Yngwie Malmsteen's catalog is bursting with great big bold riffs. So for this list, we had to restrict our picks to the guitarist's classic Eighties period.
10. “I Am a Viking”—Marching Out (1985) [0:05–0:31]
This menacing two-guitar main theme squeaks into the Top 10 because it epitomizes the type of growling, low-register thirds harmonies that grace many of Malmsteen’s compositions.
9. “Black Star”—Rising Force (1984) [1:16–1:29]
The song’s first theme features a stratospheric thirds-driven melody that alternates between two-beat phrases derived from E natural minor and E harmonic minor. Malmsteen’s wailing bends on the downbeats of bars 1 and 2 simultaneously evoke majesty and sorrow.
8. “As Above So Below”—Rising Force [2:04–2:18]
This ensemble interlude uses single notes to outline a rapidly moving chord progression. Malmsteen covers the Am-E7#9/G# changes by alternating descending arpeggios with ascending scale lines (all derived from the A harmonic minor scale) on each beat.
7. “Trilogy Suite Op: 5”—Trilogy (1986) [0:16–0:26]
Here, we have an unusual five-bar ensemble theme played over an implied Im-V (Cm-G) progression. Beginning with a nicely contoured C harmonic minor melody, Malmsteen fills the remaining three bars by alternating beats of open-G triplets with ascending three-note C harmonic minor scale fragments sequenced in descending third intervals. Clever and classy.
6. “Fire” from Trilogy [2:46–2:54]
Inverted pedal tones, a quick diminished arpeggio, and sequenced C harmonic minor runs characterize this solo excerpt. Each downbeat in bar 1 descends in scale-wise motion as Malmsteen pedals a high root-7-root motif for the three remaining sixteenth notes.
5. “Black Star” [2:28–2:35]
This secondary theme finds Malmsteen flying up the fretboard with a series of D#dim7 inversions harmonized in thirds. (Harmony freaks will note that D#dim7 is a substitute for B79/D#, the V of Em.) Accented in “threes,” every other sextuplet ends on a melodic bend.
4. “Far Beyond the Sun” from Rising Force [0:14–0:23]
Culled from the song’s famous intro, these blinding 7/4 breaks use a descending F# harmonic minor scale and ascending Bdim7 inversions to riff between V and I (C#5 and F#5) and V and bVI (C#5-D5) chordal punctuations. The diminished arpeggios in bar 2, which form familiar shapes on the top three strings, are played as quintuplets accented in alternating groups of fours and threes.
3. “Far Beyond the Sun” [4:31–4:34]
In what can only be described as a G diminished tour-de-force, the first three beats in the first bar of this solo excerpt feature the same four-note diminished arpeggio shape from previous examples on the top two strings descending in minor thirds superimposed over three sixteenth-note quintuplets. Malmsteen breaks out of this pattern by adding more strings to the mix starting on beat four of the opening measure. Don’t blink—the whole thing is over in just under three seconds.
2. “Far Beyond the Sun” [1:06–1:09]
Another three seconds of virtuoso intensity that are over before you can spell Malmsteen’s first name, the inverted F#m arpeggios demonstrate that while speed isn’t everything, the right shred lick can give you thrills similar to those enjoyed by downhill ski champions and Ferrari test drivers.
And, finally, the number one Yngwie Malmsteen riff of all time is… drum roll please… The romantic, lyrical, Bach-inspired E-minor prelude to
1. “Black Star” [0:00–0:21]
That’s right, folks. While many of the previous nine riffs will score points in head-cuttin’ duels with neighborhood shredders, this pleasing and portable nylon-string intro scores with its simplicity and emotion—no shred chops or Marshall stack required.