This is the first UK appearance in over six years for Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Whilst undeniably one of the most technically proficient guitarists in the world, it is still a show which comes with some trepidation.
On the one hand, I fondly recall the mid-80’s, fawning over the Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force albums: ‘Marching Out’ and ‘Odyssey’, feebly attempting to follow the guitar tab, and mocking my buddy for what turned out to be the correct pronunciation of Ing-vay over Ying-wee. On the other hand, comes decades of criticism about the ego and lack of musical diversity; and only recently I read the Guitar Player headline: “People like Yngwie Malmsteen should be forgotten as soon as possible …” quoted from a Johnny Marr interview back in 1990.
Call it niche, or just pure self-indulgence, the virtuosic fusion of classical and metal was never likely to resonate with a broad audience. But with it Malmsteen became the template for a generation of power metal, and paved the way for many guitarists to explore his style. For the fans who back the controversial guitar hero, now at the age of 60, he continues his creative journey, releasing a 22nd studio album ‘Parabellum’ in July 2022. And I’ll tell you what – I may not be too sure what to expect from tonight, but it feels good to start off in the thick of it.
Standing at 6′ 3″, Yngwie proves to be a formidable onstage presence. To get close and watch the big hairy fella let loose on his signature Strat with lightning-fast shredding against a wall of Marshalls, leaves an indelible impression. An immediate highlight is opener ‘Rising Force’, with keyboardist/vocalist Nick Marino being a worthy present-day substitute for the Joe Lynn Turner led classic. The song alone is goose bump stuff, but then comes the solo, and it’s Yngwie, cool as you like, showboating, flicking picks into the crowd, and well, it all becomes a little bit surreal.
The opening salvo continues with ‘Top Down’ and ‘No Rest For The Wicked’, during which there’s a technical hitch or two. Any number of celebrated musical selfdoms might allow such a thing to distract them, but Malmsteen simply signals the issue, and ploughs on regardless. From here is a stunning set of material from across the discography, all brimming with classical grace and metal intensity. From ‘Parabellum’ comes ‘Relentless Fury’ and ‘Wolves at the Door’, sandwiching an electric version of the 1984 debut album shredder: ‘Now Your Ships Are Burned’.
Yngwie is accompanied by a powerful and tight rhythm section, and there’s a number of interchanging and captivating solos with keyboard maestro Marino. You won’t find too many bands with a setlist that includes a J.S. Bach cover, but ‘Badinerie’ is exactly that. It’s perfectly executed, as is ‘Paganini’s 4th / Adagio’, which then leads into ‘Far Beyond The Sun’. While the faithful are staunchly set to take onboard every moment, I’m now finding the jaw-dropping factor a given. If anybody was to start losing interest at this point, I guess you’d have to forgive them.
Fortunately, this is where a number of well-known covers are interspersed. A rousing chunk of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, along with exhilarating renditions of Deep Purple‘s ‘Smoke On The Water’, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience‘s ‘Red House’, injects a boost of audience participation into the show. Whether you know the difference or not, between a scale and an arpeggio, these songs not only bring Malmsteen’s influences to the fore but also, by adding his own spells of speed and intricacy to them, signal the style that has always set him apart.
The driving riff and lyrical cheese of ‘You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget’ is ample reason for every 80s hair metal fan in the house to be here. It’s also evident that, although Yngwie’s dazzling and intricate arrangements may overwhelm some, they do hold a profound emotional resonance for others. Finishing with a beautiful acoustic interlude and the fret-scorching ‘Black Star’, the guitar master guides his audience through their mesmeric final journey, while unwaveringly maintaining his own dedication and artistic vision. Well, hats off to that.
Review & Photography: Steve Johnston