power metal

I've noticed a trend in power metal recently, where the genre is getting fractured in a way that does no one any favors.  On the one hand, there is a group of bands that are taking power metal in a darker, heavier, more modern direction.  While I like some of these bands, they largely suck the fun out of the music, which is one of the things that makes power metal special when done well.  On the other hand, there is another group of bands that has taken the term 'flower metal' to heart, and sucked all of the heaviness out of the music, which only serves to make it sound weak

Of all the metal bands that have impressed me in the last decade, the vast majority of them have only managed to do so with a single album. Maintaining that level has proven difficult for many bands, but Orden Ogan is not one of them. My history with them goes back to the early days of independent bands putting their music online, where I stumbled across their song “Angels War”. I was hooked, and tracked down their album “Testimonium AD”, which was still rough, but a great starting point.

I first heard about Dragonforce before they became popular through the Guitar Hero games. I heard about their first album when it came out, and I was quite puzzled by what I was hearing. It was lightning-speed power metal, played at tempos I could barely register, and topped off with some of the most gloriously cheesy vocals and melodies I had ever heard. On paper, it sounded like a disaster, but they somehow made it work.

When last we heard from Sabaton, they were a band in a state of flux. “Carolus Rex” was the last statement of a band that was fracturing, a dividing line that will make clear what constituted the Sabaton sound all these years. The band split apart, with the majority of the instrumentalists forming the lackluster Civil War, and singer Joakim Broden keeping the Sabaton tradition alive. Band politics are often juicy fodder for the tabloid aspect of our world, but they mean nothing to the music, which is the only thing that should matter.

First off, what’s important to underline before telling the Battleroar story is that “Blood of Legends” is not merely an album. The record exists as an exhibition in craft and the ability to tell a tale through a mix of classical narrative and metal elements. The metal part of Battleroar is merely the vehicle through which the story is progressed – if the heavy elements won’t or don’t fit, Battleroar is perfectly comfortable dropping them in favor of more atmospheric accuracy.

When last we saw Sonata Arctica, the veteran band was in the midst of rebuilding their legacy, after a detour that alienated a large portion of their fan base. That record was a step in the right direction, but not one that was up to the standard that everyone has set for the band. For every great song they wrote, there was a ridiculous attempt at pop stardom, or a banjo-infused number that made little sense. By this point, Sonata Arctica has spent almost as much time rebuilding their credibility as they did establishing it in the first place.

Normally, I'm not one who goes for gimmicks in music. I find them tacky, and mostly useless appendages that try to mask a band's deficiencies. Taking a cookie-cutter band and dressing them up in stupid costumes, or writing lyrics about only one subject, doesn't make them any more special. Gimmicks usually expose the band's shortcomings, because the obvious facade only draws attention to their perceived need to distract. I can think of very few bands with a gimmick who have managed to keep my interest, because a gimmick alone is going to get old after a while. Yes, even if you're GWAR.

Unless you're one of the small number of people who are devout fans of power metal, the term tends to lead you towards the ludicrous. Power metal is an exercise in excess, the kind of metal that doesn't ask why it's so over the top, but rather asks why the top is so low. While there are heavier strains of the music, the common denominator is that it's the kind of stuff 'true' metalheads are loathe to admit they have a soft spot for. To be fair, the reputation for being ridiculous is well-deserved, and Powerwolf wears that like a badge of honor.

We typically use this space to discuss the comings, goings and debuts of heavy metal, but let’s step back a second and ask a metaphysical question: What makes great music? We can all voice our opinions about why we love music to our very cores, and in a debate rarity, we’re all correct. The point is, no matter what our personal reasons are, they are all permutations of the same umbrella concept; like any non-visual medium, we appreciate that music gives us a mental image, or inspiration or a journey. Simply stated, no matter our stripes, music takes us someplace.

It's almost a rite of passage that at some point in their career every metal band will either make a concept album, or will at least write a thematic suite of songs. Something about compositions that extend beyond the usual boundaries of a four minute song is like catnip for artists, the sort of thing they think needs to be done to prove they are indeed artists at heart. What gets lost in translation is how few concept albums actually work as a focused piece of music.