Power metal is a subgenre of heavy metal combining characteristics of traditional metal with speed metal, often within symphonic context. The term 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, Italy and Scandinavia) with a lighter, more melodic sound and making frequent use of keyboards. Power metal can be seen as a parallel counterpart to extreme metal.
Power metal is today associated with an epic sound tempered by characteristics of speed metal, power metal's musical forerunner. Power metal's lyrical themes, though as varied as metal itself, typically focus on fantasy and mythology (eg. Rhapsody of Fire, Blind Guardian), comradeship and hope (eg. Lost Horizon, Highland Glory), war (eg. Manowar, Sabaton, Iced Earth), personal struggles and emotions (eg. Sonata Arctica, Evergrey) or combinations of the listed themes. Many typical metal themes such as anti-religion and politics are comparatively rare but not unheard of.
Power metal is highly focused on the vocalist, with "clean" vocals being much more prevalent than the growling vocals often associated with death metal (eg. Obituary, Napalm Death) and black metal (eg. Darkthrone). Following in the tradition of Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford and other heavy metal vocalists, power metal vocals are often in a high register. The majority of the genre's vocalists sing in the tenor range, capable of hitting very high notes. There are however many exceptions such as Pyramaze/Iced Earth frontman Matt Barlow, Falconer frontman Mathias Blad, and Sabaton frontman Joakim Broden; they sing in either baritone or bass range, though in certain songs like Creator Failure, Barlow hits very high notes reminiscent of Rob Halford. Power metal vocalists Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray, Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian and Matt Smith of Theocracy record multi-layered vocals reminiscent of Queen, creating a choral effect. Few power metal vocalists double as instrumentalists, but the setup is not unheard of. Some singers within other heavy metal genres have high registered voices as do those singers of power metal bands. For example Joey Belladonna of American thrash metal band Anthrax had a voice that was often high-pitched. As a result, high registering singing is not restricted to only power metal bands even though the style is typical within the genre.
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.
A number of power metal drummers generally play with two bass drums for added speed, utilizing them to play a constant stream of sixteenth notes (semiquavers) with snare drum accents on the beat. This style is fairly common in power metal as in other heavy metal subgenres, though it is by no means universal. Power metal though has become the most prevalent in the use of this technique. The style was perfected by drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg of Helloween, setting a blueprint for many other drummers to follow. Some drummers however do not use this technique and use a more thrash metal style of drumming with rapid bursts of double bass that involve three to six beats with the double kick. Iced Earth and Blind Guardian both have had drummers who have used this style of drumming as opposed to the more common style. Even more uncommon is the use of the blast beat in the genre. The American power metal band Cellador is an example of a power metal band that utilizes blast beats in many of their songs.
Power metal bands often incorporate keyboards into their musical arrangements, though their usage varies from subtle accents to a full-blown melody line. Some Symphonic Power Metal bands such as Rhapsody of Fire and Nightwish have also been known to record with more symphonic elements, and as such, they utilize a full orchestra to fill the role a keyboard plays in other power metal bands.
This style is very popular in Europe, Japan, and some countries of South America (including Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina and Chile), the province of Quebec, Canada, where it has a very strong fan base and in North America where its popularity is slowly rising.
Types of power metal
American power metal
American power metal emerged in 1980s America as an offshoot of European power metal and speed metal. It is usually fast, straightforward and somewhat heavy and aggressive, but with a distinct epic 'fighting' feel. Keyboards never take a major role in this style, with the focus on vocals and riffs. The music is very similar to its influences but coined the term 'power metal' and was vital in inspiring the later melodic power metal movement. Europe has its own bands playing in a very similar style such as Grave Digger.
Main Influences: Judas Priest, Rainbow, Savatage
Examples: Manowar, Jag Panzer, Crimson Glory
European/melodic power metal
This style emerged in 1980s Europe with Germany's Helloween and Finland's Stratovarius with a strong focus on melody and uplifting, positive themes. Helloween mixed fast palm muted speed metal riffs with high pitched clean vocals and guitar. Stratovarius further developed this melodic direction by making heavy use of keyboards and neo-classical guitar solos. This genre branched and spread over Europe and into most of power metal's subgenres, incorporating further influences from classical and folk music and reinforcing the high fantasy imagery as well as sometimes developing a more emotional, romantic edge. The style has become one of the largest metal subgenres (outside the alternative metal movement) and its popularity is far from waning. America also has its share of European style power metal bands, an example of which, is Kamelot.
Main Influences: Rush, Accept, Dio, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Rainbow, Europe
Examples: Blind Guardian, Sonata Arctica, Helloween
Extreme power metal
The harsh vocals and aggressive feel of melodic death metal and black metal mixed with the neo-classical guitar and keyboard melodies of power metal. It is often debated whether these bands can truly be called power metal as many see melodic singing as what most sets power metal apart from extreme metal. This genre is mostly based in Finland.
There are some folk metal and viking metal bands that take more influence from power metal than the darker atmosphere of black metal and some bands go as far as to replace extreme metal screaming with melodic singing. Lyrics may cross into both power metal and folk metal, sometimes featuring themes of both nature and fantasy. The genre may cross into extreme power metal.
Music that combines the long instrumental passages and unusual time signatures of progressive metal like Dream Theater with the uplifting vocals and neo-classical guitar and keyboards of power metal. Lyrics often are more introspective than the optimistic fantasy based lyrics of typical power metal. Some of the bands classified as progressive metal do not put as much emphasis on playing odd time signatures in their music and their songs are not always very long, such as Evergrey.
Symphonic power metal
Power metal bands that make extensive usage of instruments normally found in classical music or keyboards imitating them similar to symphonic metal. These additional elements are often used as key elements of the music when compared to normal power metal, contributing not only an extra layer to the music, but a greater variety of sound. Keyboard heavy bands such as Sonata Arctica who use their keyboards simply as synthesizers without an orchestral sound are not truly part of this genre.
Power metal with musical influences from thrash metal. The high clean vocals and melodies of power metal are always retained (setting the genre apart from extreme power metal), but often with aggressive riffing, some shouted vocals and lyrical themes inherited from thrash metal. This genre is often American based, but a few bands from Europe such as Mystic Prophecy utilize this approach to power metal as well.
Epic power metal
Heavy metal with fantasy/warrior themes or an overall epic feel to the instruments. The term is usually associated with bands with musical connections to power metal. However, it is also applied to other heavy metal genres, most commonly early doom metal like Candlemass and Cirith Ungol, gothic metal like Tiamat and Therion, and viking metal like Finntroll and Turisas.
Examples: Manilla Road, Virgin Steele, Cirith Ungol
- Helloween cover Queen's song 'Sheer Heart Attack' (Blabbermouth net)
- Power Metal at All Music Guide