Essential Series - 2020 Power Metal Vol 1

dtabachndtabachn Buenos Aires, Argentina
edited December 2020 in Essential Series

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ARTICLE: The Essential Series - Power Metal (Volume 1)
WRITTEN BY: Dtabachn
YEAR: 2020

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: image

Background

Power Metal is a unique subgenre whose origins are tied not only to music but also to history and literature.

The Middle Ages or Medieval Period that lasted from the 5th to the 15th century is the chosen historical target for most of Power Metal storytelling.

In addition to it, mythology from the early stages of human development up to the Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Viking civilizations; as well as war and conflicts from the Modern Age including more contemporary events such as WW1 and WW2 have frequently inspired the subgenre.

Literature is a strong source of inspiration, with the legend of King Arthur and all its related stories being highly influential, as is Tolkien's Middle Earth world inhabited by Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Trolls among other fictional beings.

Besides the aforesaid, Conan The Barbarian, epic poem Beowulf, The Chronicles Of Narnia, the TV series Game Of Thrones (inspired by the historic events of the War Of The Roses and based on George R. R. Martin's series of novels 'A Song Of Ice And Fire'), comics (Japanese 'manga' in particular), anime and contemporary video games are worth mentioning as influential.

Musically, there's a myriad of influences that transcend the obvious. Starting with Classical music composers including, but not limited to, Vivaldi, Paganini, Bach, Wagner and Tchaikovsky.

Schlager or 'German hit mix', the popular catchy music style born in Germany, has also left its mark on Power Metal particularly regarding refrains. Look no further than Accept's seminal track 'Fast As A Shark' which starts with a snippet from German traditional ditty 'Ein Heller Und Ein Batzen' (In English: 'A Farthing And A Penny') as an example.

Traditional 1970's Heavy Metal and the NWOBHM are the foundations of the subgenre. Although Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, early Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have been influential to a certain extent, we can trace the origins of Power Metal back to the day Ronnie James Dio joined Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow.

Dio's fantasy-themed lyrics set the stage for the nascent style along with the classical influences of Blackmore's music. Furthermore, Dio's tenure in early 1980's Black Sabbath cemented it even more.

In the meanwhile, two German bands deserve a special mention regarding Power Metal's development. The Uli Jon Roth era of Scorpions, specifically the song 'The Sails of Charon'; and the AC/DC-meets-Speed Metal sound of Accept, especially the songs 'Princess Of The Dawn' and the previously mentioned 'Fast As A Shark'.

The dual melodic guitar attack (more than likely influenced by Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash) of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, as well as the operatic approach of their frontmen Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson, respectively, are two of the closest antecedents that helped shape the new style.

The final link is early-to-mid 1980's German Speed Metal, a subgenre which included several bands that would evolve into Power Metal over time, the likes of Running Wild, Grave Digger, early Helloween, Rage and Blind Guardian.

A good deal of Power Metal enthusiasts agree on considering the release of the album 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1' by Helloween in 1987 as the landmark that signaled the birth of the subgenre.

It is absolutely true that all the elements we'll describe as key parts of the style are together for the first time in the earliest piece of the Keeper's saga. After the instrumental intro 'Initiation', a single listen to opener 'I'm Alive' was sufficient proof that Power Metal had been born.

Now, how do we characterize Power Metal? Heavy Metal with history/fantasy-based lyrics, often times epic, heavier and faster than Traditional Metal and the NWOBHM, yet highly melodic and sometimes symphonic, technically proficient.

Power Metal puts more emphasis on melodies, frequently perceived as happier, than Thrash Metal, which, in turn, is heavier with more pronounced percussive rhythms. Black/Death Metal subjects are darker, obscurer than those of Power Metal are.

A usual distinction is made between American Power Metal, known by the acronym USPM, and European Power Metal. USPM sounds grittier and slightly slower than its European counterpart that features cheerful melodies and prominent double-kick drumming.

For the sake of simplicity, we will be listing classic albums without distinguishing between USPM and European Power Metal. As a warm-up, we will introduce some recommended listening.

Proto Power Metal songs:
Deep Purple: 'Speed King', 'Fireball'
Uriah Heep: 'The Wizard', 'Easy Livin'
Queen: 'Ogre Battle'
Rainbow: 'Stargazer', 'Man On The Silver Mountain', 'Kill The King', 'Gates Of Babylon'
Led Zeppelin: 'Achilles Last Stand'
Judas Priest: 'The Ripper', 'Sinner'
Scorpions: 'The Sails Of Charon'
Riot: 'Warrior'
Thin Lizzy: 'Roisin Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend'
Black Sabbath: 'Neon Knights', 'Die Young'
Kiss: 'The Oath'
Accept: 'Princess Of The Dawn', 'Fast As A Shark'
Iron Maiden: 'Flight Of Icarus'
Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force: 'As Above, So Below'
Helloween: 'Ride The Sky', 'How Many Tears'

Proto Power Metal and early Power Metal albums:
Rainbow: 'Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow', 'Rising', 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll'
Dio: 'Holy Diver', 'The Last In Line'
Omen: 'Battle Cry'
Warlord: 'And The Cannons Of Destruction Have Begun…'
Queensryche: 'The Warning'
Jag Panzer: 'Ample Destruction'
Manowar: 'Hail To England'
Helloween: 'Walls Of Jericho'


The Albums

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Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force ‎– 1985 Marching Out

Release Date and Style: September 30, 1985. Neoclassical Power Metal.

When Yngwie (pronounced Ing-Vay) switched to a band format focusing on songs after the seminal, mostly instrumental debut from 1984, he embraced the Power Metal sound and released one of the earliest albums in the neoclassical variant of the style.

With Jeff Scott Soto and the Johansson brothers on board, the singer's aggressive vocals and the keyboard acrobatics of the younger Johansson, Jens, compete with Malmsteen classical-influenced licks on fiery songs such as 'I'll See The Light, Tonight', 'Anguish And Fear' and 'Don't Let It End' as examples.

Mark Boals is lip-syncing Soto's vocals on the 'I'll See The Light, Tonight' official video.

Video

I'll See The Light, Tonight


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Helloween ‎– 1987/8 Keeper Of The Seven Keys Parts I & II

Release Date and Style: May 23, 1987 and August 29, 1988, respectively. European Power Metal.

It would be impossible to separate these albums when discussing their influence on the subgenre. Together they clearly define what Power Metal is in the way it is perceived by most listeners.

While sharing a similar structure, the first displays mostly Kai Hansen's vision whereas Michael Weikath's influence is bigger on the second. Michael Kiske's vocal performance needs to be heard rather than described, pure human perfection.

'Eagle Fly Free' is in itself a genre-defining song, the aural definition of Power Metal, similar to 'I'm Alive' from the first Keeper yet perfected to the limit.

'Future World' and the pair of 'Dr. Stein'-'I Want Out', ballads 'A Tale That Wasn't Right' and 'We Got The Right', and finally the intricate 'Halloween' and 'Keeper Of The Seven Keys' are meant to be listened to back-to-back.

Video

I Want Out


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Savatage - 1987 Hall Of The Mountain King

Release Date and Style: September 28, 1987. Progressive USPM.

Inspired by Black Sabbath with a progressive twist, the Oliva brothers (Jon on vocals and Criss on guitars) released a USPM masterpiece loosely based on darkness and madness themes.

The late Criss Oliva was one of the more tasteful guitar heroes ever, blending Michael Schenker, Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen influences into a unique personal style.

Video

Hall Of The Mountain King


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Riot - 1988 ThunderSteel

Release Date and Style: March 24, 1988. Traditional USPM.

The return of Riot with Mark Reale as the sole survivor from the original lineup is one of the most striking comebacks ever in Metal.

Right off the bat from the frantic riffs of the opening title track, ThunderSteel is arguably the pinnacle in the aggressive variant of USPM, crowned by Tony Moore's piercing highs and Reale's flashy performance gracing the album in abundance.

The Rainbow, Judas Priest, UFO and Black Sabbath influences add even more appeal to this true classic.

Video

ThunderSteel


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Running Wild ‎– 1988 Port Royal

Release Date and Style: September 26, 1988. Speed Metal influenced Power Metal. Pirate Metal.

Founded in 1976 and hailing from Hamburg, Running Wild are one of the pioneers of German Speed Metal.

On Port Royal, their most consistent release, they tell stories of legendary pirates the likes of Calico Jack and sanguinary conquerors, while creating the Pirate Metal brand they applied to themselves.

While the music has many hints at Speed Metal, the melodies and themes fit into the Power Metal style.

Video

Conquistadores


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Crimson Glory - 1988 Transcendence

Release Date and Style: November 14, 1988. Progressive USPM.

On their self-titled debut, Crimson Glory established themselves as a USPM powerhouse. For this sophomore, they basically magnified and perfected all the achievements, taking a more progressive route.

Frontman's Midnight performance is more ear-shattering than anything King Diamond has done, but oddly enough, the riffs and the compositions are simple, yet done with amazing levels of melodic perfection.

All songs are remarkable. However, the melodic 'Lady Of Winter', the pacy 'Red Sharks', the hit ballad 'Lonely' and the wonderful sadness of 'Burning Bridges' are the highlights.

Video

Lonely


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Rage - 1989 Secrets In A Weird World

Release Date and Style: August 25, 1989. Speed Metal influenced Power Metal.

Another band from the German Speed Metal legion, Rage started to add Power Metal influences on the previous album 'Perfect Man'.

For 'Secrets In A Weird World' they polished their sound and fine-tuned the songwriting. While the Speed Metal background is still noticeable, the songs and the vocals have a strong melodic edge, enough to include the album as an early classic of the style under review.

Rage evolved into a widely recognized Symphonic Metal band in future albums

Video

Invisible Horizons


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Viper - 1989 Theatre of Fate

Release Date and Style: October 15, 1989. Neoclassical/ European influenced Power Metal.

This is Andre Matos's first notorious contribution to the style. Along with his Sao Paulo mates, the singer (who sadly passed away in 2019) delivered one of the most developed early Power Metal albums; from one of the most unlikely sources, Brazil, whose scene was dominated by more extreme forms of Metal.

Eight highly palatable songs within a mix of early Helloween and Neoclassical Speed Metal in which the songwriting and the performances are stellar. We've already reviewed it at Glory Daze Music.

Video

Living For The Night


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Heavens Gate - 1991 Livin' In Hysteria

Release Date and Style: April 2, 1991. European Power Metal.

Helloween had already started to look for new horizons after the landmark of the first two Keepers with 'Pink Bubbles Go Ape' when fellow countrymen Heavens Gate honored the legacy of that pair of giant releases with this album.

Led by singer Thomas Rettke and renowned guitarist, producer and engineer Sascha Paeth ( Avantasia, Angra, Rhapsody Of Fire, Edguy), 'Livin' In Hysteria' is undoubtedly a gem.

It has it all: classy vocals, speed, classic Euro Power Metal, anthems, catchy songs and the impeccable power ballad that is 'Best Days Of My Life'. A superb album yet to be discovered by many.

Video

Livin' In Hysteria


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Angra - 1993 Angels Cry

Release Date and Style: November 3, 1993. Symphonic Power Metal.

Angra's debut is one the earliest Symphonic Metal albums ever. It's not only a matter of historical importance, but the album is packed with outstanding songs, namely 'Carry On', the title track, 'Never Understand' and the unbelievable cover version of <b">Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights'.

With guest appearances by <b">Kai Hansen and Sascha Paeth (the latter also co-produced the album), Andre Matos was at a vocal peak during the recording while the band included guitarist Kiko Loureiro, currently in Megadeth, and ace bass player Luis Mariutti.

Video

Carry On

In Summary

Power Metal was the driving force that kept the whole Metal alive and kicking during the difficult decade of the 1990's for the genre, when in spite of those hard times it was still massive mainly in Europe, South America and the Far East. Its strong presence lasts until these days.

The selected ones for this first volume are early classics of the subgenre. Many more influential and crucial bands are left for future volumes.

To name only some of them in no particular order: Helstar, Virgin Steele, Manilla Road, Chastain, Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Rhapsody, Hammerfall, Gamma Ray, Iron Savior, X Japan, Conception, Sonata Arctica, Theocracy, Iced Earth, Nightwish, and DragonForce.


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Comments

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    That`s a great article David, very informative. I`ve never considered myself a fan of the genre, but to my surprise I`ve got 5 of the 10 albums you list here!!
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    Thoroughly enjoyed that. Great work!
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    Really enjoyed all of this! There is just something about power metal that gets in your blood forever.
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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia
    Immense reading. <3
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    george_the_jackgeorge_the_jack No man's land
    Flawless article. You pretty much covered the whole thing. Being a life-long fan of power metal myself (mostly early to mid-90's) I haven't got much to add (except maybe Edguy and Tobi's brainchild, Avantasia, early Pretty maids and USPM honorable mentions of Heir Apparent and Armored Saint).

    I have been blessed to have seen most of the bands you mention in various eras - from the German pioneers to US legends Riot and Savatage. Yngwie during Facing the Animal tour when he was still valid and rocked, Hammerfall when they debuted in 1997 supporting Kai Hansen's Gamma Ray, Crismon Glory. Savatage with Zach Stevens in '98, Angra with Matos in '97, Conception with Elegy and Stratovarius on the same bill. Riot with Virgin Steele and of course Manowar and Helloween. From your list I only missed Heaven's gate (Sacha Paeth's first band I believe and I loved that album to bits!) and Rage which we barely missed due to their appearance getting cancelled back in their Lingua Mortis tour.

    Power metal was (and still is to an extent) very popular in Europe. Many well-known and established rockstars have crossed its borders on many occasions over the years. I even consider early Gary Moore song ''Hiroshima'' as a tune leaning more towards proto-power metal than anything else. Same goes for Krokus' ''Headhunter''. Late 80's Judas Priest also flirted with the genre. Arguably there's plenty to love in power metal yet as is the case with hard rock / heavy metal these days, there's a decline and loss of inspiration among most of those who still play it.
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    dtabachndtabachn Buenos Aires, Argentina
    edited July 2020
    Thanks to everyone for the kind feedback. I had started with this article exactly a year ago according to my handwritten notes, the lockdown gave me time to finish it now in a couple of days.

    Malc, can I guess the five albums you have out of the selected ones? I'd say Helloween (maybe both), Crimson Glory, Savatage, Riot and Malmsteen.

    George TJ: thanks for sharing your thoughts and your first hand experiences with the bands.

    Heir Apparent's first two albums for sure deserve a mention, the debut in the traditional USPM style and the sophomore more on the progressive side with a different singer. They released a third album in 2018.

    Agree about Tobias Sammet, a true legend with Edguy and Avantasia. And yes, 'Hiroshima' off Dirty Fingers is proto Power Metal, love that song, Gary Moore's hard rock era rules.

    Another band I plan on adding for future volumes is Liege Lord, 'Master Control' is superb.
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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia
    From my history, I'd add:

    Warrior - Fighting For The Earth
    Fifth Angel - s/t
    Symphony X - The Odyssey
    Pantera - early albums
    Divinefire - Glory Thy Name
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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia
    edited November 2020
    I was doing some research on the great Neil Kernon during the week, and I found an old interview where he says he has no idea what power metal is. Despite the fact that he produces some extreme metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Nile. :o
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    Now you’ve just given me an idea for an Essential Series article on the best of extreme metal ...
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    dtabachndtabachn Buenos Aires, Argentina
    I think Neil Kernon was addressing the fact that Power Metal is a diverse subgenre and as such difficult to pigeonhole.

    He as a producer is not worried about labels but the music itself, this is his job . I'm ok with it, that's what we music lovers are for. It's our job and joy.
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