Yearn to Burn: Shred Guitar Insanity – PlanetMosh Playlist Series

yngwie - rising force - album cover art

Yearn to Burn: Shred Guitar Insanity

What is shred, anyway? It’s a stringed instrument (primarily guitar) playing style that evolved naturally, morphing into it’s own niche. Fast, ostentatious, virtuoso playing, using a variety of techniques, was not invented in the 1980s nor by Eddie Van Halen. That decade and that particular artist helped turn hard rock and heavy metal guitar on it’s ear though, spearheading a genre that ripples through extreme music to this day.

Guitar in metal is loud and proud, plus very heavy, thanks to lots of distortion. Metal’s darker tones are immediately recognizable and separable from rock, blues, or punk by a seasoned listener. What does “non shred” or “regular” extreme metal guitar sound like, anyway? Bathe your ears in Slayer‘s Reign In Blood and South of Heaven era, and go from there…

To the shred! Let’s explore the heavier instrumentals from living artists and bands, to help soak the style into every fibre of your being. Click play on our special PlanetMosh Playlist as you read the accompanying piece below.

Widely credited with “founding” the genre, Eddie Van Halen scorched his fretboard for Van Halen’s first two albums.

Van Halen – “Spanish Fly”

The genre seems to have really taken off with what’s commonly called neoclassical, where the artist re-interprets classical music with a decided tempo shift upwards, and bathes the sound in distorted, metallic glory.

Exmortus“Moonlight Sonata (Act 3)
Exmortus – “Appassionata”
Exmortus are notable in that they’re part of the most current wave of artists, having gained popularity only in the past couple of years. Exmortus is breathing life into what was an endangered genre, which became fairly rare (contained mainly within fragmented habitats of prog, jazz, and fusion) after the Grunge Extinction Event swept through metal in the 1990s.

The Great KatFlight of the Bumblebee
The Great KatPaganini’s 24th Caprice
Shred doesn’t exclude anyone deliberately, but it is still exceedingly rare to find exceptional female “shred” purveyors. The Great Kat, trained at Julliard, has been involved since the genre’s infancy.

While neoclassical was taking hold, more traditional players, already steeped in rock and blues, were speeding up to help embrace what was happening in their scene. These artists took more care to incorporate emotion into their playing, rather then sticking with pure, rote hyperspeed cover-playing.

Gary MooreEnd of the World
Uli John RothThe Sails of Charon

Speed became the name of the game though. As before, with shred guitar, many are called and few are chosen. Legion guitarists have the technical proficiency and facility to blaze, but very few actually attain the loftiest heights. The skill takes years to develop and more years to hone.

Possibly the quintessential shredder, Lars Lannerbeck, better known as Yngwie Malmsteen, released Rising Force (shown above) in 1984. Like Eddie Van Halen’s accomplishment a short while prior, Malmsteen’s album set the performance bar higher, helping forge a trail and cement the genre.

Yngwie MalmsteenBlack Star
Yngwie MalmsteenFar Beyond the Sun

Earlier in their careers, many guitar players currently regarded as virtuosos went through their “shred phases”. Youth, novelty, a desire to stake a claim in the music world, and genuine inspiration from reaching lofty playing goals or milestones helped to fuel the boom.

Rusty CooleyUnder the Influence
Racer XFrenzy
Joe SatrianiSurfing with the Alien
Steve VaiBad Horsie

Shred evolved along with the rest of heavy metal. When technical playing was welcomed back into “fashion”, guitar players picked up extended range instruments, and continued their experimental journeys, tinkering with tunings, tones, and time signatures to incorporate more diversity. Suddenly, it wasn’t just about playing ‘beat the metronome’ anymore.

Animals As LeadersWave of Babies
Conquering DystopiaAutarch
Jeff LoomisMiles of Machines
Tony McAlpineConcrete Gardens

While emotion has been incorporated since the genre’s beginning, criticism from detractors partially led to artists building more ‘deliberate’ sounding passages into their works. Nowadays, even a novice listener can pick out emotional intent from parts of even the most face-melting songs.

Paul GilbertI Cannot Tell a Lie
OrianthiHighly Strung
Ron Thal (Bumblefoot) – There’s A Kind of Hush
Jacky VincentHeaven Or Hell

Note: Songs that were not available on Spotify UK, but were available legally on YouTube have been linked in the text as bonuses for our loyal readers! Other links in the text are reviews of the artist. The Spotify playlist itself is linked above.

Suggestion: This genre is huge, if genres like prog rock and jazz fusion are not excluded. Explore and enjoy. Other artists to check out might include Buckethead (Brian Carroll), Shawn Lane, Jimi Hendrix, Al DiMeola, Guthrie Govan, Allan Holdsworth, Ritchie Blackmore, etc…

About Iris North

My formal position is: editor and music reviewer. I joined the PlanetMosh army in 2012. I enjoy extreme metal, 'shred' guitar, hard rock, prog rock, punk, and... silly pop music!