The impact of Swedish prodigy Yngwie Malmsteen on the guitar scene in the 1980s was almost inescapable. He was most often documented as a classically-influenced rock/metal guitarist, and there was nothing inaccurate about that. But there was a lot more to Malmsteen’s ‘product’ than taking Paganini violin lines and fusing them with existing hard rock techniques on a guitar.
Malmsteen emerged as a virtuoso of the very highest order, able to out-solo pretty much any previous rock guitarist in terms of speed, accuracy and control. But crucially, he recognised that this, in itself, was not enough. In order to engage a wide audience, you have to do more than simply thrash away on a fretboard churning out God-knows-how-many notes per second for an entire track. Accordingly, Malmsteen’s albums comprised songs (as opposed to being exclusively instrumental), in which his jaw-dropping guitar technique was used with restraint – as a highlight.
Whilst a lot of guitarists who were influenced by Malmsteen copied his dazzling technique, many didn’t grasp the wider picture, and were thus unable to connect with audiences outside the insular world of guitar geekery. Malmsteen’s guitar technique was amazing, but it wasn’t, in my view, the primary factor behind his album sales. That, I believe, was his musicality, and his empathy with the average listener.
Eclipse was released in 1990 as Malmsteen’s fifth non-live solo album. The title track is an instrumental, but the rest of the album is made up of songs. And these are proper songs, written as songs – not afterthoughts slapped together as a vehicle for some aimless guitar noodling. It’s all rigorously structured and the tunes have meaning. The music connects as a package, and not merely as a ‘guitar album’.
It should also be mentioned that Malmsteen paid a massive amount of attention to the rhythm guitar parts as well as the lead breaks. And not all the lead is classically influenced, or indeed blindingly fast. The guitar breaks in the opening tracks Making Love and Bedroom Eyes are phenomenal, incorporating some tremendously appealing use of notes. It’s mostly fast and furious, but it’s not thrash – it’s very highly musical and strongly catchy in places.
Yngwie Malmsteen didn’t perform the lead vocals. On this album it’s Goran Edman. The vocals are stylised firmly within the heavy metal genre. I’m not a fan of that style and I’d have loved Malmsteen to ditch this stereotype in the same way he ‘banned’ Hammond organs. But the core audience for this material would undoubtedly have been the metal-heads, and to detach things too greatly from the metal genre may have been considered a commercial risk.
For those who are interested in the tape formulations and the technicalities of playback, here’s an insight into how Polydor/Polygram related the fact that this was a chrome-formulated high bias recording, set to play as a Type I normal cassette (standard practice with pre-records at the time)…
“RECORDING ON CHROMIUM DIOXIDE (CrO2) tape. This recording can be played on any conventional sound reproducing equipment. The high output chromium dioxide tape used in this musicassette gives improved sound reproduction on any playback equipment. In order to obtain the maximum benefit from the quality of this tape, the equalization switches should be set at ‘normal’ (on some machines designated ‘ferro’, ‘low noise’ or 120 microseconds). On equipment having automatic tape selection the indicator light will function as with iron oxide tape.”