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Yngwie Malmsteen

WHO IS HE

Along with contemporaries Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, the Swedish born Yngwie Malmsteen largely defined the equally derided and celebrated '80s phenomena of the guitar shredder.

Building on the technical breakthroughs of Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, Malmsteen fashioned a playing style informed by 19th century classical violinist Niccolo Paganini (whom the guitarist maintains is his primary influence) that incorporated unprecedentedly fast arpeggios and solos. Malmsteen was an innovator in the electric guitar technique known as sweep picking, which proved to be little interest to those outside of the musician community. While his prowess is superseded only by his arrogant persona, he has remained a cult hero since his relocation to Los Angeles in 1981.

After short stints with the best forgotten Sunset Strip metal bands Steeler and Alcatrazz, Malmsteen's solo debut Rising Force in 1984 raised his profile and earned him a permanent residency as a cover star on most, if not all, guitar magazines. Throughout the decade, he earned modest chart success stateside, with 1988's Odyssey garnering his highest U.S. sales figures. Typical for his genre, Malmsteen found stardom abroad, especially in Japan, but inspired a legion of imitators worldwide and a new, semi-mainstream interest in heavy metal-based guitar virtuosity.

By the early-'90s, most hard rock audiences moved on to alternative rock or grittier heavy metal, eschewing the excesses associated with Malmsteen and his ilk, leaving him as an outdated curiosity for all but the most devoted instrumental rock fans.

BUY THIS ALBUM

At this point, those interested in Yngwie Malmsteen are probably not looking for radio friendly rock music with concessions to such trite concepts as songwriting, hooks, or emotion. For neophytes, the best place to start would be Malmsteen's solo debut Rising Force. The plodding rhythms and shimmering synthesizers throughout the album leave plenty of space for the main focus, which is Malmsteen's admirably accomplished guitar playing.

The 1983 Alcatrazz record No Parole For Rock 'n' Roll, however, does possess album art to match its title.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS

"Black Star," from Rising Force is probably the quintessential Malmsteen song: All neo-classical bedazzlement, melodies that split the difference between portentous Olympics' theme music and Legend of Zelda video game soundtracks, and delivered with the flashiness of King Arthur's B-Team of knights.

1988's "Heaven Tonight" is Malmsteen's biggest hit. Combining a swiped chorus from David Lee Roth with the lite-metal romance-novel sensibility of White Lion, it's as close to commercial as he's gonna get.

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