So who invented power metal?
Some believe that power metal was a natural progression from the traditional heavy metal sounds that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest created in the early 1980s. Other antecedents include Rainbow, Uriah Heep and even Queen. Power metal enthusiasts insist that power metal was definitively brought into this Earth with the release of Keepers of the Seven Keys Parts I and II by Helloween. Both albums exhibit all the hallmarks and conventions of the genre - classically oriented riffing, thick but bright tone, keyboard accompaniment (more often found in progressive power/power progressive metal - see below) gang choruses and clean, tenor vocals.
All metal is electrified to a certain extent, what makes power metal so powerful?
Nothing - all metal is probably as powerful as any other sub-genre. Power metal is defined by what it isn't.
How do you figure?
Well, power metal is the sub-genre of metal that warrants a special sort of deductive classification since all other genres are so well defined. Power metal isn't speedy enough, so it can't be thrash. It's not slow either, so it can't be doom. It isn't technical enough so it can't be progressive. It is absent of any guttural, screamed vocals, so it can't be death metal. It isn't overtly satanic and the production is far too clean to be black metal either. Power metal could be seen as the "moderate" metal genre that is barely palatable to both the general public and heavy metal fans alike.
Aren't there sub-genres of power metal?
Indeed there are. Bands that add symphonics - either orchestrated with real instruments (read: grandpas guitars, violins and such) or synthesized are considered to be "Symphonic power metal" (Kamelot, Nightwish, Rhapsody). Some bands add folk elements (Ensiferum, Elvenking) and others are more hard rock oriented (Masterplan) with a few of them converging upon all three. (Blind Guardian.) There is also a worrying trend of power metal bands to be female fronted like the aforementioned Nightwish, which has spawned such acts as After Forever, Epica and Within Temptation. However, these bands have added guttural male vocals to the mix over time, as to act as a "counterpoint" or "nuisance" to the sublime soprano voices of these angelic women. These bands also tend to be more symphonic in nature. For a time, Nevermore was considered to be power metal as they utilize clean vocals and mid-tempo song structures, despite offering darker lyrics and gloomy riffing. Nevermore vocalist Warrel Dane, however, wanted nothing to do with it, and rightly so.
What's with all the medieval fantasy and sci-fi lyrics?
Helloween and Blind Guardian touched upon fantasy themes in their earlier work, and the trend was extrapolated through these bands by contemporaries such as Rhapsody, Hammerfall or Falkenbach. The themes are usually an extension of the triumphant and sometimes arcane moods they evoke in their songs. Power metal lyrics are usually much more positive and escapist than their negative, sometimes aggressive, romanticist or realist brethren.
What's the difference between power progressive metal and progressive power metal?
Power progressive metal is progressive metal combined with traditional power metal instrumentation, sounding more forceful due to hard-edged composition (Queensryche, Fates Warning) Progressive power metal is the term used for bands that are more overtly technical but still adhere to power metal genre conventions. (Angra)
So there is no difference, it's just a semantic pissing contest?
Pretty much. The differences are as razor thin as some of the leather pants they wear.
What is that supposed to mean?
The closer a power metal approaches the sacred point of replicating the "Chosen Sound from the Fallen Realm" (i.e., a direct successor to Keepers of the Seven Keys) the tighter the vocalist's pants must become in order to hit the golden nutcrunch frequency. (See the chart below for more details.)
This lends a greater atmosphere and drama to the music that would otherwise be lost by bands who wear looser-fitting clothing. Their guitar solos would not be nearly wanky enough to produce power metal "guitar faces."
Guitar faces? Now this is just getting ridiculous.
The faces or "poses" expressed by guitarists as they are performing their solos. Generally these allow the guitarist to maintain their precious finger ligament and muscle stamina throughout the solo, which may be needed for up to ten minutes. (Dragonforce.)
These guitar faces range from the "Orgasm" (eyes closed while deft hands massage the fretboard of the guitar and caress the strings), the "Workin' hard"(eyebrows raised while looking as if the guitar is about to cause a hernia) and "mad-dog" (a guitarist striding confidently up to a stage monitor, perching his mighty foot atop of it and "mowing" down the crowd with his invisible machine gun mounted on his tuning pegs) and the "surprise" (lips puckered up while his eyes are flared wide that seems to say "wow, I didn't know I could do that!')
The list, too numerous to name and catalog was lost in time after the "great schism" of 2002, which saw the dark forces of Sauron attack the most powerful power metal band, Rhapsody (of fire). The forces of valiant triumphant powerful heavy metal and other dense minerals succumbed to his malevolent hand, who henceforth proclaimed himself Lord of all power metal. (As heard on their album "The Dark Secret").
Stay tuned for the next installment in our "Intro Guides to Metal" series!
Written by Eyeless Sentry, "Power Metal" picture and creative assistance by Blasphemer