Introduction to Power Metal, Part I: Origins and Influences

(Join DMU Legend Johan Pettersson for what may be the most expansive analysis of power metal ever presented in the first of a 3 part series.  Listen to the accompanying suggested listening here)

Of all the subgenres and styles that fall within the metal spectrum (hence excluding unmitigated relapses into rock such as death’n’roll, stoner, nu- and indie metal), power metal most definitely counts as the one that has received the highest amount of scorn and ridicule from critics, fans and outsiders alike. Despite being located at the bottom of the pecking order, the power metal “movement” has stubbornly toiled on for over three decades packed to the brim with musical epiphanies and fads alike. Practically declared dead by the early 1990s following the rise of death and black metal, power metal experienced something of a renaissance around the millennium and has remained popular ever since.

While discrepancy between popularity and critical acclaim is hardly a rare phenomenon, the factors behind such divides can differ significantly. When it comes to power metal, there seems to be something inherently embarrassing about it. Not only is power metal often deemed artistically inferior when compared to adjacent subgenres, it is also perceived of as something that should not be taken seriously. For example, there are many stories where even the most seasoned of metalheads express a certain unease about someone overhearing them listening to a power metal record, even though they evidently show interest in the music in secrecy. Moreover, power metal has worked as an entry point for thousands of younger metal fans, who after delving deeper into the genre tend to denounce or conceal their earlier, supposedly misguided enthusiasm. Boasting a background in traditional heavy metal is perfectly legitimate, but for many power metal is definitely a no-no.

A further and perhaps more critical indication of power metal’s poor status within metal culture concerns the ultimate lack of literature dedicated to the subgenre in question. With a few notable exceptions – including an excellent article by a former DMU associate – very little has been written about the history, taxonomy, spirit or musical properties of power metal in a more systematic fashion. This three-part article has been written with the aim providing a rudimentary yet comprehensive introduction to the subject which could in turn open up for discussions about the potential and relevancy of power metal. If we are to believe the predictions presented in a recent publication courtesy of Spotify where power metal occupies the number one positions of “emerging genres” for 2017, such an endeavor should be in pressing demand.



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Paramaecium – Exhumed of the Earth (1993)

In addition to its notoriously contradictive definitional nature, doom metal remains something of an enigma in terms of its enduring popularity. Whether or not one chooses to view it as a distinctive subgenre, style or even technique, doom metal must bear one of the most in-proportionate quotas within metal music when it comes to quantity over quality.  If attempting to depict doom metal from the perspective of enduring releases, the list of canonical works would become surprisingly short.  It seems plausible that part of the explanation to this sad state is embedded in the very characteristics of the style.  Doom bands have generally prioritized development of exceptionally powerful tools for conveying sonic heaviness at the expense of other aspects of the music. It might even be so that the techniques in themselves has forced artists into a particular way of writing music. Either way, there appears to be a widespread discrepancy between the means of expression and what is actually being expressed in doom metal; which in turn provides clues as to what makes for a genuinely satisfying doom-offering. With the above discussion in mind, today’s written offering presents the Australian death/doom act Paramaecium – one of few bands bearing the doom-tag that has managed to write compositions to match the sonic gravitas associated with said style.


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Control Denied – The Fragile Art of Existence (1999)

Control Denied was formed in the mid-1990s by late Death-frontman Chuck Schuldiner to cater to his desire to explore more traditional metal stylings.  Schuldiner, however, was still bound to Death’s contract with Nuclear Blast and thus agreed to record one more album under the Death-moniker before concentrating fully on his new band and musical direction.  As a result, songs originally intended for Control Denied were shoe-horned into a death metal context on The Sound of Perseverance (1998) which partly explains the lackluster, two-faced nature of the last and arguably worst Death-album. With contractual entanglements finally sorted out, Control Denied’s debut The Fragile Art of Existence saw the light of day in 1999.


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Heavy Metal In Academia

The last two decades has witnessed an exponential growth of studies devoted to popular music, coupled with a re-evaluation of past theories and models for interpretation and analysis. This paradigm shift has sparked interest in music “at the fringes” which in turn has led to the unlikely emergence of “metal studies”: a multi-disciplinary field of research centered around all things related to metal music.



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Ancient – “Eerily Howling Winds” (1993)

As previously pointed out by the editor of this site, metal demo recordings does not exist as crass commercial propositions with the sole purpose of advertising the market viability of the artist, but function — at least ideally — as independent works produced and distributed without further infringement from the recording industry. In spite of eventual shortcomings resulting from lack of budget, experience, and time, demo-level recordings remain a breath of fresh air because they oftentimes capture bands at a nascent and untempered creative stage.



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Black Funeral – Ankou and the Death Fire (2016)

Counting among the longest running US black metal institutions to date, Black Funeral has given birth to a motley collection of musical works over the last twenty-five years, spanning regional adaptions of Northern European black metal, over dark ambient and archaic/industrial drones, through the Les Legions Noires-styled raw melodic approach of later years.



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Bad Brains – Bad Brains (1982)

Early English and US hardcore punk served as important catalysts in the development of underground metal. During the earliest years of the 1980s, it was hardcore punk and not metal that provided the most violent and intense music within grasp of disgruntled and alienated kids attempting to survive the suburbs of Western Civilization.



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Acquiring the Taste : A Tour Through Progressive Rock, Part I

Since progressive rock first arose out of British and North American psychedelia, it has crossed every boundary that it could identify, which makes it like metal more a question of a spirit than a concrete set of musical or extra-musical traits. We can identify a few aspects of this spirit: a desire to make unique song forms which fit the shifting demands of their content, a passion for exploring melody and harmony, an obsession with the unconventional, and a chameleon-like ability to explore other styles and adopt them as its own.



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