YNGWIE MALMSTEEN (1963–PRESENT). One of the most important and technically advanced guitarists of the past two decades, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s (pronounced “ing-vay”) phenomenal technique on the guitar—involving lightning-fast scale runs and sweeping arpeggios borrowed from classical violin—raised the bar on state-of-the-art rock guitar playing and led to the phenomenon of “shredding,” the playing of impossibly fast scale and arpeggio lead playing, and also ignited the subgenre of neoclassical metal.
After becoming interested in music in his native Sweden after seeing a television program about Jimi Hendrix, a young Yngwie (born Lars Johann Yngwie Lannerback) took up the guitar and was soon exposed to classical music as well through his sister. Obsessive about practicing, he began to develop his extraordinary technique by practicing hours and hours a day, often till his fingers bled. Inspired by guitarists like Hendrix and Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore in particular, as well as by the classical composers Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and particularly the violinist/ composer Niccolo Paganini, whose charismatic image and instrumental style would provide a model for his own performance style, Yngwie began early to develop his own brand of music fusing rock and classical.
After spending some years playing in bands in Sweden and not achieving the success or recognition he felt he deserved, Yngwie sent out demo tapes to a variety of record labels. In response, Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records—whose label has long served as a showcase for exceptional rock guitarists—brokered an invitation for Malmsteen to join the L.A. metal band Steeler, led by vocalist Ron Keel. Moving to the states in 1981, Malmsteen recorded an album with the band but was dissatisfied with their mainstream style. Soon enough he was tapped to join former Rainbow singer Graham Bonnett’s new group Alcatrazz that was very much in the tradition of Rainbow. Recording both a studio and live album with the band (1983’s No Parole from Rock ’n’ Roll and 1984’s Live Sentence), Yngwie was finally given an opportunity to show what he was capable of instrumentally and compositionally, with tracks like “Jet to Jet” showcasing both his phenomenal technique and neoclassical writing style.
While the Alcatrazz albums weren’t particularly successful, they proved an apt launching pad for the young guitarist, and he quickly began to build a reputation among guitar aficionados. Leaving the band, he quickly went solo, releasing the seminal instrumental album Rising Force on the Polydor label in 1984. The album went on to make the young guitarist’s reputation and was a watershed moment for the development of rock guitar, showcasing as it did Yngwie’s technique and style even more effectively than had the Alcatrazz albums. Yngwie went on to win numerous readers’ polls in guitar magazines, and the album itself rose to number 60 on the Billboard charts and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Yngwie went on to record two more albums in the same vein, 1985’s Marching Out and 1986’s Trilogy, which were similarly successful and confirmed his reputation. After a series of personal setbacks and tragedies, including a severe automobile accident and the death of his mother, he reemerged in 1988 with Odyssey, a more commercial album that included the single “Heaven Tonight,” which helped it to crack into the top forty. Following the release of Eclipse in 1990, which failed commercially due to lack of record company support, Yngwie left the Polygram label and has recorded for smaller independent labels ever since, remaining prolific.
Discography: Rising Force (Polydor, 1984); Marching Out (Polydor, 1985); Trilogy (Polydor, 1986); Odyssey (Polydor, 1988); Live in Leningrad: Trial by Fire (Polydor, 1989); Eclipse (Polydor, 1990); Fire & Ice (Elektra, 1992); The Seventh Sign (Spitfire, 1994); I Can’t Wait (Pony Canyon, 1994); Power and Glory (Pony Canyon, 1994); Magnum Opus (Import, 1995); Inspiration (Foundation, 1996); Facing the Animal (Polygram, 1998); Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E Flat Minor Op. 1 (Import, 1998); Live in Brazil 1998 (Import, 1998); Alchemy (Pony Canyon, 1999); Young Person’s Guide to the Classics, Vol. 1 (Pony Canyon, 2000); Young Person’s Guide to the Classics, Vol. 2 (Pony Canyon, 2000); Double Live (Spitfire, 2000); War to End All Wars (Pony Canyon, 2000); Concerto Suite with the New Japan Philharmonic (Pioneer, 2002); Concerto Suite Live with Japan Philharmonic (Pony Canyon); Trial by Fire: Live in Leningrad (Universal, 2002); Birth of the Sun (Cargo, 2002); Attack!! (Import, 2002); The Genesis (Pony Canyon, 2002); Unleash the Fury (Spitfire, 2005); Live (Dream Catcher, 2005); Instru-Mental (Spitfire, 2007); Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra (Dream Catcher Classic, 2007); The Collection3 (Polygram, 1992); The Best of Yngwie Malmsteen Live (Import, 1998); Anthology 1994–1999 (Pony Canyon, 2000); Best of Yngwie Malmsteen: 1990– 1999 (Dream Catcher, 2000); Archives (Pony Canyon, 2001); Magnum Opus/I Can’t Wait (Pony Canyon, 2003); Instrumental Best (Import, 2004); 20th Century Masters—The Millennium Collection: The Best of Yngwie Malmsteen (Polydor, 2005); Yngwie Malmsteen Collection (Universal, 2006); Complete Box: Polydor Years (Universal, 2006).