Sunday Sesh: What’s your favorite use of a piece of classical music in metal?


Today I am W., bringer of war (and discussion topics)! In this Sunday sesh, we’re talking about HolstNileBatman, and metal bands borrowing their riffs from classical composers.

If your childhood was anything like mine, you likely didn’t hear a ton of classical music outside of music classes at school while you were growing up. In fact, if we’re secretly twins separated at birth, it’s likely your first real introduction to composer Gustav Holst’s brilliant seven-movement orchestral suite, The Planets, were the allusions to the spectacular opening movement, “Mars, the Bringer of War” in Danny Elfman’s surprisingly decent composition for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film (later famously parodied on an episode of Adult Swim’s Venture Bros.).

Which is a real shame, because Holst’s famous composition is a real barn-burner. Written for a large orchestra with a full complement of horns, strings, and percussion, “Mars, Bringer of War” opens with a martial peal of drum thunder while the stirring horns set the stage with an eerie fog of ambiance. The composition peaks within the two first minutes with a triumphant, belligerent crescendo of dynamic strings. Although the entire movement, and the whole suite itself, is a rousing affair perfectly suited for the full sound and vibrant dynamics within metal, those first two minutes of “Mars” would be the perfect introduction to any metal live set.

Death metal legends Nile did ol’ Holst one better on their debut record, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, not only borrowing the title of “Mars” for fifth track “Ramses Bringer of War,” but actually transposing those string crescendos into crunchy, pyramidal riffs caked with the sands of ages past. It’s a bold move that adds a massive amount of bombast and grandeur to an already over-the-top death metal track. Holst’s arching motif from “Mars” even makes a surprising return around the 3:20 mark amid a flurry of chaotic riffs threatening to collapse the entire track like a hurricane-strength dust storm. “Ramses Bringer of War” is a monumental track that captures the majestic nature of Holst’s original composition and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s notorious poem about the Egyptian kingly namesake of Ramses, Ozymandias. It’s as though Nile looked upon Holst and all of death metal and proclaimed, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Metal is no stranger to borrowing classical music. Hell, every band that has ever toured ever has used Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” as an introductory track. Still, for one moment in 1998, Nile did it better than anyone.

You, however, likely disagree with my statement. Respond with great angeryness in the comments and let me know your favorite use of classical music in metal.

(Photo VIA)

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  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    Dang it Dubbz! I was going to pick that song!

  • Stockhausen

    Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights at the end of Only Ash Remains.

    • atchdav

      This is the first thing that came to mind when I read the article title

  • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

    After some silence, here’s an update:

    Apparently the whole “bowel obstruction” thing was a crock and the pain I had that Friday actually was a forebode of a severe case of appendicitis. The following night from Saturday on Sunday I was suffering more pain than I could bare so AGAIN I was rushed to the hospital. The verdict after some examination: severe appendicitis.
    By the time I was in surgery I had a cecal rupture as well causing an infection. My appendix was removed and I had to stay in the hospital for almost a week on meds and pain killers. Just recently I was released. I’ve been declared unfit for work or any kind of physical activity up until the 7th of May at least.

    Pain has decreased significantly now and my appetite is increasing. My stomach is still quite swollen though.
    Funny thing is, I haven’t really jammed metal since undergoing surgery and, even stranger, haven’t even felt the need to either…
    Dunno why.

    • Howard Dean

      Dang, that sucks dude. Wishing you a quick recovery, sir!

      Here’s a topical gif to cheer you up with some dark humor:

      • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

        LMAO, cheers!

    • Count_Breznak

      Simple: That’s more of a grindcore story

    • more beer

      Glad they figured your problem out. You will be up and about in no time.

      • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

        Yeah, watching porn is become increasingly more satisfying again as well. Which is always a sign of good health.

        • more beer

          Yes it is. Possibly the worst health a guy can have is his plumbing being out of order.

          • KJM, Doom Scientist

            big time. Unhealthy and very uncomfortable.

      • KJM, Doom Scientist

        Hey, since my birthday was so bountiful tomorrow’s gonna be my first shot at making cannabutter. I’m gonna make it a bit lower octane so Mom can enjoy some too. I’d do it today, but it’s kinda hot out.

        • more beer

          I make it in the crock pot on low. For between 8 and 12 hours It comes out really well that way.

    • KJM, Doom Scientist

      Dang, sorry to hear it. Hope they give you the good stuff.

      When I was in the hospital for a week, I honestly craved music more than herb.

      • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

        Oh I’ve been listening to music for sure. Just more the bluesy kinda stuff and classic rock and some soul and hip hop.

    • Rob M

      Dude…glad to hear they caught it when they did, and that, as bad as it was/could have been, at least they were able to solve it and get you back up and moving towards healthy

      • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

        Cheers man!

    • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

      Darn, that’s some brutal stuff. Hope you mend ok man.

      • FrankWhiteKingOfNY


  • Howard Dean

    HD’s Sunday Sesh: It’s 70 degrees and sunny and snowbanks are melting and I am a happy failed politician.

    On Topic: I’m usually not too keen on the attempts to combine classical, orchestral music with metal. It just doesn’t seem to mesh well in most cases (see: 90% of symphonic black metal). I can’t really think of many bands right now off the top of my head that appropriately marry metal (with electric instruments and amplification) to classical music (orchestration). It always seems kind of jarring and discordant–and not in a good way. The sounds are just too different. I’m sure there are legions of black and death metal bands out there who have used bits of Wagner in their music, and maybe some of it is decent (but I wouldn’t bet on it).

    • Stockhausen

      Agreed. My Necrophagist example below is one of the few that work just enough, but it rarely does. Mainly because classical music has a large focus on harmonic motion and variety, and metal music, uh, does not.

    • FrankWhiteKingOfNY

      I’ve learned to appreciate the album Theli by Therion (the music contained within that is, the album cover is bloody horrendous). Just because it has some strange occult vibe going on.
      In general I as well am not keen on straight-up mixing classical with metal.

      • Al Bvndy

        I’m quite partial to that album. I also really like the lemuria/Sirius B albums. TBH tho, as much as I like classical with metal it can get very overbearing after a while.

    • Zeke
    • The Tetrachord of Archytas

      I totally agree with you. I think that it stems from the fact that most people grossly misunderstand the similarities between classical and metal.

  • atchdav

    The Barber of Seville section of The Private Pain of Techno Destructo works well.

  • Sid Vicious Promos

    Happy Easter! Also my favorite is Mars from the Planets as done by Emerson Lake and Powell. My least favorite is Ludvig Van from Sepultura’s A-Lex.

    • Sir Ukkometso The Based

      King Crimson version is better REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

      • Sid Vicious Promos

        I do like that version.

      • KJM, Doom Scientist

        But of course.

  • TheGranulatingDarkSatanicMilfs

    I know Children Of Bodom is not a very popular band around here, but fuck it. Their debut album, Something Wild, is fucking killer and there are a lot of classical influences (and straight up borrowed pieces) in it

    • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

      BODOM ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Zeke

      I never liked cob, but I remember hearing something where they stole a bit from the queen of the night aria from the magic flute

  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    Masterlord, If you can hear me – in Tuonela, where thy dwelleth, Hammerheart wasn’t written by Forsberg – you arse, ’twas composed by Holst.

  • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ


  • Grvm Spectre ov Derth
    • Wet W’s Whistle

      King Ramseeeeeees, the man in gauze, the man in gauze.

    • PostBlackenedWhaleGaze

      “What’s your offer?”

  • Elegant Gazing Globe
    • more beer

      You win!

  • DeerBeefjeff

    I have another use of holst right here

  • Sid Vicious Promos

    RIP Allan Holdsworth. Another one of the greats is dead.

    • KJM, Doom Scientist


  • Old Man Doom

    I have yet to hear someone do an appropriately doomy version of Night on Bald Mountain. That riff is sinister as all hell.

  • Max

    Wow, I’d like to have more time to think about this because I’m sure there’s some other good examples; but at a glance I’d have to agree that Nile’s Holst adaptation would be the first thing that came to mind. It really should have been the first track on that album; it’d’ve made the perfect opener.

    To digress, my favourite intros for metal records have always been ones where invariably different instrumentation is used than what the band usually use, but which are somehow melodically or rhythmically tied into what the first song is going to do. To me that always seems so much more masterful and relevant than just having a minute-and-a-half of sound collage whatever. (So for a point of comparison, I prefer the intro to Altars of Madness over the intro to Blessed Are the Sick, and the intro to Symphonies of Sickness over the intro to Necroticism…). It goes without saying that Rameses Bringer of War is the perfect example of that so it’s a damn shame it didn’t come first on that record.

    Other than that, I really like what Gorguts did with a string quintet on Colored Sands, but I guess we’re talking about traditional classical composers rather than band-composed stuff, right?

    I can think of one example I thought was really lame: That thing Bathory did at the end of Twilight of the Gods also using Holst, on a loop. The flat singing really sucked.

  • Sid Vicious Promos

    Got a bunch of PC games such as Aliens Vs Predator Classic 2000, Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death, all the Ground Control and Empire Earth games, both Icewind Dale games, the second Neverwinter Nights because I own the first one already and a ton of other Dungeons And Dragons PC games. For 21 games I paid 44 dollars because they were on sale.

    • KJM, Doom Scientist

      Aliens Vs Predator is always good.

    • KJM, Doom Scientist

      Women’s Wrestling Revolution is coming to Somerville.

  • Joe Samson

    Mekong Delta anyone?

  • James

    Moonlight sonata by ex mortis

  • lagerbottoms

    Soreption’s Breaking The Great Narcissist is definitely among my favorites of classical orchestration in Metal