Wednesday, June 24, 2009

M - Yngwie J. Malmsteen - "Rising Force"

“I used to could listen for hours to records just for the guitar playing, but then I was dumb, because without an actual song or framework, its just somebody going doodly-doodly-doodly without rhyme or reason, and it bores me intensely (though I still own one Yngwie Malmsteen record, you’ll NEVER catch me actually listening to it).” – from my review of the Yardbirds’ “Roger the Engineer” record.

Whoops. Color me a fool.

So you know how I feel about flashy guitar players – no more needs to be said, though I’m sure I’ll end up saying it anyway.
Yngwie Malmsteen was THE hot new guitarist on the block in 1984-85. His calling card was speed: no one, and I mean NO ONE played faster than Yngwie. At a time when this kind of talent really seemed to matter, he not only sounded the part, but he looked it too: 21 years old, long hair, classic 80’s metal dude. Music magazines had this Swede plastered all over the place before his first solo record even came out (he first drew notice in the boring “Alcatrazz”). In interviews, he would position himself as the rightful heir of the musical throne of Bach, Paginnini, & Hendrix (though it’s obvious that he patterned himself after more recent players like Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Uli Jon Roth of the Scorpions.) At school, we’d look at pictures and wonder if his name was pronounced “yuh-NIG-wee” or “ING-wee” or “ING-vay” (the latter is correct). Finally the record came out. Yup, he sure was fast. Real fast. Faster than Van Halen, even. Problem was he couldn’t write. At all. No melodies, no lyrics, no nothing. But he played fast, alright. John became the Yngwie collector of the family: I think he bought the first 4 Yngwie records before losing interest. I never developed that interest myself, though I did have his picture on my wall for many years. He looked cooler than he sounded.

And how does it stack up today, you are asking yourself? Not well, matey. For one, it has the ABYSMAL sound of 80’s metal, especially the drums of ex-Jethro Tull member Barriemore Barlow (who happens to share my birthday – Virgos rule!) For another, as I mentioned, there’s not one memorable riff or melody on the whole record. You may as well listen to it with the sound off, because you’ll retain nothing. Lastly, his guitar playing…it IS superfast. Too fast. He plays 10 notes when 4 would suffice. There are endless descending and ascending runs – so many that you eventually tune them out, noticing only when he SLOWS DOWN (which isn’t too often). Seeing as he always claimed he was more than just another metal guitarist, (he is Yngwie “J.” Malmsteen, after all), he turns a Bach work into heavy metal drivel (this album came out around the same time Spinal Tap exposed so much of the rock & metal world for the sham it was, so it was passe upon release), has a harpsichord player on another song, and shows that he can play acoustic guitar and bass just as fast – yet for no real reason. A keyboard player appears on many of the cuts, sometimes dueling with Yngwie (sorry, Yngwie J.) on solos – hey buddy, I don’t care how fast YOU play, I didn’t buy this to hear fast keyboards, DUDE.) Plus there are two actual songs featuring vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, who must’ve been an old friend, because he has no business singing metal: on the first (“Now Your Ships Are Burned”), he sounds like a smoother James Hetfield of Metallica; on the second (“As Above, So Below”), he is the faceless metal singer that you imagine when you think of “generic”.

I despise Gene Simmons as a human being, but he made a really good point in the “Kiss Extreme Close-Up” video (he was burying Mark St. John, their third guitar player who became disabled & had to leave the band after recording one album with them): he stated that he would rather hear a simple hard chord whose sound almost breaks your ribs than to hear a million notes that just sounds like an angry bee – so annoying that you want to shoot that thing (and if Gene Simmons gets in the way of the bullet, all the better).

VERDICT: listening to this record is like driving through the Midwest (say, Kansas) at full speed. When you look out the windows, everything is rushing by so fast that you can’t focus on anything (not that there’s anything of interest to focus on). You just want to get through it as quickly as possible and move on to something else.
VIDEO: here’s Yngwie J doing his thing in Japan. They seem to like him, though people probably didn’t care too much for him on a flight to Toyko in 2002. Apparently, another passenger spilled water on him after he wouldn’t shut up, and, drunken and beligerant, he went off: (not safe for work). I like this clip much more than any of his music.

shred THIS!


  1. I use to own this record....did i give you my copy Mark? probably not...anyway I listened to about half of it and got rid of it...I think i bought it used for 2 or 3 bucks.

    I recently rented a G3 dvd from was Joe satriani, Steve Vai and Yngwie...the others were good because they had evolved and took the guitar music to places other than 80's metal.......but ol Yngwie was doing the same ol thing he was in the 80's. He was dressed the same, he was doing strap twrills(throwing the guitar around you body by use of the guitar strap), and he was playing the exact same music he did in the 80's. The only difference was that he was now elvis fat. It was like he had went forward in time in a time machine which makes you fat......check out this video and youll see what i mean.....rock on!!!!

  2. Completely disagree with this review. This is classic shred. What Malmsteen had on this album that the majority of shredders lacked was: simple gear setup that gave amazing tone (Strat plugged into Marshall with a simple overdrive pedal), great phrasing, and the production fits the sound and era well. How can you not give songs like Black Star, Far Beyond the Sun, or Icarus Dream Suite credit. It sounds completely different and better than most 80's shred, and was way ahead of its' time. No one played this kind of neoclassical shred at this level - he almost invented it. The one thing I really like about old school Malmsteen is that he ad libbed almost everything. All the guitar solos are off the cuff for the most part. The first main solo in Now Your Ships are Burned is just great. It blasts in with 3 notes that repeat in three different octaves, burns down a harmonic minor scale, and then does this awesome arpeggio run in many different modes up the neck before hitting a huge screaming high note bend! It is just awesome. And Far Beyond the Sun!-- the final half of the song after the keyboard solo.. so dramatic and fantastic choice of notes with the big arpeggiated finish. No one does solos like that. And like I mentioned -- the TONE! It's like sweet and crisp, yet has jagged edges. Most shredders use high output amps, humbucking pickups, and tons of signal processing. Yngwie went the opposite route and used low output single coils, and old Marshall amps. Simple, and sounds way more natural and organic for this type of music. I will admit the lyrics are pretty over the top cheese, but it adds to the 80s camp value of rawk! Besides a couple jems on his next couple albums he pretty much started repeating himself, but not as good. But this album, for its' time, is amazing.