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A Beginner's Guide To Heavy Metal #17 - Shred

Updated on December 2, 2013

Lightning Speed

Speed and guitar playing go hand in hand. There are few people in the music world more universally renowned and respected than the guitar player who has mastered their instrument to such an incredible degree that their fingers turn into blurs as they run neo-classical and rock based patterns given a dose of redbull up and down the neck. These are the people who changed the face of guitar playing as we know it, and even though a ripping guitar solo may not be as respected as it would have been in the 80s, guitarists and metal heads will always have a place in their hearts for the mad shredder.



Dragonforce - Ultra Beatdown

After rekindling interest in shredding guitar work with their frustrating appearance on Guitar Hero, and dispelling rumors that their skills were not genuine with a series of instructional videos, the duel guitar wizardry of Herman Li and Sam Totman brought their seemingly inhuman speeds to new levels, adding even catchier melodies, more complicated tricks and longer song lengths. Few recordings manage to capture such incredible speeds and technical mastery along with songs that are guaranteed to get stuck in your head and stay there for weeks.

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The Great Kat - Beethoven On Speed

When most people think of shred, they think of classically influenced guitarists plugging in and applying their mastery of the truly intricate workings of classical guitar to a distorted wall of sound. What better way to pay tribute to that than an album full of references to legendary classical composers and metal renditions of classical standards? That is exactly what you get with this offering from the wild eyed, Julliard trained guitarist and violinist, out of her mind dominatrix Katherine Thomas, aka The Great Kat. This recording is pure, magical insanity.



Racer X - Second Heat

Those of you who know guitarists are without a doubt familiar with the legendary Paul Gilbert. Well, before he made a name for himself in Mr. Big, with fellow legendary musician Billy Sheehan, Gilbert was putting his incredible chops out on full display with Racer X. While his work with Mr. Big and his solo work is certainly nothing to laugh at, a quick listen to the track "Scarified" on this album will tell you everything you need to know about what a force of pure speed Paul Gilbert really is.

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Shawn Lane - The Tri Tone Fascination

Shawn Lane is much better known in the Jazz and Fusion worlds, so I had to stretch a bit to include this, though this is definitely a more rock oriented recording. That aside, there really was no way I could leave Lane off of this list, as he very well could be the fastest guitarist who ever lived. While his unbelievable talent is very clear on this album, watching some of his instructional videos on youtube will much better show you what a loss he was to the guitar world. His fingers actually start to blur.

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Cacophony - Speed Metal Symphony

There is only one sentence I should have to say to make every fan of fast guitar playing want to run out and buy this album immediately: It is a band comprised of Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. Jason Becker is a guitar prodigy who was performing songs by the best shredders of his time while he was still in high school, and Marty Friedman is a shred master who is best known as the third, and arguably best, guitarist to play alongside Dave Mustaine in Megadeth. The two of them together make a sadly relatively unknown yet head exploding masterwork of speed and precision.

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Yngwie Malmsteen - Rising Force

The album that almost inarguably launched the shred movement of the 80s. Fresh off of his time with Steeler and Alcatraz, the innovative and masterful Yngwie J. Malmsteen brought his brand of classically influenced speed metal to the masses in this Grammy nominated debut. Inspired by imitating and translating the work of classical violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini to the guitar, pretty much every bit of neo-classical shred we know of today is the spawn of this album.



Jason Becker - Collection

Technically even though this is a compilation album and some of the songs were only composed by him to be played by other guitarists, this is really the best display of everything that is amazing about Jason Becker. I mentioned before that his was a prodigy who at a very young age was already becoming a legendary name in the world of shred guitarists. The tragedy of this story is that while landing the spot of guitarist for David Lee Roth's third solo album, he was diagnosed with ALS, and currently is unable to even speak, let alone play guitar. Fortunately, this has not stopped his creativity and he continues to compose absolutely beautiful music, three new songs of which appear on this recording, along with samplings of his past work when he could still play to remind us what an incredible force he was, and still is.

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Buckethead & Friends - Enter The Chicken

Buckethead finally got some mainstream exposure when he became possibly the most recognizable guitarist to fill the ranks in the constantly rotating line up of what passes for Guns n' Roses now. The incredible thing is that as amazing as his work on Chinese Democracy was, it barely scratches the surface of what he is truly capable of. He is one of the most unusual and eclectic guitarists alive today, who has a body of work that includes soundtracks, guest appearances, collaborations, and 69 solo albums. Nowhere is his incredible mastery of his instrument more apparent though, than on this album where we get to see his range and technical abilities on full display. Also it's one of the heaviest things he's ever put out.

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Steve Vai - Passion And Warfare

There should not be a guitarist alive who does not know who Steve Vai is. His work with Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth made him a world wide success, but it's his solo work that has truly shown us just what he is capable of. A dazzling display of melody, speed, and atmosphere, the only word I can use to truly describe the experience of listening to this album is transcendental. Try learning any of the songs on this album and see if your playing doesn't start to improve.

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Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien

What we know as shred came to be when this album dropped. One of the highest charting and most successful instrumental rock albums of all time (also the first instrumental rock album to crack the top 40), this is the album that showed us that technical mastery and a neo-classical background will never be good substitutes for an infectious groove and a catchy melody, while also showing that neither mean one needs to sacrifice their speed. Joe Satriani was already a major background player in the rock and metal worlds, serving as a guitar teacher to Steve Vai and Metallica's Kirk Hammett, and a producer for Possessed's final EP, but Surfing With The Alien assured that his place as the king of instrumental metal was secured.

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Full Speed Ahead

The lesson of these albums is that there are any number of people who can play fast, but it takes real talent to be able to play fast and create good music. The guitar solo may have seen a decline in recent years, but there will always be a place for someone who can tear up a fretboard like these masters.

Honorable Mentions:

Al Di Meola - Unbelievably fast, but unfortunately a Jazz fusion guitarist.

Eddie Van Halen - Not nearly the fastest by today's standards, but the groundwork he laid is what everyone on this list built on.


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