Female fronted band Within Temptation is just one example of the fantastic platform for women performers that symphonic metal has created.Fabrizio Zago:Flickr

I first discovered symphonic metal when I was about twelve. Ironically, I was ferreting through the iTunes store on a mission to develop a taste for mainstream music, desperate to fit in with a crowd of My Chemical Romance fans, when something far from mainstream popped up in my recommendations: ‘Never Ending Story’ by Within Temptation. It was listed under ‘rock’, but I’d never heard rock like this before. It was a folksy piano ballad with a gentle female voice, almost a lullaby. I was entranced.

Symphonic metal originates primarily from Europe, with some of the most successful bands heralding from Denmark, Germany, Norway and Finland. If I had to sum it up in a phrase, I might say it’s female-fronted rock and metal music that sounds as if it comes from a fantasy film. ‘Classic’ symphonic metal features operatic female voices with melodramatic, fantastical lyrics and orchestral accompaniments, but the genre has expanded in many directions and taken influences from various other genres.

My passion for symphonic metal has not wavered for nine years, and ‘Never Ending Story’ remains one of my all-time favourites. In my second year at Cambridge, I had a show on Cam FM called ‘Symphonic Ore’ for a term on which I played my favourite tracks, which led me to find some unexpected symphonic metal fans among my friends, and created some others. I find this music incredibly empowering – it helps that the voices are almost solely female (with occasional growling or screaming vocals for punctuation), and that the lyrics cover everything from fantasy battles, Vikings, adventure and revenge, to the sad state of the modern world and a cornucopia of internal struggles.

“There comes a point when Taylor Swift and Adele don’t quite cut it; you’re too angry, sick of crying, and you don’t want to hear another lyric about a boy with cute eyes and poor judgement”

Symphonic metal can be a great ally in times of grief, rage or other overwhelming emotions. There comes a point when Taylor Swift and Adele don’t quite cut it; you’re too angry, sick of crying, and you don’t want to hear another lyric about a boy with cute eyes and poor judgement. Symphonic metal has plenty of quiet weepy ballads – try Delain’s ‘Scarlet’ and ‘See Me in Shadow’ or Xandria’s ‘Eversleeping’ – but when I need to get on with an essay without bursting into tears, it’s time to blast a wall of sound – try Nightwish’s ‘Ghost Love Score’ or any recent Xandria – that’s too epic to pander to your problems.


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Now, for some recommendations! If you like your metal gritty, modern and sardonic, try Delain’s The Human Contradiction. If you want something mysterious, sensuous and a little experimental, try Stream of Passion’s first album Embrace the Storm, or some early Xandria, Ravenheart or India. If you want action-film-style power, try Within Temptation’s The Unforgiving or Winter In Eden’s Court of Conscience. For something fluffier, try work by Arven or Lunatica, or if you just want songs to make you feel amazing, Nightwish’s ‘Elan’, Xandria’s ‘Forevermore’ and Within Temptation’s ‘Utopia’ are good bets.

There really is something for everyone here, except perhaps those who are allergic to women’s voices, and even then the sheer variety might win you over. So if Cambridge is getting you down, symphonic metal can certainly provide some escapism; on my bad days, it helps me feel as if I could do anything, even slay a dragon

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