Although not as prevalent in America, power metal is one of the most popular forms of heavy metal in Europe and Asia. Popular bands hail from places such as Germany, England, Japan, Poland, Finland, Italy, and Indonesia. Power metal combines the technicality and shred guitar of neoclassical metal, the pace of speed metal, and the dual harmonized guitars and melodic high register vocals of NWOBHM to create one of the fastest and technically perfect forms of heavy metal. Riffs are played with the pace of speed/thrash metal, but chord changes are slower and more harmonic than those of thrash. Guitar solos tend to be long, fast, and technical evoking comparisons to guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen and Uli Jon Roth. As with most forms of fast heavy metal, double bass pedals and drums are used. Bass guitars are normally only used to produce the root notes and are not nearly as prevalent as the other instruments. Keyboards are also a staple of power metal and they are usually played with the same high level of musicianship as the guitars. Lyrical themes normally deal with fantasy, science fiction, mythology, and personal emotions. Although it is not considered to be a progressive form of metal, the use of neo classical elements and technical shred guitar has earned them respect from the progressive metal community. Europe even holds a yearly Woodstock sized festival dedicated to both subgenres called the Power Prog Metal Festival.
Power metal was created in the mid 1980’s. The origins of power metal can be traced back to a few different places. The biggest forerunner was neoclassical metal created by shred guitar pioneers, like Yngwie Malmsteen. The guitar work is so fast, yet shows the technical perfection of neoclassical music. Speed metal bands like Motorhead and Venom also influenced the music. Power metal bands wanted to play neoclassical shred guitar, while adding the even faster pace and aggression of speed metal. Vocal styles were influenced by artists, like Dio, Iron Maiden, and Queensryche whose singers all performed with clean tenor vocals. As far as the mythological and fantasy lyrical themes go, Dio was by far the biggest influence. Lyrics similar to “Holy Diver” and other Dio hits can be heard across the entire category of power metal.
Essential Power Metal Albums:
- Valley of the Damned (Dragonforce)
- Inhuman Rampage (Dragonforce)
- Land of the Free (Gamma Ray)
- Glory to the Brave (Hammerfall)
- Something Wicked This Way Comes (Iced Earth)
- Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I (Helloween)
- Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II (Helloween)
- Walls of Jericho (Helloween)
- Somewhere Far Beyond (Blind Guardian)
- The Fourth Legacy (Kamelot)
- Century Child (Nightwish)
- Unification (Iron Savior)
- Hall of the Mountain King (Savatage)
- Visions (Stratovarius)
- Wishmaster (Nightwish)
- Hail to England (Manowar)
- Power of the Dragonflame (Rhapsody of Fire)
Although Accept and Dio are recognized as two of the earliest bands with power metal elements, Germany’s Helloween, formed in 1984, is generally recognized as the first true power metal band. With their experimentation, epic songs, high pitched vocals, and shred guitar Helloween would unknowingly pave the way for one of the most popular forms of heavy metal. Their albums Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I and II are seen as benchmarks in the world of power metal. Since their inception, they have released fourteen successful albums and have retained a huge following. Former band members have gone on to form some of the most well known bands in power metal such as Gamma Ray and Iron Savior.
The 1990’s saw a huge increase in the popularity of power metal with the emergence of bands like Hammerfall. It would even begin to breakthrough into the United States. Power metal has never been able to achieve the same success in the U.S. and Canada as it has in Europe, but it has remained a popular niche in the world of American heavy metal. While power metal bands were selling out large outdoor festivals in Europe, nu metal bands ruled the festival scene in the U.S. in the mid to late 1990’s. There certainly have been some bands that have helped to increase the awareness and popularity of power metal in the United States, like America’s own Iced Earth, who became popular by combining power metal with elements of thrash and progressive metal. Power metal continues to have a small, but strong and loyal following in the U.S.
Power metal remains an extremely popular form of heavy metal worldwide. The most successful and well known power metal band at the moment is England’s Dragonforce. Dragonforce was formed in 1999 by neoclassical guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman. They are known for playing some of the most technically difficult guitar riffs and dual solos in heavy metal. They quickly rose to fame and even have somewhat of a large following in the United States. Dragonforce’s worldwide popularity is due in large part to combining the discipline of power metal with the aggression of bands like Slayer and Venom often causing them to be mislabeled as a speed metal band. Their unique brand of power metal has helped to influence a new generation of power metal bands including Shadowkeep, Power Quest, and Pythia. The more power metal continues to evolve and add aggressive elements, the more popular it becomes in the United States helping to cement its status as a worldwide metal juggernaut.
Symphonic power metal blends power metal with a huge emphasis on keyboards and orchestral instruments and arrangements. Bands often use clean and sometimes operatic vocals. The most popular example of a symphonic power metal band is Finland’s Nightwish. Song arrangements are extensive and hearken back to arrangements used in classical music. The lead female vocals are opera quality and mix well with the gruff vocals supplied by bassist Marco Hietala. The band’s cover of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” from their album Century Child sums up the sound of symphonic power metal perfectly. Other symphonic power metal bands include Rhapsody of Fire, Serenity, and Kamelot.