- John Norum
Watch John Norum in Action at the bottom of this page!
Famous / Infamous for
Being Sweden's other guitar hero.
Take a young, talented, Swedish guitar prodigy. Immerse him in Bach, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart, Paganini, (and Blackmore) and you get Yngwie Malmsteen. Now take another young, talented, Swedish guitar prodigy. Immerse him in classic rock-metal like Deep Purple, Kiss, UFO and above all, Thin Lizzy, and you get John Norum. John listened to all the right stuff growing up and has learned to apply those influences to what he does is a very pleasing way.
The odd thing about Norum is that he doesn't sound like a Swedish (or continental European) guitarist. He's not Neo-Classical like Yngwie. He's not American Shred school. He's neither Eurometal nor German Metal School. These days, John Norum's playing sounds British. British, and rock/blues-based. This wasn't always the case, though. In the late 80s and early 90s, with the band Europe and in his early solo career, John Norum's playing did sound more Eurometal. During that time, his compositions featured typical Euro-style minor scale chord-progressions. Such compositions left plenty of room for Norum to wank away, and he fell into the common trap of overplaying a lot. But John has really matured on his last few albums. His songs now are based on heavy, ballsy, ass-nasty, blues rock riffs.
Obvious: John Norum's style — both his playing and songwriting — owes a lot to the Thin Lizzy School of guitar players. In fact, John's played and remade many Lizzy covers over the years. So while he's not technically a graduate of the Lizzy school, I'd give him an honorary degree! The two influences I hear most in John Norum are Lizzy guitar alums, Gary Moore and John Sykes. Norum's crunchy, riff-based song style is very similar kinds of songs you'll find on Corridors/Victims - era Gary Moore, and Blue Murder and Sykes albums. There is also a few tablespoons of Ritchie Blackmore and a dash of Michael Schenker in John too. If you like these influences, you're gonna like John Norum a lot!
Not-so-obvious: While it's not really apparent in his playing style, John's listened to so much Thin Lizzy that his music has undoubtedly been influenced in less obvious ways by Robertson, Gorham, and Phil Lynott himself. Norum was also a big fan of Ace Frehley and Kiss when he was a youngster.
By the time he was nineteen, John Norum had shred chops that were the equal any of the Shrapnel kids. Yet his biggest assets are ones that most players with similar ability do not possess: maturity and growth. John Norum actually grew up! Now in his late thirties, John still has the same blazing chops, but he tempers the urge-to-shred-constantly with leads that are ripping — ballsy as hell, and full of attitude. Further, unlike most shredders, John's not afraid to play slowly and does so very well. His slow leads are melodic, tasty, and emotional.
Another major strength is his songwriting. His compositions have improved dramatically as he has matured. John Norum has learned that the song — not the solo, is the bottom line. Since the mid-90s, his strongest songs are right up there on a quality level with John Sykes' songs. And while Norum doesn't hit that level quite as consistently as Sykes does, I'll contend that he hits it more consistently than Gary Moore or Michael Schenker (two of Norum's influences) ever did in their primes.
Also, for a guy who's worked with Joey Tempest, Kelly Keeling, Glenn Hughes, and Don Dokken, John's music doesn't suffer at all when he handles the vocals himself. In fact, John has a nice deep voice. It is somewhat reminiscent of Jim Morrison's in timbre, though it's different in character. He has a pretty good range and knows how to maximize that range while staying out of trouble. His vocals are quite melodic.
John Norum is an exciting player. With all the deteriorating guitarists out there suffering from Alex Lifeson's disease, here's a guy who's actually still improving! John Norum's blood could actually be "the serum," the way Charlton Heston's blood was in the Omega Man. Now, if we could just get Gary Moore a Norum transfusion . . .
As much growth as he has shown, John still overplays a bit. And at the speed he often plays, the more he plays, the less impact it has. I wish he'd just take 16 bars, or even 32 — do his solo, make it really count, and then get out. There are times he'll just keep soloing on and on over the last chorus during the vocal. And for John Norum, excessive wanking is unnecessary. His song riffs, hooks, and choruses are now so strong that he should trust them to hammer the song home on their own merits. My bet is he'll figure this out of this at some point in the future. Similarly, John has a real nice slow, melodic element in his playing that I'd like to hear him use more. And I'd like to hear him expand on the dynamics in his guitar solos a bit. And finally, as much as I like John's playing, I'd be hard-pressed to call him a true original. Though he blends his influences together well, they are often still quite obvious. Fortunately, John Norum does so many things right that these issues are relatively minor and haven't detracted from my enjoyment of his music.
John uses Strats, Les Pauls, and on occasion a Flying V. Most of the time, his sound is Strat, through 50 watt JCM800 Marshall 2205. He uses very heavy strings (11- 52) and Fender-style trems. This is an old Gary Moore recipe for getting an unusually fat rock-metal sound from a basically-stock Strat. And not too surprisingly, John Norum's tone sits squarely between the two influences mentioned earlier. It's more produced and has more gain than Gary Moore's early 80s tone. It's less produced and has less gain then John Sykes' tone. Of the two, it's closer to Moore's Strat sound, but there's a bit less of the guitar's wood tone, and less audible pick attack in Norum's tone than you hear in Moore's.
The coolest thing about John Norum is that he combines the insane chops of a Neo-Classical shredder with the taste, balls, and maturity of the British classic rock/metal players. He knows that sex comes from the blues scale, and Norum's leads, like his songs are sexy. With John you get a lot of intense, chops-heavy, supercharged blues licks. He's always dazzling and flashy. But he'll also impress with some tasty slow blues; filled of dynamic contrasts between subtle and bombastic. This aspect of John's style reminds me of Blackmore's blues style on things like Mistreated. Beyond that, there is certainly strong Aeolian melodic influence that probably owes as much to Blackmore and Schenker as it does to Moore and Sykes.
Some of John's solos sound compositional, and other sounds more spontaneous. Dynamically, he contrasts quiet with loud more often than he contrasts fast with slow. His licks are plenty melodic, but he's not a big creator of melodic themes within the solo. Consequently, his compositional solos are not always "a song within a song." Sometimes he'll just bulldoze you with ballsy attitude and his frightening ability. He does that real well.
John's primarily an alternate picker, though there's some legato evident. He has a very heavy touch for a guy with such amazing chops.
John Norum has a really tasty vibrato — and I wish he'd milk it a little bit more than he does. Medium speed. Not real wide. Like a less intense version of Gary Moore's vibrato from his metal days.
by Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.