|Stylistic origins||NWOBHM, speed metal|
|Cultural origins||Early–mid 1980s, Germany|
|Typical instruments||Vocals − electric guitar − bass − drums − keyboards|
|Germany - Scandinavia - Italy - Brazil - Japan|
Power metal is a style of heavy metal combining characteristics of traditional metal with speed metal, often within symphonic context. Generally, power metal is characterized by a more uplifting sound, in contrast to the heaviness and dissonance prevalent in styles such as doom metal and death metal. The term was first used in the middle of the 80s and refers to two different but related styles: the first pioneered and largely practiced in North America with a harder sound similar to speed metal, and a later more widespread and popular style based in Europe (especially Germany, Finland, Italy, Scandinavia), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil) and Japan, with a lighter, more melodic sound and frequent use of keyboards.
The origins of power metal could be traced back to the late '70s, when the groundwork for power metal lyrical style was laid down by Ronnie James Dio. The fantasy oriented lyrics he wrote for Rainbow, concentrated around medieval, renaissance, folk and science fiction themes, directly influenced modern power metal bands. Rob Halford of Judas Priest created a blueprint for power metal vocal delivery. His almost constant high-pitched singing became one of the main characteristics of power metal. The twin-guitar sound promoted by duo of Downing-Tipton highly influenced this sub-genre. Another British band, Iron Maiden, brought epic and melodic sensibility to power metal, creating anthem-like, easy to singalong music, an approach widely embraced by modern power metal musicians. The emergence of early German power metal scene in particular was made possible by Scorpions and Accept. Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen made big impact on many future power metal guitarists, with his accurate and fast neo-classical style. His bandmate Jens Johansson modernized the keyboard sound of Deep Purple's Jon Lord, which was further incorporated into the genre. Finally, Manowar's mythological "Sword and sorcery" lyrics influenced a number of power metal bands.
Power metal is today associated with fast tempo and melodic harmonies, the sound tempered by characteristics of speed metal, power metal's musical forerunner.
Power metal is highly focused on the vocalist, with "clean" vocals being much more prevalent than the growling vocals often associated with extreme metal. Inspired by Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Geoff Tate and other heavy metal vocalists, power metal vocals are often in a high register, and the singers vocal range is usually wide. The majority of the genre's vocalists sing in the tenor range, capable of hitting very high notes, for example Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius and Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween). There are however many exceptions who sing in either baritone or bass range. Some vocalists sing in a harsh, thrash metal way, like Chris Boltendahl of Grave Digger, Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray and Peavy Wagner of Rage, or even make use of growls, like Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom and Wintersun's Jari Mäenpää. Many power metal vocalists record multi-layered vocals reminiscent of Queen, most notably Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian, creating a choral effect.
Power metal's lyrical themes, though as varied as metal itself, often focus on fantasy and mythology, camaraderie and hope, personal struggles and emotions, war and death, or combinations of the listed themes. Many Power metal bands based their concept albums on fantasy books and national epics; for example Blind Guardian based their Nightfall in Middle-Earth on The Silmarillion by Tolkien and Kamelot based Epica and The Black Halo on Goethe's Faust. Historical wars inspired numerous bands, like Sabaton, Grave Digger or HammerFall. Some bands have even written their own imaginary stories, like Rhapsody of Fire's Emerald Sword Saga and The Dark Secret Saga, Iced Earth's Something Wicked Saga or Avantasia by Edguy's Tobias Sammet. Many otherwise typical metal themes such as religion and politics are comparatively rare but not unheard of.
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Power metal guitarists and bassists generally play rapid streams of notes, but change chords comparatively slowly, with a harmonic tempo of once per measure or slower. Fast and demanding guitar solos, however, are almost guaranteed. The slow changing of chords are significant in defining power metal just as the fast rapid chord changes often define traditional thrash metal. Power metal often makes use of Major chord progressions as well as circle progressions. Some of the most influential and imitated power metal guitarists are Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray, Michael Weikath of Helloween, and Timo Tolkki formerly of Stratovarius, currently of Symfonia. It is a common trait in power metal for the bass guitar to take a back seat, so to speak; often simply providing the chord root notes and being drowned out by the more prevalent rhythm guitars. However, some power metal bands incorporate bass that is more audible with colorful patterns distinct from the rhythm guitars, such as Helloween, Hibria, and Symphony X.
Many power metal drummers play with double bass pedals or two bass drums, utilizing them to play a constant stream of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) with snare drum accents on the beat, a style not restricted to, but most often associated with, power metal. The style was used by drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg of Helloween, setting a blueprint for many other drummers to follow. Others, such as the drummers of Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, use a more thrash metal style of drumming with rapid bursts of double bass that involve three to six beats with the double kick. Even more uncommon, but not unheard of, is the use of the blast beat.
Power metal bands often incorporate keyboards into their musical arrangements, something popularized by Jens Johansson of Stratovarius, though their usage varies from subtle accents to a full-blown melody line. Some power metal bands also record with symphonic elements, and as such, they utilize a full orchestra to fill the role usually played by the keyboardist.
Types of power metal
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American power metal
This branch of power metal emerged in early 1980s in the United States, drawing its influences mainly from traditional metal and the NWOBHM. Though very close to its roots, US power metal (often abbreviated USPM) is often faster and more energetic than traditional heavy metal, with a more riff-driven approach than its later European counterpart and with a relative lack of keyboards, but more melodic and often with a higher emphasis on guitar leads than thrash. USPM is also notable for its wide (but not universal) use of high-register operatic vocals, a trend which would continue with the rise of European power metal in the late 80s and early 90s. Manilla Road, Manowar, Helstar, Virgin Steele, Vicious Rumors and Jag Panzer are examples of American power metal bands. In addition, the American progressive metal bands Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, Savatage and the epic doom metal band Cirith Ungol have incorporated elements of American power metal into their music. US power metal saw a sharp decline in popularity at the beginning of the 90s, though the style has rebounded somewhat in the past decade.
European power metal
Often referred to as melodic power metal, European power metal originated from speed metal and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, emerging in mid/late 1980s with Helloween, Blind Guardian and Stratovarius. All three of these bands pioneered the genre, but took it in different directions. Helloween, followed by early Gamma Ray, mixed fast palm muted speed metal riffs with high-pitched clean vocals, and with a strong focus on melody and uplifting, positive themes. Stratovarius further developed this melodic direction by making heavy use of keyboards. Blind Guardian used the technique of vocal and guitar overdubbing to create a serious, "epic" feeling. The symphonic and neo-classical elements also found their way through power metal with bands like Rhapsody of Fire and Nightwish. HammerFall simplified their power metal to bring it closer to traditional heavy metal. This genre spread over Europe, often incorporating further influences from progressive and folk music (Italy's Elvenking, Sweden's Falconer and Denmark's Wuthering Heights are in particular influenced by folk music). Two Helloween albums, Keeper of the Seven Keys parts 1 and 2 are usually considered the first proper European power metal albums.
Each country has their own regional variations on the basic Power Metal style, and several of these scenes have become significant:
- German (also called Teutonic power metal): usually heavier and less keyboard-driven than other varieties, and shares much more in common with traditional metal. Running Wild, Iron Savior, Rage, Freedom Call, Primal Fear are some of the examples. Power metal greats Helloween, Blind Guardian, Gamma Ray, Edguy and Grave Digger are also from Germany.
- Italian: Italian branch of power Metal shares several characteristics in common: melodic, often classical or progressive songwriting, heavily fantastic lyrics, high-pitched vocals and emphasis on speed. Beside Rhapsody of Fire, other notables include Labyrinth, Vision Divine and Domine.
- Swedish: A sort of blend of the previous two. Swedish power metal is generally harder and less speed-oriented than Italian, but not so heavy as German. Includes HammerFall, Sabaton, Cryonic Temple, Lost Horizon, Nocturnal Rites, Steel Attack and Dream Evil.
- Finnish: Thanks to pioneering Stratovarius influence, Finnish bands make heavy use of keyboards and make generally very melodic and "softer" music, compared to German or Swedish scene. Other notable bands are Sonata Arctica, Nightwish, Tarot.
Successful power metal acts exist in other European countries such as Spain (Dark Moor, Phoenix Rising), France (Heavenly), Russia (Catharsis), Greece (Firewind) etc. European style of power metal is played even by some non-European bands like Kamelot, Symphony X (both American), Angra (Brazilian) and X Japan.
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