Earlier tonight, I got it into my head to buy a few new albums. Suffering from a lack of consumer imagination, and preferring to stick with what I know, I started searching for Slayer. I chanced upon a String Quartet Tribute by the Vitamin String Quartet - I already own a lot of Apocalyptica's material and a few of these string quartet tribute albums for other bands (Iron Maiden and Rammstein, to be precise), and I know they can work very well. Doing a little bit of research, I managed to listen to a few tracks off the album before ordering it.

Loading up the cover of Slayer's Bloodline, I was blown away by how overpoweringly evil the intro sounded. The distorted guitars and fast, heavy drums of the original pale in comparison to the creeping, interweaving melodies of the strings. When the 'vocals' started, my heart started beating quicker - this is better than any horror movie score I've ever heard. The occasionally screeching strings reflect the terror of the subjects of the song, children being murdered to satisfy the bloodlust of the persona Araya adopts and to feed his youth through some kind of arcane ritual. Somehow, classical instruments manage to out-metal traditional metal instruments. It's uncanny.

I noticed the same phenomenon with Scott D. Davis' rendition of Master of Puppets by Metallica - the main riff, with the furious downstrokes and sliding power chords, sounds a lot 'heavier' on piano, with the left hand continuing what would be open bass E downstrokes while the right hand plays what would be the power chords. After the first chorus, Davis even changes the rhythm slightly, making the 'vocals' jump around a little more. The result is stunning - increasingly I prefer to listen to the classical covers over the metal originals.

To me, this only serves to demonstrate that a) many metal songs are not just mindless noise, and are in fact complex pieces of music, and b) that I should stop my prejudice against instruments that aren't guitars, basses or drum kits. If you're a fan of any of the bands I've mentioned, or metal in general, I recommend searching for cross-genre covers of your favourite bands - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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