Albert's Beginner's Guide to Symphonic Metal

Welcome

It took me years to find out about this subgenre of Heavy Metal music and so I created this website as a jump start to help others learn about this music much more quickly and with greater precision than I did. If you're interested in Heavy Metal Music in general, I recommend local Heavy Metal music aficianado Jeff Pearlin's website on Heavy Metal Music.
  

What is Symphonic Metal?

According to Wikipedia, Symphonic Metal is a subgenre of Heavy Metal that saw its origins in the mid to late 1990s primarily in Europe, specifically in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. It is a subgenre of Heavy Metal music with all the traditional elements of Heavy Metal including but not limited to the use of double bass drums, detuned guitars (eg. drop b, drop d, etc), chords performed in minor tonality, heavy guitar riffs, death growls, and louder and faster performances than rock or hard rock music. Symphonic Metal hails its primary musical origins from Power Metal, Gothic Metal, and the classical symphony orchestra.

Whereas the traditional topics explored by Heavy Metal can range from the political and social to extremely controversial, Symphonic Metal dwells primarily in the realm of imagination, legends, myths, fantasy, and epic storytelling though social commentary and exploration about our culture and the human condition are ever present in those themes. Though normal Heavy Metal sees limited use of synthesizers, Symphonic Metal makes heavy use of them, in addition to traditional instruments normally found in a symphony orchestra and choral music arrangements. The front singers perform highly melodic and often soaring operatic vocal styles.  The women fronted symphonic metal bands like Nightwish, Sirenia, and Within Temptation are often sopranos or mezzo sopranos.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive entry for the early history of symphonic metal and how elements in the genre were foreseen by the Thrash metal band Believer, and the Death Metal band Therion that evolved its sound into what would become the Symphonic Metal genre of Heavy Metal music

I have also created a quick start guide of the bands, songs, and albums for those who want to dive in and explore the genre. Heavy metal music continues completely fan supported, so if you like what you hear, please buy their albums and mercandising so they can continue to produce their awesome music!
  

The Bands

What follows is a list of Symphonic Metal bands that I have actually listened to and in my opinion showcase the best elements in the subgenre.  I have included a History link that goes to the band's Wikipedia page if anyone wants to learn more about the history of the band and its members. More bands will be added to this list as I discover them over time. As such, they are listed more or less in the order in which I became aware of them.

Therion

http://www.megatherion.com/en/

History

Swedish death metal origin, themes from different mythologies and practices, including occultism, magic and ancient traditions and writings. Thomas Vikström and Lori Lewis currently front the vocals.
Within Temptation

http://www.within-temptation.com/

History

Dutch gothic metal origin, highly melodic, powerful soaring vocals with a distinctive theatrical flare. Their songs are epic and cinematic in scope and presentation. Mezzo-soprano Sharon den Adel has fronted the vocals since the band's founding in 1996.
Nightwish

http://nightwish.com/en/

History

Finnish symphonic power metal origin, soaring female operatic vocals, epic, bombastic cinematic style of music. Classically trained soprano Floor Jansen currently fronts the vocals. Lyric soprano Tarja Turunen fronted vocals from 1996-2007, and pop/rock vocalist Anette Olzon from 2007-2012.
Kamelot

http://www.kamelot.com/

History

American progressive power metal band from Florida that crosses genres. Strong, soaring, clear, highly melodic male vocals. Swedish singer Tommy Karevik currently fronts the vocals. Past vocalist Norwegian Roy Khan departed in 2011.
Sirenia

http://www.mortenveland.com/sirenia/

History

Norweigan gothic metal origin that maintains strong death metal components in its music. Songs deal with topics in human existence, emotion, and mental states. Norweigan singer Morten Veland and Spanish singer Ailyn currently front the vocals.
Epica

http://www.epica.nl/

History

Dutch progressive, symphonic, and gothic origins that uses soaring female vocals and male growls. Songs largely deal with philosophical topics, including science, religion, and world events. Mezzo-soprano Simone Simons fronts the lead vocals and Mark Jansen the male growls.
Delain

http://www.delain.nl/

History

A Dutch band spawn from former Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt who joins up with Charlotte Wessels. A classically and jazz trained singer, Charlotte has fronted the vocals with numerous guest vocalists since the band's formation.
Leaves' Eyes

http://www.leaveseyes.de/

History

A band of gothic, symphonic, German-Norweigan origin from Stavanger, Norway and Ludwigsburg, Germany. The theme of the songs are about Norse mythology and the age of the Vikings. The band is fronted by the melodic and enchanting vocals of Liv Kristine and the male growls of Krull, in a pairing Liv calls "beauty and the beast".
Xandria

http://xandria.de/

History

German band of gothic metal origin, Xandria has seen a lot of member changes over the years. Their music also uses a lot of light electronic music elements. From 2010-2013, the band was fronted by German lyric soprano Manuela Kraller. As of 2013, Dutch soprano Dianne van Giersbergen fronts the vocals for the band.
Sonata Arctica

http://www.sonataarctica.info/site07/

History

Finnish band originated in the rock genre before moving to power metal. They use symphonic metal elements in their music though many of their more recent works have been considered progressive metal. Tony Kakko has fronted the vocals for the band since 1996.
Symphony X

http://www.symphonyx.com/

History

American band from New Jersey of progressive and power metal origins that has crossed metal subgenres into the symphonic realm with the increased presence of classical instruments and choral arrangements in their compositions. Russell Allen has fronted the vocals since 1995.
Blind Guardian http://www.blind-guardian.com/
  
History
German band with influential power and speed metal origins drawing influences from Heavy Metal, traditional and rock music, and inspiration from legends, fantasy, and epic stories in fiction including the works of J.R.R Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Robert Jordan, Stephen King, and Geroge R. R. Martin. Hansi Kürsch has fronted the vocals since the band's founding in 1984. The symphonic elements appear much later in this band's history, sometimes along side folk tunes and instruments.
Serenity  http://www.serenity-band.com/
  
History
Austrian band with roots in power and progressive metal. The band is currently fronted by the vocal talents of Georg Neuhauser (2004-present) and French Soprano Clémentine Delauney (2012-present).
Bal-Sagoth http://www.bal-sagoth.com/
  
History
Originating in Sheffield and South Yorkshire in England, this band hails from black metal roots. Their later albums successfully pull off Symphonic and Black Metal aspects in unison with injections of death metal for flavor. Vocalist and lyricist Byron Roberts called his band "A sublimely symphonic/death metal band swathed in a concept of dark fantasy/science fiction and ancient myths & legends." The songs are inspired by the stories of writers like Robert E Howard (from where the name of the band originates), H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jack Kirby.
Haggard http://www.haggard.de/
  
History
This German band hails its origins in death metal and then evolved into a band using classical music, early music, and doom metal. Unlike most bands in this subgenre, Haggard gets most of it sound from the classical and early music (symphonic) aspects. The presence of metal influences are definitely stronger in their later albums. This band is unique in that it has 16 regular members, a string section, a wind section, a percussion section, a harp, and 4 vocalists. Manuela Kraller, formerly of Xandria, and Gaby Koss provide the soprano vocals. Vocalist and guitarist Asis Nasseri is the creative force behind the band.
Edenbridge http://www.edenbridge.org/
  
History
Austrian band with symphonic as well as speed and traditional heavy metal origins. Sabine Edelsbacher has fronted the band's vocals since the band's founding.
Rhapsody of Fire http://www.rhapsodyoffire.com/
  
History
Italian band known for its concept albums that tell a single fantasy story throughout the tracks of each individual album. They refer to themselves as "Hollywood metal", with pieces that are often epic and theatrical in scope and sound. The band was known by previous names Thundercross and Rhapsody.  In 2006, the name was formally changed to Rhapsody of Fire due to trademark issues. Fabio Lione has fronted the band's vocals since 1995.
Visions of Atlantis http://www.visionsofatlantis.com/
  
History
Austrian band inspired by the music of Nightwish and the myth of the city of Atlantis. The band has had a lot of member turnover since its founding in 2000. Vocals are currently fronted by both Clémentine Delauney and Siegried Samer.
Tristania http://www.tristania.com/
  
History
Norweigan band hails from its origin in death and doom metal from 1995 to 2004. The band took on its modern gothic and symphonic sound in 2005. Their sound places focus on operatic female vocals, choruses, and classical instruments including the pipe organ, harpsichord, flutes and violins. Vocals are currently fronted by Mariangela Demurtas (since 2007) and Kjetil Nordhus (since 2010).
Unshine http://www.unshine.com
  
History
Finnish band comes from gothic and atmospheric symphonic metal origins. They refer to themselves as druid metal. Vocals have been fronted by Susanna Vesilahti since the band's formation in 2000.
Leah  http://leahmusic.net/
  
History
From Vancouver, British Columbia, this gothic and symphonic metal band entered the scene in 2012 with Celtic & World influences. Leah McHenry is the vision behind the band and fronts the vocals. She has successfully crowd-sourced the band's next album on Indiegogo. More information can be found at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/full-length-leah-album .
Lunatica  http://www.lunatica.ch/v3/index.htm
 
History
Founded in 1998 in Suhr, Switzerland, this Swiss Symphonic metal band released their first album in 2001. Andrea Dätwyler has fronted the band's vocals on all of their albums.
Katra http://www.katrasolopuro.com
 
History
Founded in 2006 in Tampere, Finland by Katra Solopuro, the band Katra hails from gothic and symphonic metal roots.
Apocalyptica http://www.apocalyptica.com/en/
 
History
This Finnish Metal band is headlined by 3 classically trained cellists Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen, and Perttu Kivilaakso and drummer Mikko Sirén. The band was originally formed in 1993 as a heavy metal tribute/cover band. Since then the metal band has evolved a unique sound with cellos playing all the parts traditionally associated with heavy metal guitars, electric basses, violas and violins.
Fading Azalea http://www.fadingazalea.com/
 
History
Fading Azalea was founded in 2013 in Gothenburg, Sweden and finds its roots in Black Metal. Their first full-length album "Maze of Melancholy" was released on March 1st, 2017. The band is fronted by vocalist, singer/songwriter, keyboardist and lead guitarist, Olivia.
     

Metal Bands that use Symphonic Components

There are a lot of Metal Bands that use Symphonic components but do not, in my opinion, pass the muster to be categorized as a Symphonic Metal Band. These bands are often labeled as Symphonic in addition to Speed, Power, Death, Progressive, etc by places like Wikipedia when it is only a very small fraction of their sound. So for the purposes of this site, the Symphonic Metal components must be judged by me to be dominant for me to include them here.

I absolutely agree this gets tricky when we look at the earlier works of Blind Guardian when they were a speed and power metal band or Symphony X which hails from speed and progressive metal. In many respects, neither band has really lost the style of those subgenres in their evolution. They are included on this list because in my opinion a number of their later or current albums and songs exhibit enough of a clear dominant symphonic crossover that they can be considered a part of the Symphonic Metal subgenre. To be consistent, the criteria applies in the opposite direction as well. Haggard is a good example of a band whose symphonic components were so dominant that I was concerned they wouldn't have a sufficient metal contribution to be included in this list.  Fortunately that proved not to be the case.

Finally, the bands listed here all have albums that are commercially available. IMO there is nothing worse than liking a sound and not being able to purchase it to support the band by buying their music. If a band doesn't have any album for sale, it is not included here.

In my quick start guide I highlight the key examples that in my opinion qualifies the bands as Symphonic Metal. I hope knowing this will provide readers with the appropriate context to understand what I acknowledge is a subjective baseline.

Many Metal bands cross subgenres all the time to tinker and experiment with their sound. As many of us know, this can be a good or a bad thing. In all cases, it's a very brave thing to do because of the potential risk of disappointing or alienating fans who may have very different expectations. I believe that every band has at its core a sound and concept that makes it unique. It is a path each artist must find and choose to follow once they've found it, or grow musically with or without their original fan base.