UG Articles Archive

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finding Diamonds in the Power Metal Roughs

Let's go back to 2007. Remember how everyone thought Dragonforce was the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since electricity? Remember Guitar Hero 3? Remember how badly people wanted a Dragonforce song on the game? Don't be a tool and pretend you didn't like Dragonforce back then; everyone did, and if you're reading this blog, I can put money on the fact that you did too. Several months later, however, after realizing the guitarists are only studio magicians and can't keep up live, their songs are all about fantasy and battles, and they rarely try anything innovative, people started associating Dragonforce with crap. We felt hurt that the band was not giving us anything new, we felt angry that Herman Li and what's-his-face weren't as good live as they were on their albums, and we were greedy because we expected them to go higher. Long story short, Dragonforce--and Power Metal as a genre--became despised by most Metal fans after Guitar Hero 3's popularity faded.

Fast forward to today. Dragonforce has ruined most Metal fans' feelings towards Power Metal with their vaguely varying songs, studio-only guitar wizardry and a singer and lyricist that leaves something to be desired after a couple of songs, and so we have the Power Metal stereotypes. My friends, I come here today, after extensive research, to tell you that I have made a few important discoveries while analyzing this genre with my colleague Pandora. There are some outstanding composers and musicians in this genre!

Allow me to start with the bullet-point history of the genre. Basically, this movement was founded on the ideal on which Metal as a whole was founded: heavy riffs and clean vocals. Bands like Helloween and Iron Maiden really touched home in Europe with the unforgettable riffs and unmatched vocal quality, so many bands emulated their music in the 1980s in underground Europe while Glam Metal took its course in America and beyond. As Glam Metal died, Power Metal slowly began to rise with the other subgenres, but could never attain mainstream status like Glam did. Today, Power Metal is one of the more popular genres of Metal--focused primarily in Europe--as evidenced in their frequent appearances in Metal festivals like Sonisphere and Wacken Open Air.

Anyway, my research has led me to find numerous bands worthy of your ear. I have already discussed Nightwish--my personal MVP of the genre--but I will also talk to you about my "other top 3s" and why they stand alone in the Power Metal Genre. Both of these bands have different styles than the other, and I did this on purpose so you, the reader, could more easily find a band you enjoy, add them to your Pandora list, and find even more artists related to them. I will also state here that the songwriters for the following bands are some of the absolute best I've ever heard, so I don't need to repeat it later on. :D

Iced Earth: America's Hope for Power Metal

One of the few popular American Power Metal bands, Iced Earth is well known for taking Thrash-like instrumental work and combining them with the absurdly powerful vocal range of lead singer Matt Barlow (2nd from right) all under the artisan eye of primary composer and band founder John Schaffer (middle). The band originally started out as a pure Thrash band, but has evolved a P.M. sound with fan favorite BarlowMultiple things make me love Iced Earth above other P.M. bands: for one, their singer's power cannot be matched today, as he is both a dynamo live and on record. Second, as an American P.M. band, they have had to work harder to earn the respect of the community, and not only did they do this by becoming a fan favorite, but they also write some fantastic patriotic songs (Declaration Day about our independence from England, When the Eagle Cries about 9/11, etc.). Additionally, their songs vary in tempo and feel, and in my opinion, their best songs are either their very melodic, ballad-esque songs about the loss of a loved one, or the blazing tempo of their harder songs about general kickassery. Lastly, when singer Matt Barlow's relative was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo cancer, Barlow cut off all of his hair to donate to cancer patients who lose their hair during chemotherapy, which was longer than two feet. Class act, I tell ya what.

The only criticisms I have with the band come from the band founder Jon Schaffer, who apparently believes the only way to get your bandmates to work with your band is to fire old ones and hire new guns. Iced Earth's lineup is rather unstable and has seen numerous firings and band members quitting (including an era with Tim "Ripper" Owens, who was later fired, believe it or not). Another thing that I feel is a bit restricting is that Schaffer is the only songwriter for the band. I guess it might be bad to mess with his formula since he's outstanding at what he does, but I can only imagine the ideas the other band members can conjure.

Depending on if you like slower or faster songs, I would recommend giving "Watching Over Me, Melancholy (Holy Martyr), and When the Eagle Cries" for a slower song, and "Pure Evil" as their faster song--a track off their first album that is mostly Thrash Metal.

I also highly recommend their cover album Tribute to the Gods, where you can see most of the bands that influenced Iced Earth's sound, and each cover is at least a B rating, with "Screaming for Vengeance" - Judas Priest, "God of Thunder" - KISS and "Burnin' for You" - Blue Oyster Cult being my favorites.

>Sonata Arctica: Nightwish with a Male Singer

e seen the term "Nightwish with a male singer" used to describe S.A., and I'm inclined to agree that this is the best label for them even though neither band borrowed musical ideas from each other (though the founders of each band are good friends, apparently). I would consider both bands for the Symphonic Power Metal genre, both bands are from Finland, they have toured together, and both lead singers are hot (lead singer Tony Kakko is the shushing homo, though, my friend Danielle swoons over that pretty boy).

What sets S.A. apart from other Power Metal bands are their last three albums, which have shown a gradual departure from the "classic" P.M. sound that started the band to a symphonic symphony of symphonicness. By fusing the keyboard and guitar (and on their latest album, Cello!) rather than allowing guitar solos to dominate, S.A. have been able to produce some exquisite medium-paced Progressive sounding tunes. Their sound isn't as cut and dry as Iced Earth's is, but their most recent albums (the ones I enjoy) all tend to have a beauty sound with a hidden rough edge in the rhythm guitar, but each track has its own unique flavor and none of them make you think "haven't I heard this before?"

My biggest problem with the band is their covers. I would go so far to say they suck, but Tony Kakko's voice is just so strangely unique that it doesn't "click" for me. When I saw S.A. cover Maiden's "Die With Your Boots On," I thought great song + great band = great cover! but the result sounded like it belonged on one of those new Sonic games--it was just painful, and I can't even explain why I didn't like it.

Like I said earlier, their latest three album show their true colors as a Progressive/Symphonic/Power Metal band, and I would recommend the singles off those albums: Paid in Full, Out in the Fields, Flag in the Ground and The Last Amazing Grays. These songs are the best "starter" songs for S.A. and also showcase their evolved sound, so give them a try!

Those are but two of the bands that I feel break out of the rut of generic Power Metal, and I encourage you to find others that you enjoy. Just because Dragonforce's 15 minutes of fame was quashed by repetitive songwriting and inaccurate live performances does not mean every band suffers from this curse. Hell, I'm sure someone could make a stellar argument in favor of Dragonforce and make me look like an idiot, the point of this post is to not dismiss the genre as all Dungeons and Dragons.

See you next Wednesday! ...probably!

Weekly Top Five List (please post your own lists, because this is off the top of my head and I KNOW I'm forgetting one or two)
Cover Songs:
1. All Along the Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix (not technically my favorite, but it's just so vastly superior to Dylan's)
2. Tim Owens and various other guest artists - Flight of Icarus (Iron Maiden)
3. Turn the Page - Metallica (Bob Seger)
4. Pantera - Cat Scratch Fever (Ted Nugent)
5. Breaking Benjamin - Who Wants to Live Forever (Queen)

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