Sunday Sesh: What’s your favorite use of a piece of classical music in metal?
Today I am W., bringer of war (and discussion topics)! In this Sunday sesh, we’re talking about Holst, Nile, Batman, and metal bands borrowing their riffs from classical composers.
If your childhood was anything like mine, you likely didn’t hear a ton of classical music outside of music classes at school while you were growing up. In fact, if we’re secretly twins separated at birth, it’s likely your first real introduction to composer Gustav Holst’s brilliant seven-movement orchestral suite, The Planets, were the allusions to the spectacular opening movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War” in Danny Elfman’s surprisingly decent composition for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film (later famously parodied on an episode of Adult Swim’s Venture Bros.).
Which is a real shame, because Holst’s famous composition is a real barn-burner. Written for a large orchestra with a full complement of horns, strings, and percussion, “Mars, Bringer of War” opens with a martial peal of drum thunder while the stirring horns set the stage with an eerie fog of ambiance. The composition peaks within the two first minutes with a triumphant, belligerent crescendo of dynamic strings. Although the entire movement, and the whole suite itself, is a rousing affair perfectly suited for the full sound and vibrant dynamics within metal, those first two minutes of “Mars” would be the perfect introduction to any metal live set.
Death metal legends Nile did ol’ Holst one better on their debut record, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, not only borrowing the title of “Mars” for fifth track “Ramses Bringer of War,” but actually transposing those string crescendos into crunchy, pyramidal riffs caked with the sands of ages past. It’s a bold move that adds a massive amount of bombast and grandeur to an already over-the-top death metal track. Holst’s arching motif from “Mars” even makes a surprising return around the 3:20 mark amid a flurry of chaotic riffs threatening to collapse the entire track like a hurricane-strength dust storm. “Ramses Bringer of War” is a monumental track that captures the majestic nature of Holst’s original composition and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s notorious poem about the Egyptian kingly namesake of Ramses, Ozymandias. It’s as though Nile looked upon Holst and all of death metal and proclaimed, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Metal is no stranger to borrowing classical music. Hell, every band that has ever toured ever has used Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” as an introductory track. Still, for one moment in 1998, Nile did it better than anyone.
You, however, likely disagree with my statement. Respond with great angeryness in the comments and let me know your favorite use of classical music in metal.