even know there was a real human drummer, because the drums on this album are so lifeless. Malmsteen’s good, but his library of licks is surprisingly short and you’ll wind up hearing the same ones rehashed over and over again on this album. Because of that, it makes the lead sections a bore to listen to after a very short time. Like I said earlier, it’s mind-blowing at first, but the novelty does wane, especially seeing as every album I’ve heard sounds just like this one.
So to sum it up, yes this album has stood the test of time, because it launched Malmsteen’s dual status as both a fret messiah and bamfy-haired arsehole. There’s no denying that the man can play fast and play fast accurately, but that doesn’t necessarily make good music now does it?
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \n