The definition of metal changed significantly during the '90s as bands adopted a harder, faster, meaner, and some would say downright evil sound that made the classic rock and glam-inspired hair metal groups that dominated the previous two decades seem positively quaint, writes Chris Gill of Gibson.com. At the same time, grunge, DIY alternative rock, and rap-infused n metal caused the guitar solo to all but disappear from the airwaves. But just as it seemed as if guitar solos were beginning their death rattle, a steady stream of metal bands defiantly rose up to keep tradition alive in the underground. Today, the guitar solo is making a screeching, squealing comeback thanks to groups like Trivium, Mastodon, Dragonforce, Shadows Fall, and Avenged Sevenfold, who are introducing shred to a new generation of players.
Although numerous guitar companies developed shred machines built to deliver the speed and precision that metal guitarists demanded, many players found that nothing could beat the rich tone and sheer playability of the Gibson Les Pauls, Flying Vs, and Explorers that inspired musicians in previous eras. The following solos are a few of the finest examples of what a great guitar player can do with imagination, attitude, mind-boggling technique, and a killer guitar.
No More Tears
A dramatic masterpiece, Zakk Wylde's solo builds from a grand, sweeping melody to an overwhelming climax where notes become a shape-shifting blur. Although Wylde's debut on No Rest for the Wicked was impressive, with this solo he finally proved to the doubters that he deserved to take the spot in Ozzy's band previously reserved for Randy Rhoads and Jake E. Lee. Check out the video.
The Freezing Moon
One of the founding forefathers of Norwegian black metal, Mayhem guitarist Euronymous rarely played solos, but when he did they were scorchers. His modal playing on The Freezing Moon drives the creepy, violent mood of this song over the top, cutting through the molten lava riff like Satan's razor-sharp pitchfork.
Artifacts of the Black Rain
As far as guitar solos go, In Flames' Jester Race is an embarrassment of riches (December Flower is a corker). But the ne plus ultra is Artifacts of the Black Rain, which, with its sweet dual-Gibson harmonies, harkens back to the days of Thin Lizzy. A hypnotically melodic solo that still shreds like an industrial-strength document destroyer at the Pentagon. Check out the video.
It's a crime that Iced Earth guitarist Randall Shawver never achieved the hero status that many of his peers enjoyed, as he can rip it up with the best of them. On Dante's Inferno, Shawver spins a dizzying crescendo of triplet pull-offs and whacked-out atonal harmonies that combine technique and vision few guitarists have come within spitting distance of.
The Wake of Magellan
This operatic prog-metal epic about the Maersk Dubai incident may not be as extreme or hard-hitting as other songs on this list, but it offers listeners who prefer music and lyrics with a little more grandiosity an alternative to standard-issue metal fare. The dazzling dynamics, unique melodicism, and fastball technique of Al Pitrelli's solo proves why he became Dave Mustaine's sidekick in Megadeth shortly after this album's release.
Shadow on the Sun
Tom Morello became famous for his DJ-like sound-effect laden solos with Rage Against the Machine, so it came as a welcome surprise to hear him stretch out on this melodic Les Paul solo on Audioslave's debut album. Here, Morello flaunts chops and tasteful technique that he rarely hinted at before. Mixed with his trademark, off-kilter harmonized pitch shifting effects, it's a compelling ride. Check out the video.
Buckethead earned acclaim for his warp-speed playing (heard to magnificent effect on his Cobrastrike albums), but his outr persona, complete with slasher-picture mask and the KFC bucket he donned as a hat at times threatened to overshadow his skills. Which is a shame, for he is an extremely versatile guitarist who has performed with a surprisingly diverse assortment of musicians (Bootsy Collins? Guns N' Roses?? Viggo Mortensen???). On Nottingham Lace, he spans everything from bluesy, Hendrix-inspired jams to bizarre, computer-overload blastswith a good amount of his lightning-fast, four-fingered shred figures thrown in for good measure. Jarring and beautiful. And check out his gorgeous customized white Les Paul in the video.
Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr
Naysayers claim that Trivium is just another upstart Metallica knockoff, but Hetfield and Hammett never locked horns like Heafy and Beaulieu do on this solo. Heafy is out of the gate with a stunning display of tone, technique, and taste, and then Beaulieu grabs the baton and kicks out the jams, leading to a harmonized surge of six-string insanity. Check out the video.
Tool's post-modern guitar anti-hero Adam Jones may not shred like the other players on this list, but few guitarists can match his ability to send a song to points heretofore unknown with a few perfectly placed notes and textural embellishments. Here he runs his Les Paul Custom through a talk box to craft an emotionally wrenching solo that sounds downright wicked and twisted. Jones rarely plays solos, but when he does he makes everybody stand up and take notice.
Mastodon sure like their odd time signatures and other prog-rock flourishes and filigrees, and so it's doubly refreshing to hear lead guitarist Brent Hinds let loose with a classic, two-fisted pentatonic-based solo. While Mastodon's riffs are as massive and lumbering as the prehistoric beast they named the band after, Hinds' solo avoids the tar pit of excess that bogs down lesser metal acts and slays the competition like a saber-tooth tiger. Check out the video.
Other Noteworthy Modern Metal Solos You Should Know:
Thanks for the info to Gibson.com.