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Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn

Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn
January 11, 2011, 07:21:26 PM
Deathmetal.org posted an article on Power Metal, well written and fun to read but with one thing that made me itch: the ambiguous definition of what power metal really is and a knack for classifying power metal, “speed metal” and heavy metal as separate sub-genres.

Quote from the article:

"Having released two speed metal classics in ‘Battalions of Fear’ and ‘Follow the Blind’[...]‘Tales from the Twilight World’ became the first real power metal album that Blind Guardian would create."
{http://www.deathmetal.org/deathmetal-org-articles/of-power-metal-and-other-tales}

My comment in response to the article:

I respectfully disagree.

I’m deeply interested in your view of what power metal really is, beyond its obvious collection of traits that sum up to their evident aesthetics.  An analysis of what power metal "is" based on compositional structure would have been more useful to readers rather than a collection of what you believe to be a "best of" or "representative" of the power metal style.

I believe there are two groups of people that view Metal’s genealogy differently and thus document power metal accordingly to their own perspectives: 1) those who claim heavy metal, "speed metal", "power metal", "doom metal" are different subgenres and refer to Metallica, Exodus as "Thrash" and 2) those who claim that power metal, doom metal, “speed metal” are NOT subgenres but merely styles of heavy metal and refer to Metallica and Exodus as Speed Metal; thus "power metal", "speed metal", "doom metal" are not really different subgenres per se, but a description of a collection of traits applying to existing subgenres. For example, both Winter and St. Vitus are doom metal, but the former is death metal in structure and the latter, heavy metal in the Black Sabbath style.  

The Dark Legions Archive tells us that power metal is essentially technically powerful heavy metal coupled with the bouncier violent rhythms of Speed Metal (Thrash to you) and coincided with the waning of Speed Metal (Thrash), in the late 80´s.  My personal opinion is that power metal is either heavy metal played with Speed Metal techniques during the first half of the 80´s and/or Speed Metal bands relapsing into a friendlier heavy metal hybrid during the late 80´s.  What makes power metal distinct however, is the topic matter and spirit yet compositionally and structurally it remains essentially heavy metal.  

I do not intend to be "right" but if we follow this logic, then "speed metal" would superficially sound different than Heavy Metal or Power Metal but because the former is a legitimate subgenre of Metal music and the latter a legitimate hybrid style within Heavy Metal - Speed Metal (Thrash) then "speed metal" would compositionally always fall within one or the other, thus absorbed, rendering the term "speed metal" obsolete.

This is the basis of my opinion to claim that early Blind Guardian and the first Helloween album are also power metal albums, or more precisely, heavy metal albums played in the power metal style.  

If one intends to use precise language in a historically/etymologically-correct context to describe the music’s inner core beyond its superficial traits, then we would have to differentiate between "type of sound" and "compositional description". The former refers to the musicians choice of how the music should "aesthetically look", in one word style, and the latter refers to how the music is organized or which design/discipline best suits the ideas that the author wants to communicate (structure attitudes toward harmony and melody), in one word sub-genre.  Therefore I would synthesize it in this way: style = type of sound and sub-genre = compositional description.  This becomes helpful in the context of understanding Metal’s genealogy to define and document it correctly and is crucial to suppress all those pesky sub-subgenres that continue to latch on to Metal like parasites (i.e. new wave of American metal, alternative metal, nu-metal etc).

-End of comment posted.-

To continue on the same line of analysis: I was reading an article on Progressive Archives.com about the nature of Progressive Metal, the author basically observes that nobody can veritably answer the question what is progressive metal?  He implies in his article that because there is lack of a credible definition, there is a question of the existence of such subgenre within progressive rock and more importantly a question of its artistic aspirations.

Quote from the article:

"When you browse for definitions of Progressive Metal on the Internet, there is a veritable bombardment of differing opinions – not one actually answers the question – but some things remain constant. These are the most critical aspects of the genre, most sites would have you believe - and these are also the very things that lead to confusion when exploring the genre.

Firstly, it is very common to come across references to blending Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal, giving the newcomer the impression that what they are going to hear is a Metallised version of Prog Rock.

This is almost never the case, however, and certainly not the case with the bands most often named as defining the genre. A statement like "Blending Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal" in itself shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes Progressive Rock tick, when you compare defining bands of the two genres, such as Genesis and Dream Theater. Such a statement positively invites such a comparison, as ridiculous as the comparison itself may seem - which points out the fundamental flaw in the statement itself. What is happening is not a blending, rather it is a simple acquisition of some of the basic elements."

Author: Certif1ed - Topic: What makes Progressive Metal progressive? {http://www.progarchives.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=49371&FID=58}

Analogically I question the existence of such sub-genre in Metal, and furthermore, I deny its existence even as a style within Metal’s genealogy.

Here is why:

One common definition of post Rock is "music which uses Rock instrumentation for non-Rock purposes"; which to me implies an assimilation from the outside of a genres´ methodology applied to another form of music. Subsequently, one could say that a form of assimilation of Metal music occurs when a different genre of music (usually within the rock family) uses Metal instrumentation for non-Metal purposes.  The resulting styles may vary in musical quality and relevance depending on musicians´ both artistic capability and integrity.  I see then two divergent camps: 1) metal musicians that may use "x" instrumentation-methodology for non "x" purposes, i.e. to compose metal music using partial or non-metal methodology and, 2) other types of rock musicians that may use metal instrumentation-methodology for non metal purposes, i.e. to compose within their preferred rock-genre with metal flavorings.

In rock music there are few genres that because they are artistically meaningful a sort of true essence or spirit can be perceived, or more accurately, just a few bands (usually the foundational acts) within some rock genres, are artistically relevant and together collectively portray that spirit and essence that define the genre. The more experienced progressive rock fans will agree that progressive rock does have that spirit or soul that defines prog-rock beyond its methodology (complex time signatures, virtuosity) and so would us metal fans claim that metal has that special something that makes it heavy beyond its methodology (distortion, speed, violence).  Metal and Progressive Rock are in conflicting goals that is, in the context of a musical fusion, however what both have in common is that both have intense spiritual standards within their history and heritage, both have created awesome compositions.
 
Musicians of either camp seeking anything other than to meet the glorious standards of each of their respective genres or surpassing them, would bring about little less than a stale hybrid, a stale product.  If however, great music is created in the form of metal with prog-rock elements or prog-rock with metal elements that is indeed artistically meaningful, most likely a spirit-essence will be achieved and perceivable beyond the methodology used to that end.  You can mix techniques, instrumentation, methodologies but if the unique spirit of metal or prog-rock music is achieved, it will always be identifiable as exclusive to one or the other.  Thus within this context the best of all "progressive metal" will always be essentially either Metal or Progressive Rock thus rendering "progressive metal" more a marketing term than a real sub-genre and if anything, rather a subgenre of progressive rock than a legitimate style in heavy metal’s genealogy.  

If we reach past the first layer of how the music sounds and even into further layers of the elements and building blocks of the music to reach its inner core, we will see this is true to all so called examples of so called “progressive metal”, be in its more early examples (1969-1971) High Tide, Fuzzy Duck, Atomic Rooster or its later variants through out the 80,s Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Kong.  The more one gets immersed in progressive metal the more you reach a revealing conclusion: there´s either good progressive rock and bad metal, or good metal and bad progressive rock. I do not question the possibility of good music within the hybrid as much as I question the existence of it as a sub-genre or style from the Metal perspective.

The same pattern should be applied to all those embarrassing “subgenres” that Sam Dunn (Metal a Headbanger’s Journey) seems to like to legitimize as part of metal’s genealogy: pop- metal, glam-metal, stoner-metal, industrial- metal, goth-metal, alternative- metal, nu- metal, new wave of American metal; {http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Metal_Genealogy.jpg}, which I wouldn’t have a problem with if they didn’t have the suffix-metal and wouldn’t be viewed as part of Metal’s genealogy.  Some of his sub-genres can be simplified to a lowest denominator and fall neatly under an existing real metal sub-genre or an inner metal hybrid (heavy metal, thrash, speed metal, proto-underground, death metal, grindcore, black metal) but others seem too far off or even alien to metal (grunge).  That is alien, from the perspective of being part of metal’s organic development or genealogy yet, similar enough in sound, instrumentation and superficial outlook.  Yet Sam Dunn’s genealogy seems tight enough to be immediately dismissed as completely faulty.  Some of the subgenres he contends as being part of Metal and the bands that exemplify his theory are among Hessians, a matter of embarrassment. Not to mention that the people that follow those styles (nu-metal, alternative metal, new wave American metal) are for the most part alien to Metal in spirit and devotion to the art form.

So how can Dunn’s metal genealogy be rebutted, and if it should, why?  If one takes a closer look, it is correct for the most part because it shows how cross-influence occurred within subgenres although visually it does not describe an organic lineage in Time, meaning going from the top and branching downard in chronological order. Without the dates he puts on each category, one could wrongly interpret that Speed Metal occurred after Death Metal.  However, where he is correct he also shows the key to his mistake and thus the key of how to rebut his genealogy: he correctly shows cross-influence of non-metal subgenres influencing metal subgenres and vice versa.  His work is not a genealogy of Metal music; it is a genealogy of Rock music!  It is correct in how he shows us the overlapping of rock genres that influenced metal but because it overlaps metal and other forms of rock into one single continuum it is not a genealogy of metal’s organic development per se as much as it is, if anything, a genealogy of rock; and it is also wrong at that because it is incomplete.

No one will deny the influence of Punk in metal, but no one would claim that Metal is a ramification of punk, nor is punk a ramification of proto-metal.  No one will deny the influence of blues rock, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, kraut rock and hard rock in Metal, but Metal is not an exclusive ramification of any of them because in spirit-essence and musical goals it is different.  More importantly, no one should deny the influence of Metal in any of the above rock genres in its modern forms.  We already established that metal instrumentation for non-metal purposes is one of many ways of assimilation from the outside (conscious or not) of metal music.  Dunn shows us in his graphic overlapping mess, that rock music (be it punk, hard rock or else) may use metal instrumentation not to create metal music but a type of stylized rock, but because it is not trying to be metal but sound like metal within the confinements of whatever rock genre it wants to be, then it can not be a part of metal’s genealogic tree.  Therefore all those “subgenres” like pop- metal, glam-metal, stoner-metal, industrial- metal, alternative- metal, nu- metal, new wave of American metal, progressive metal are not subgenres of Metal music but of Rock music and, a truly well done explicitly metal genealogy, could not and should not include them.  
  
  
Metal is a ramification of Rock (among other influences) music, just like blues rock, folk rock, psychedelic/acid rock, progressive rock, hard rock, kraut rock, punk, indie rock […]etc.  It is then sensible to say that these modern forms of metal-flavored rock sub-styles that posers seem to love are a ramification of Rock rather than Metal, therefore not metal music and Dunn proves this with his rock genealogy which perhaps coincidentally seems like a bad interpretation of Piero Scaruffi and his book “The History of Rock Music” {www.scaruffi.com}.  

Some rock genres have great music and most of them have cross-influenced each other at some point and to varying degrees, yet for them to survive as viably artistic they need to organically grow within the spiritual frame that made them great in the first place.  Dunn and other sources that seem to be in similar line with him, would group all metal-flavored rock and metal under a same common origin. However experienced listeners will note that, all the assimilated metal-gone mainstream and rock-disguised as metal “sub-styles” seem to lack the soul or the initial spirit-essence of metal created within the original subgenres of metal music {http://www.anus.com/metal/about/genre/}. Some because they don’t want to be metal except in sound and others because they pretend to want to be metal except in ideology/spirit of the respective metal subgenre they emulate or “derive influence from” consciously or not.  In this sense it is clear that Dunn’s overextended genealogical chart includes subgenres that are not metal and should not even be associated with metal, not only because it is genealogically incorrect but because some of them are truly crap music.
 
Dunn’s work reinforces an incorrect and mainstream view of metal music that targets people involved in metal, people that might genuinely want to be involved in metal and people who think they are involved in metal, audience and musicians alike.  His interpretation of metal resonates with the inexperienced, the poser and the hipster more than it does with the Hessian; and because it opens room for metal-flavored rock to be seen as a part of metal’s family tree it preserves the idea that anything within the rock family that might use metal instrumentation or methodology is part of metal’s history, regardless of the quality of the music or the purpose it served or may serve.  His interpretation of the genealogy of metal is noxious to the genre.


Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 15, 2011, 04:50:31 PM
To address a few points:
I would say Heavy Metal and Speed Metal are distinct and that bands labeled as Power Metal can easily be identified as one or the other.

The term Progressive Metal appears to have become a way of classifying bands that attempt to appeal to "intelligent" metal heads by incorporating as many non-Metal elements as they possibly can.  It's a way for people who don't really like Metal to not only feel that they are part of the group, but actually superior because they have such eclectic tastes.  The music is, of course, universally shit.

Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 16, 2011, 01:16:03 PM
My personal opinion is that power metal is either heavy metal played with Speed Metal techniques during the first half of the 80´s and/or Speed Metal bands relapsing into a friendlier heavy metal hybrid during the late 80´s.  What makes power metal distinct however, is the topic matter and spirit yet compositionally and structurally it remains essentially heavy metal.

I agree. Here's a good formula for power metal:

Epic NWOBHM + speed metal (Nuclear Assault) + early death metal technique (Slayer) + epic nature of Bathory/Manowar

People don't want to admit that last link, but it's there, and it colors power metal and its ideological/spiritual approach


Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 16, 2011, 01:33:58 PM
The term Progressive Metal appears to have become a way of classifying bands that attempt to appeal to "intelligent" metal heads by incorporating as many non-Metal elements as they possibly can.

Not really.  It's generally Power Metal which occasionally makes use of odd time signatures/keys/key changes, and so on, like this.

Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 16, 2011, 03:46:24 PM
Not really.  It's generally Power Metal which occasionally makes use of odd time signatures/keys/key changes, and so on, like this.
When I see the term Progressive Metal being used, it is often for bands in the vain of O.peth.  I've also seen Symphony X be referred to as Progressive Metal.  It really depends on how the terms are being used and basically demonstrates how nebulous they are.

Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 16, 2011, 05:05:00 PM
Power Metal is just another marketing term for whats basically either Speed Metal or Heavy Metal with fantastical epic themes and typically lots of crescendos to get you totally pumped up. It's like Black Metal for kids who find it unpalatable. Powerlifting on the other hand is a lot better than Power Metal and is highly encouraged.

Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 16, 2011, 07:19:25 PM
Not really.  It's generally Power Metal which occasionally makes use of odd time signatures/keys/key changes, and so on, like this.
When I see the term Progressive Metal being used, it is often for bands in the vain of O.peth.  I've also seen Symphony X be referred to as Progressive Metal.  It really depends on how the terms are being used and basically demonstrates how nebulous they are.

Granted.  When I listened to "Power/Prog" in my early adolescence, it was bands like Symphony X, Dream Theater, Kamelot, and similar bands, which were called "Prog".  I barely heard about Pink Frothy AIDS until I started visiting the ANUS, and so was never particularly exposed to that kind of "prog" (even now, I'd call it more "Jazz" than "Prog", but then, I don't listen to that crap anyway).

Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 16, 2011, 09:18:15 PM
when my mommy and daddy are away sometimes i sqeeze into my red power ranger costume from when i was a kid and paly dragonforce REAL LOUD adn eata buncha sourpatchkids and run aruond my house as fast as i can mastrbating as fast as i can and then during the solo i CUM and then my pup comes to lick it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Re: Definition of Power Metal,Prog and Sam Dunn
January 16, 2011, 09:49:35 PM
To address a few points:
I would say Heavy Metal and Speed Metal are distinct and that bands labeled as Power Metal can easily be identified as one or the other.
I'm not so sure it's a simple dichotomy like that.

For example, Blind Guardian in the song Somewhere far Beyond makes use of techniques from both: the shouted choruses and melodic guitar phrases -- each of which layered/harmonized at key points in the song for emphasis -- are reminiscent of NWOB/HM;  the relentless palm-mute strumming and double bass are speed metal traits.

I think the former elements are more prominent than the latter. In particular, the lack of 'djents' make this song moreso a part of the NWOB/HM camp than Speed metal.

Still, the argument could be made either gay way.

Power Metal is just another marketing term for whats basically either Speed Metal or Heavy Metal with fantastical epic themes and typically lots of crescendos to get you totally pumped up. It's like Black Metal for kids who find it unpalatable. Powerlifting on the other hand is a lot better than Power Metal and is highly encouraged.
Agreed.

Re: Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn
January 17, 2011, 03:41:20 AM
Power metal from Helloween onward is distinct enough from traditional heavy metal to deserve its own genre classification.  The genre itself is decent, definitely with its own underlying life philosophy of unwavering optimism and loyalty to true metal and self-pride.  Love it or hate it, the message or the music, it's the real deal and it's sincere.  And obviously Dragonforce are a poor example of a power metal band, and ideologically they abandon almost everything the genre stands for.

Re: Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn
January 17, 2011, 08:39:58 AM
... obviously Dragonforce are a poor example of a power metal band, and ideologically they abandon almost everything the genre stands for.

Quote from: DragonForce
Proud and so glorious
Standing before of us
Our swords will shine bright in the sky
When united we come
To the land of the sun
With the heart of a dragon we ride

Seems pretty overwhelmingly optimistic and proud.  I also assume that "we" refers to the listeners as well as the band, so that would account for a good number of Metalheads.  DragonForce aren't a good example of a Power Metal band, but, ideologically, they don't stray too far from the norm (unlike, say, Kamelot, who present a far more Gothic approach to the whole thing).

Re: Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn
January 17, 2011, 04:32:57 PM
As far as power metal goes, the quality bands seem to come from the US (Manilla Road, Helstar, Liege Lord)

Re: Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn
January 17, 2011, 05:18:43 PM
Quote from: DragonForce
Proud and so glorious
Standing before of us
Our swords will shine bright in the sky
When united we come
To the land of the sun
With the heart of a dragon we ride

Seems pretty overwhelmingly optimistic and proud.
Precisely because Dragonforce's music is "overwhelmingly" so, it becomes a mockery or a satire of itself.

But where's the line between expressing a sentiment with such vigor that it reaches its full potential, and expressing a sentiment so obviously or over-emphatically that it becomes a parody of itself -- in other words ingenuine? Something to ponder.

Re: Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn
January 17, 2011, 06:33:29 PM
Immortal anyone? I've always placed O.peth in the progressive category, metal that is seemingly complex but actually incredibly clunky music with a cut and paste attitude to song writing. Later Emperor and Ihsahn's solo stuff went that way too.
In a state of permanent Abyss

Re: Definition of Power Metal, Prog and Sam Dunn
January 18, 2011, 04:55:17 AM
... obviously Dragonforce are a poor example of a power metal band, and ideologically they abandon almost everything the genre stands for.

Quote from: DragonForce
Proud and so glorious
Standing before of us
Our swords will shine bright in the sky
When united we come
To the land of the sun
With the heart of a dragon we ride

Seems pretty overwhelmingly optimistic and proud.  I also assume that "we" refers to the listeners as well as the band, so that would account for a good number of Metalheads.  DragonForce aren't a good example of a Power Metal band, but, ideologically, they don't stray too far from the norm (unlike, say, Kamelot, who present a far more Gothic approach to the whole thing).

Dragonforce are only a good example at the most shallow, face value.  They don't believe in the message; if it isn't clear from the music, read an interview with them.  They are admittedly tongue-in-cheek in the most "ironic" possible way.  Also, they fake it on their instruments and incorporate gamer influence into their music.  Good or bad regardless, they are power metal deviants and not a good example.