Classic Roots Of Heavy Metal Revealed In Deep Purple

For those of us who have never been Deep Purple fans, the following analysis of their roots shows us the utility of classical music in making great heavy metal:

In his often dark, penetrating and sinister sound, (especially before forming the band Blackmore’s Night with his wife Candice), one very often hears his guitar solos filled with Classical Baroque influence. In fact, his chromaticism and arpeggiated runs which go up and down the neck often reveal his interest in composers like Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart and Beethoven. His live performance contributions to Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra (written by keyboardist Jon Lord, much of which had sounded like Sibelius) at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969, also shows this. Here, while he had sounded as if he had been doing his best to throw in as many rock riffs as he could, his affection and understanding of classical ideas in his playing could certainly be heard and at the concert he had performed with exemplary classical finesse.

In the following year, in an era in popular music of mostly rock, pop and psychedelic sounds, his classically influenced guitar solo on the song “Mandrake Root” from Shades of Deep Purple, as well as his chromaticism on “Hard Lovin Man” from Deep Purple’s album Deep Purple In Rock (1970), had showcased how much he has always loved classical music. In fact, Ritchie’s love of classical music again appeared on Deep Purple’s Machine Head album in the following year and one can hear it on the guitar solo he had played on “Highway Star” on his Fender Stratocaster guitar. In this masterpiece of playing, after the keyboard solo, which was bursting with a classically influenced chromaticism, we hear Mozart-influenced arpeggios in Ritchie’s sequence after the D minor pentatonic opening of his solo, which moves from D Minor, to G Minor and then to A Minor, which he then follows with a similar descending fiery chromaticism echoing Lord’s earlier keyboard runs. Another example of this classical focus can be heard in his guitar solo in the Deep Purple song “Mistreated” from the album Burn where Ritchie’s great feeling for the classical again also begins to creep in.

Increasingly, with Rainbow, his classical ideas and motifs would weave their way into especially his live performances with the band. In many ways, while his rock guitar playing sounded darker and darker and heavier, the increasing amount of his classical playing style, which could increasingly be heard at Rainbow’s concerts, seemed to become more melodic and softer sounding and medieval and renaissance music could be heard in his playing. In addition to his instrumental soloing in the middle of Rainbow’s concerts, always containing the influence of classical ideas, which had sounded even more this way, his playing pieces by Bach and Beethoven which he combined with renaissance pieces like his 16th century “Greensleeves” on stage into a single performance became more and more prominent. In fact, Ritchie had explained in an interview that his love of this style had begun as far back as 1972 when he had heard the David Munrow Early Music Consort playing music written for Henry VIII’s wives.

Many of the metal greats found value in classical because it offered what they needed as a compositional tool, namely a way to structure small motifs into a coherent narrative over time so that it becomes “heavier” when it finally reaches a conclusion.

If not Deep Purple, maybe consider Bathory or Burzum, although it would be hard to get a definitive list of the heavy metal and death metal musicians influenced by listening to classical, even if they do not emulate it or otherwise use its motifs in their works.

Tags: , , , , ,

11 thoughts on “Classic Roots Of Heavy Metal Revealed In Deep Purple”

  1. Spaniard says:

    Ground zero for classical influence on heavy metal is the progenitors of the genre: Black Sabbath. The bassline for the title track on their eponymous debut was inspired by Gustav Holst’s Mars The Bringer Of War (Planets Suite). This led Tony Iommi to rediscover the devil’s tritone (the diminished fifths and thirds) and the rest is history.

    1. I agree. Metallica later paid tribute to this, or borrowed it, on one of their covers.

      Iommi also I think had a huge influence from prog, which was all in love with classical.

      It just went too far when the wankers took over (Crowdism!) and punk was required to whack it back into shape.

      1. Spaniard says:

        This is completely unrelated to the post, but is this an appropriate place to ask you some questions about briar pipes? I’m on the verge of purchasing my first and I would like your input before I take the plunge. I’ve been using two Missouri Meerschaum Country Gentleman Cobs (one bent, one straight) to master the breath technique as well as to see if I would like pipe smoking. Turned out that I took to it like a fish to water.

        1. Absolutely, or email me. If I were starting out with a briar… I’d consider Rossi and Morgan. If you are in Southern Europe, upgrade to a Savinelli. EU pipes have 6mm or 9mm filters, but you can remove them, although some swear by them. Depends really on budget. Good brick and mortar (“B&M”) stores often have no-name pipes, some of which are good; the basic test is to run a pipe cleaner through it and see if it goes easily. Since you have mastered breath smoking, however, there’s no reason you should not go ahead and get a nice one if possible, since you’re not going to fry it.

          1. Spaniard says:

            Just e-mailed you at the e-mail address you have listed in contact (

          2. brad's babymomma says:

            hi brett
            doctors told me to lose some weight since
            i have been morbidly obese for the last 25 years
            do you have any tips?
            thank you
            your momma

          3. Dino Cauruz says:

            this is also completely unrelated to the post. your mother is a pig and she wants some lipstick. can you advise which brand works best?

            1. My mother was a witch. She was burnt alive.

  2. shah says:

    This is revisionist bullshit. Lord was the Bach fan. It happened to rub off on Blackmore, who would’ve probably remained a blues noodler without Lord’s influence.

    1. May well be the case, but sometimes one starts small and works up to the big story.

    2. patrick dick says:

      bullshit? how could Lord have been a fan of Sebastian Bach? Skid Row was only formed years and years later. get ur facts straight mate

Comments are closed.

Classic reviews: