The Top 10 best orchestral metal albums

Classical music and metal have way more in common than you’d think. both have a penchant for the loud, for the dramatic and for climactic crescendos, and, as a result, there’s been many a crossover between the two. Here’s our list of the ten most successful and impactful, from orchestra-backed live albums to choir-driven originals:

Metallica – S&M (1999)

The granddaddy of them all. Lars Ulrich’s beloved Deep Purple had teamed up with the London Symphony Orchestra for their classical blowout Concerto For Group And Orchestra in 1969. Thirty years later, Metallica’s S&M was by far the most influential and fruitful in the realm of metal. When the genre’s biggest band tag-teamed with the legendary San Francisco Orchestra, pure magic unfolded, and everyone that’s made a symphonic metal album since owes Metallica an enormous debt.

Scorpions – Moment Of Glory (2000)

Veteran German rockers the Scorpions were among the first to follow in S & M’s footsteps when, in 2000, they released Moment Of Glory: a momentous collaboration with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The Scorps had long embraced excess, both in terms of their music and lyrics, so joining up with a full orchestra to sound as huge and imposing as possible just made too much sense.

Cradle Of Filth – Damnation And A Day (2003)

When they released the breakthrough Midian in 2000, Cradle Of Filth were met with growing mainstream notoriety. In following it up, it was a matter of go big or go home. Dani Filth and co. did the former, signing to major label Sony and recruiting the entire Budapest Film Orchestra. That next step paid off, continuing Cradle’s ascendancy and setting them up for the career-best Nymphetamine.

SepticFlesh – Communion (2008)

When bands reform after a breakup, they normally become a shell of their former selves. However, when SepticFlesh returned with Communion in 2008, they came bursting out of the gate with one of the most rabid symphonic albums ever. Backed by an eighty-person orchestra and 32 choir singers, the Greek death metal crew exploded back to life with pure drama and energy.

Paradise Lost – Symphony For The Lost (2015)

To mark their 25th anniversary, Halifax’s masters of misery Paradise Lost performed in Plovdiv’s Ancient Roman Amphitheatre with both the Orchestra Of State Opera Plovdiv and the Rodna Pesen Choir. The result: a quarter-century’s worth of morbid tragedy made even more heart-wrenching by the evening’s foreboding scale.

Bring Me The Horizon – Live At The Royal Albert Hall (2016)

Bring Me The Horizon don’t seem like they’d fit an orchestra, do they? At the time of their 2015 visit to the Royal Albert Hall with Simon Dobson’s Parallax Orchestra, the Brits specialised in grounded, melodic metalcore – not exactly bombastic stuff. However, hearing choruses like those of Shadow Moses get the complete string-laden backing soon made everything clear.

Alter Bridge – Live At The Royal Albert Hall (2017)

Following their successful crossover with BMTH, the Parallax Orchestra switched gears to join forces with Alter Bridge, who’d ascended to arena-level stardom by mixing soaring riffs with gritty hooks. Elevating both the sadness of ballads like Watch Over You and the aggression of Slip To The Void and Addicted To Pain, it was a diverse union that ended up taking both parties to new levels of notice.

Dimmu Borgir – Forces Of The Northern Night (2017)

There are droves of “symphonic” black metal acts out there, but Dimmu Borgir are one of the few who deserve the tag. Forces Of The Northern Night combines the two occasions they’ve played with a complete orchestra (a 2011 Oslo extravaganza and Wacken 2012), fully expanding on the grandiose mania they’ve peddled since the ‘90s. The album represents Dimmu totally realised – and it only took them two decades to do it.

Devin Townsend Project – Ocean Machine: Live At The Ancient Roman Theatre, Plovdiv (2018)

Prog metal maverick Devin Townsend pulled out all the stops when he too visited the Ancient Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv in late 2017. His eponymous Project played two sets that night, opening with an orchestral “By Request” greatest hits showcase before segueing into the entirety of Ocean Machine. If you’re a fan of this zany mastermind and somehow haven’t heard Deadhead and Failure from this album, then you’re going about things all wrong.

Nightwish – Human. :II: Nature. (2020)

On Human. :II: Nature., symphonic metal royalty Nightwish used a double album to explore both the “symphonic” and “metal” parts of the equation like never before. On disc one, you got your usual fare of epic metal granstading. Disc two, on the other hand, was a full, half-hour-long orchestral piece, ditching rock riffs in favour of classical and spoken-word segments. It remains to be seen if they’ll ever try to replicate it live.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.