Formal Economy

It is apparent from my previous post that Yngwie Malmsteen’s sound world is one of repetition and sparse, but effective, gestures and sonorities.  Here I will expand on this to note the formal economy in his “Crucify”.

The opening riff is played 2 times with drum and bass introduction, and then looped 4 more times with a increasingly pressing, bass-drum-heavy percussion assault.  We have already heard the same riff repeated multiple times verbatim, and just as one may begin to feel a sense of boredom, the ennui breaks.  The verse begins, assaulting us as though we are a crucifying Pilate, with a sitar-like guitar relief.  The shred does not stop during this break in the action, and the singer pronounces the following simplistic rhyming verse:

You really think
You’re so clever
But you are quite insane
In Hell your soul
Will burn forever
Bringing eternal pain

Yngwie then brings us into the pre-chorus by taking a variant of “the lick” (as noted before) and repeating it 4 times with a sudden cutoff each time.  These repeats are, again, verbatim.  It is almost as if Mr. Malmsteen got lazy and, knowing that he could shred things fine each time, told the recording engineer to loop any repetitions and no one would know the difference when compared to through-played audio.  During this pre-chorus,the singer accuses:

You tried to
Crucify me
I know you
Will never see

leading into the break before the chorus, finally in another tonal center: g-flat harmonic minor.

However, both Yngwie and the ensemble get lazy again.  The chorus is 4 repetitions of the “lick” overlaid with variants of a soprano-register “crucify me” and “crucify”.

The rest of the song is an extreme economy of means.  The following verse uses the same melody and rhyme scheme as the first verse, the pre-chorus after that is an extended (looped twice more) iteration of the first pre-chorus, and the second chorus is lifted from the already simple first.  I want to note that I don’t think simple is bad, nor inherently any specific quality.  My point here is that the simplicity applied here is akin to laying out blocks of music and rearranging them to fit a formula, while not taking any artistic risks.

After the second chorus we get a breakdown by way of block pedal d-flat power chords, and more sitar-like shredding like a verse, leading into an extended development section that mimics the prior chord changes of the pre-chorus, with improvisatory polyphonic guitar shredding above it.  Indeed: this is the most captivating and enjoyable section of the piece with its chordal colors (compared to the monochromatic preceding sections).

The final pre-chorus, chorus, and coda are all near repetitions of prior sections, resurrecting the block d-flat power chords featured before the solo section.  They serve as an effective and heavy close to the piece, like the final nail in one’s crucifix.  Yet, they are widely unimaginative, aiming to opt for a demonic appeal rather than take any risks.  I understand that this is heavy metal, but plenty of heavy metal does not limit itself so extremely as to render the ears of the listener pained at any more repetition.

In all, Mr. Malmsteen and his band serve the purpose of the piece: write something heavy and provocative, that one can bang one’s head to and idolize him as he orgasms all over the cheering crowd as he shows off his chops.  I love this music; I really do.  I think this music is a worthwhile endeavor, and has a place in the halls of rock history that should not be denied.  Yet, this super economy of means that makes this music so scintillating and worthwhile also makes repeated listening difficult.  It is my hope that Mr. Malsmsteen, with his arsenal of licks and speed, finds new ways to experiment.  He has mastered his voice, but one always has to grow one’s voice.  I will be the first to admit that I cannot shred like him.  I owe his music the deepest respect.  I just want more—more music, more shades of color, more vivacity, more experimentation.  Perhaps that is the avant-garde composer in me saying these things, but a composer can dream, right?