When a music listener scans the scorched earth landscape that is heavy metal, it isn’t long before they come across Sweden’s own Yngwie Johan Malmsteen.
In the vast realm of heavy metal, Yngwie (named after the Norse god of fertility with a huge dick), whose given name is Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck, is widely known for his ability to shred like no other. In fact, whenever anyone asks who is the fastest guitar shredder of all time, the short list of contenders almost inevitably includes Yngwie Malmsteen and…well, some other people. Whether Yngwie is at the top will always be a raging debate, but know this: dude can rip.
The reason for this reputation Yngwie Malmsteen has earned as a super fast guitar player is simply supported by the growing audio and video evidence. Album upon album and show after show displays his formidable chops, dazzling most fans and leaving even the most pompous of guitar players grudgingly nodding in admiration for the metal god who has been known to “unleash the fury” more than once.
Just watch this live performance below which includes some classic soloing by Yngwie and shows you why many people can’t help but point to him as one of the fastest guitar players of all time.
That performance we just saw is but one of many that display Yngwie Malmsteen’s speed and virtuosity on the guitar, and it might make you wonder how he he’s able to play that fast. If you are a beginner guitarist, the notes he plays in most of his lightning fast solos are just a blur, though an impressive one! Well, here is another video where Yngwie addresses this question directly.
As we just heard, it wasn’t any kind of special finger exercises that allowed him to play flurries of notes at faster and faster speeds. Instead, it was a simple determination in the early days of his career to get better every single day, in a very noticeable way. As Yngwie says in the above video, while recording at the studio, he would play his guitar leads, and then go home that night and practice in an effort to outdo his previous day’s performance. It would seem that this simple method of concentrating on self-improvement went a long way towards him gaining a tremendous amount of speed over the years.
We might like to point out, also, that Yngwie puts a particular emphasis not only on seeing daily improvement in speed, but also focusing on accuracy, as well as increased difficulty. Put simply, this means doing absolutely EVERYTHING better than you did before. Not everyone is able to subscribe to this simple, but very challenging practice regimen. As Yngwie states, he held the philosophy, “If you can’t play it perfectly clean, and with accuracy, don’t play it.”
Of course, many musicians are familiar with Yngwie’s “Arpeggios From Hell”, which demonstrates the sweep picking technique that helps him gain some of his speed.
As he says in the video above, there’s a lot involved in this composition because you need to be familiar with so many different musical scales, modes, and positions – not to mention the sweep picking technique itself. This isn’t beginner guitar stuff – that’s for sure!
Yngwie Malmsteen Background / History
But the truth about Yngwie Malmsteen is that his great speed on the guitar is really only a tool for him to express himself fully on his chosen instrument.
Born in 1963 in Stockholm, Sweden, it wasn’t long before Yngwie took a liking to both classical and rock music, listening closely to the likes of Niccolò Paganini, a violinist from the 19th century, and developing a huge appreciation for none other than Deep Purple’s Richie Blackmore.
In the early 1980’s, Yngwie moved to the United States and gained popularity playing guitar in bands like Steeler and Alcatrazz, where you can already hear him developing the intricate playing style he would soon become famous for.
Listen to this collection of some of his solos culled from his work with Steeler and you can easily tell who’s playing on these tracks.
Once Yngwie released Rising Force in 1984, his reputation for amazing guitar playing became even that much bigger. It seemed that no one had heard such classically-influenced super metal shredding until this time, and this Rising Force album brought Yngwie a ton of acclaim from all sides, including a Grammy in 1986 for Best Rock Instrumental. Fans couldn’t get enough of Yngwie’s precise, melodic, and heavy guitar stylings. Guitar Player Magazine called Rising Force the Best Rock Album of the year. Clearly, everyone was just floored, from your average rock fan to even hard-to-please rock critics. A new sound was born!
Take a listen to the track Black Star from that album and maybe you’ll see what got fans all revved up, as they still do to this day.
It is quite rare that a musician who is so clearly all about the metal is also very inspired by classical music to the degree that Yngwie Malmsteen is. Just to illustrate this point, watch this video where he plays together with the Japanese Philharmonic Orchestra, proving once and for all that he is a man who inhabits both worlds completely.
Not to stir the proverbial pot, but what is also interesting about Yngwie Malmsteen is that despite him being such a virtuosic player that shows a deep affinity for both metal and classical styles of music, he has his share of naysayers on both ends of the spectrum. This is partly, in this writer’s opinion, because Yngwie is the kind of guy who is just a little too opinionated or you might say “real” or too “raw” for certain groups of people.
With Yngwie, he likes to speak his mind, and this has been documented in articles like one famous one by Guitar World in 1994 (reprinted here on Reddit) where he basically spoke his mind on a variety of popular songs of the day. This article got him in some hot water with fans and critics because he was freely judging other people’s music, and so, you know the saying – judge lest not ye be judged.
And so it was. People gave Yngwie hell for judging their favorite artists so vocally in this particular article, even though some of his points were not without validity. Its funny that people on the internet still talk about this article to this day, and people are still getting offended! That said, this kind of flack has never really stopped Yngwie Malmsteen from expressing his opinions.
We think it is this same realness that makes many people gravitate to Yngwie Malmsteen and his music, and also made Yngwie himself create so much work of his own, because the guy clearly has a lot to say – most of it in the form of intricate and blinding guitar solos full of emotion and raw energy. Over the years, he’s been featured in video games such as Guitar Hero II where players can receive a Malmsteen awards for nailing 1000 notes in a row. He also has his own signature Strat, which is not an honour that is easily bestowed upon an artist.
Capping things off here, Yngwie is one of the most influential metal guitarists of our time, and we recommend that any aspiring guitar player check out his work, and there is no shortage of that. Just pick an album, and let him either hypnotize you or tear your head off!