Classical Musician Analyzes Megadeth Classic, Explains Which Aspect of the Song Is a ’Hot Mess

Over the past few years or so, there has been an abundance of channels reacting to metal music. Among them, however, there’s only a handful of trained musicians, let alone classically trained musicians. And in the sea of these “reaction” videos, you can find some very in-depth analysis videos that offer way more insight compared to the usual “OH MY GOD *jaw drops*” kind of content. Recently, one of the channels called Virgin Rock, led by classical musician Amy Shafer, did this with Megadeth’s “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.”

Amy, who also covered some Metallica on her channel, started listening to the piece. And after the song’s instrumental intro, she said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“That certainly brings back some memories and associations with what I experienced with Metallica. But it’s true that I am able to hear more musical material and I am able to understand what I’m hearing a little bit better.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert at it, by far. But I am hearing more now. And I guess I’m happy about that.”

Holy Wars... The Punishment Due (Remastered 2004)

“It has this riff, as I’ve learned to call it, which is kind of a… It really puts you a little bit on edge and has a sense of urgency to it. And it has this particular little feature which is jumping out at me as being something that is interesting. It adds an extra little dimension to what’s going on instrumentally.”

“And another thing I’m noticing, some of you have said this before, that metal music has a lot of similarities with baroque music. And as I’m listening to this, I’m thinking ‘I could conceive of this being played by a baroque orchestra.”

After stumbling upon the acoustic guitar interlude, she said:

“That was interesting. I didn’t expect that little acoustic interlude and the background sound effects in that space.”

Reflecting on the song’s name, she added:

“I see that they’re pulling us back to this idea of Crusaders-style holy wars. It’s also interesting to me that they’re bringing this reference to Israel. They’re really trying to set us in this sort of Biblical or very religious mindset.”

Megadeth - Holy Wars - Live - Hammersmith Apollo 1992

Going further into it, she reflected on the song’s first lead part and the slower section by saying:

“It’s interesting the way the voice is taking us down step by step by step. Well, more than step by step — octave by octave, range by range. And it’s incredibly expressively impactful in this moment. I’m still trying to fit together the picture of what’s going on.”

“But I’m beginning to see that, probably, this seems to be something kind of like ‘…And Justice for All’ by Metallica where there is some very dark unjust, unjustifiable happenings in the past that have brought this person to this moment. I’m not entirely sure. But this comment about ‘They killed my wife and baby,’ that’s something that brings a much darker element into it.”

Of course, everyone was impatiently waiting for her to weigh in on the guitar harmonics part that goes straight into the fast-paced section. Amy weighed in:

“Interesting sound effects here. I have my ears more open to trying to notice… I’m really trying to develop my understanding of the sounds of the guitar.”

“I’m noticing those things and I don’t know what all the effects are called. But that’s okay. At least I’m able to notice and realize that’s something intentional and worthwhile to pay attention to.”

The initial reaction video is available below.

Megadeth, Holy Wars...The Punishment Due - A Classical Musician’s First Listen and Reaction

However, Amy also did a more in-depth analysis in a follow-up video where she peeled all the layers of the song and shared her honest professional opinion on Megadeth’s “Holy Wars.” Among other things, she also focused on the song’s lyrics. And compared to the music, she wasn’t particularly thrilled about them. Amy explained:

“The solidly organized and presented musical content in this Megadeth song set me up to look for logic in the lyrics too. After all, doesn’t it make sense to present a solidly compelling message, if you have a good dish to serve it on?”

“In my first listen, I was trying to make sense of the lyrical content. And if you remember, I ended up, in the end, saying that I would have to spend some time and try to find out what this was all about and how it all linked together.”

Marty Friedman Holy wars Clean Solo México 1996 Master Class

“Well, I’ve done a lot of reading on this song, about the band, about what inspired the song, as well as simply spending time with the music and with the recordings of the music and reading the music. And I’ve come to a conclusion. I think that the lyrics are a hot mess.”

“Now, before you take aim and shoot me down, I will say that there are certainly portions of the lyrics that work well and present a cogent line of thought. But instead of developing these ideas into something with some depth to it, it jumps around randomly to topics that have no logical link or connection. And so it fails to make good sense as a whole.”

“The more I listen to it, the more it strikes me as being like some hot-headed teenager getting into a political discussion, but who is driven more by impulse and instinct than by carefully thought-out reasoning. Even if his impulses and instincts are justifiable, or could be developed into something worthy of listening to and pursuing, as it stands, there are too many illogical leaps. And too many raging hormones to have any productive political discussion.”

You can watch this analysis video below.

Megadeth, Holy Wars...The Punishment Due - A Classical Musician’s In-Depth Analysis

The description of Amy’s YouTube channel gives us more insight into her qualifications:

“Amy Shafer, LRSM, FRSM, RYC, is a classical harpist, pianist, and music teacher, Director of Piano Studies and Assistant Director of Harp Studies for The Harp School, Inc., holds multiple degrees in harp and piano performance and teaching, and is active as a solo and collaborative performer. With nearly two decades of teaching experience, she teaches privately, presents masterclasses and coaching sessions, and has performed and taught in Europe and USA.

Photo: Sven Mandel (Megadeth – 2017216231552 2017-08-04 Wacken – Sven – 1D X MK II – 1257 – B70I0729)

David Slavkovic

David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.

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