Danish Power-Speed Metal band Encyrcle will be releasing their new album on June 2. You can listen to a preview of the album on Soundcloud.
While the label and the media would have you believe the band is playing some innovative form of mixture of genres, this is a laughable marketing attempt at disguising what is just a band playing a refined and expertly played Speed Metal in the vein of Epic Power Metal full of hooks.
Labeled under the very loose term melodic death metal, Spanish band Mistweaver write a versatile power metal with mainstream sensibilities and growling vocals. An experienced band sharing the stage with many prominent acts such as Suffocation, Enslaved, Exodus, Grave and Sodom, Mistweaver is onto their 5th full-length album.
The versatility in style mentioned earlier refers to a range in riffing that oscillates between straight up heavy metal to heavy-doom to acoustic passages that come out of nowhere topped with typical folk melodies ala Wintersun. But these guys are more accessible than the black-touched Wintersun, making heavier use of headbanging chugs and simple melodies. The use of keyboards is similar to the role given to them in In the Nightside Eclipse. Some sections touch on the more opera rock – oriented brand of power metal, the so-called symphonic power metal.
Mistweaver is the sort of band that has stayed on top of their game by doing everything that is expected of them. They have been active and playing with big names, they have put out an average of one album every three years (long enough for the judicious fan not to fall for a fast and cheap album, but not so long so that said fan does not conclude that the band has gone rusty), and their music has every single trait a fan of the general power metal and related genres might wish to find in an album of this kind.
The terms bardic or minstrel metal have often been used to describe bands that usually sing in a clear voice and with anthemic overtones, often imitate medievalesque motifs and write lyrics in the manner of romanticized ancient legends. Generally, the metal subgenre most readily associated with bardic expression is power metal because they advertise themselves as modern-day minstrels and theirs is the kind of catchy and upbeat music most people can latch on to most easily. The bardic spirit along with the culture it transmits, however, requires a sturdier medium that is able to etch its runes indelibly without detracting from the importance of their message.
Power metal could be described as a blend of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden mixed with the energy of speed metal. The influence of Ritchie Blackmore cannot be overstated either. In time, they developed their own tropes and particular voices that set them apart from their Briton godfathers. Bands making music in this style are known for an overt expression and presentation that falls just a little short from that of the despicable glam metal. More often than not, these theatrical habits and indulgences overshadow both the content of the music and the words, both of which come close to becoming only an excuse for narcissistic expression. The persona takes precedence over the message.
A sensible division of terms would be advisable here since the words bard and minstrel actually denote two very similar but different traditions. The bard was said to be an itinerant poet who, with the help of music, kept traditions and values alive through stories and legends written in meter. The minstrel made its most significant appearances in courts. Its main job was to entertain the nobility. The latter job’s description often overlaps with that of a jester whose curriculum included clownish acts like juggling. Here is where we find the most apt description for bands like Helloween or Blind Guardian, who willingly and naively took the latter term for themselves.
In lieu of this minstrel metal, a bardic one, with enduring power to carry and transmit the word by giving it the place of honor, is needed. Firstly, any musical tradition with this aim must achieve an optimal balance between being both evocative and submerging yet enveloping the words so that these are propelled forward, emphasized, given contour and colour. Secondly, this is metal. And as proper metal, the riff must lead.
Flemish black/death metal band released Laguz worldwide on March 31, 2015 on Massacre Records. The album shows the band taking, like other death metal bands transitioning to an epic symphonic style such as Therion, more of a power metal approach.
Satan’s Host create power metal with death metal influences like a hybrid of Kreator and Blind Guardian creating music in an Iron Maiden mold. Slight death metal influences intrude on riff construction in some of the songs but the majority are good old-fashioned heavy metal with speed metal technique periodically sparkled with some more extreme expressions here and there.
This two-disc set shows wide variety within those influences. Vocal delivery varies between resembling Kreator, especially on the early songs on both discs, and emulating Nevermore while sometimes adding quasi-operatic vocals in the style of Blind Guardian. The latter presents a fairly typical attempt at a democratized concept of this vocal style, which is both clueless to the subtlety in the original and what makes it challenging to compose as music.
This double-disc album displays three types of songs which are distributed evenly, as in a mirror, on both discs. The first group occurs during the earliest two or three songs on either disc and these songs resemble Kreator and in that spirit display an inclination towards riff-oriented writing with little concern to where the narrative of those riffs leads. The second group of songs comprise tracks three and four on both discs as well as track five on the first. These leave the Kreator vibe a bit in order to favor a more typically Iron Maiden feel. Here we can most appreciate the juxtaposition of the speed metal riff with the monolithic heavy metal chorus. This is not a fusion of the two, but a copy-paste of either style to fill in different functions of the same song. The third group of either disc is found on the last two or three tracks and resembles what is commonly called “progressive” heavy metal, most closely approximating post-Powerslave Iron Maiden.
The progressive heavy metal tracks may be where this release loses the most points. Slow intro, blocks of verse-chorus, then soloing-develoment section followed by incessant hammering of one idea with little creativity (like this harmless turd from Iron Maiden). Following this same Steve Harris brand of prog-heavy-metal trend we see a lot of pointless repetition with sing-along chorus (cornholish) abuse (e.g. “We’re blood brothers”). Unlike Iron Maiden who are functioning within one music style, Satan’s Host has a hard time shaping this into something with anything remotely sounding like a build up or a development that encompasses the whole song because they seem to be too busy juggling around with the show-off speed metal riffs and over-the-top Heavy Metal choruses. While riffs and are often developed and moved forward and transitions are always fluid and seldom abrupt there is always a lack of convincing development. It is present, it is just not credible and sounds tired. Songs often sound like they just continue but do not necessarily reach any objective or make a statement of what it all meant.
While the mixture of styles is both comforting and challenge, it does not quite “gel” in the way it would need to for a first-rate metal album. The Blind Guardian influence brings a penchant for incessant high vocals and accompanying guitar leads which double the intensity of screeching sounds. This can be found throughout the whole album alongside a feeling of everything being cranked up to eleven most of the time, which is precisely what I find unbearable about Blind Guardian (who at least try to introduce unconvincing melodramatic acoustic interludes which only drip with cheap cheese). This is coming from a fan of old Rhapsody (of Fire) and debut-album Pagan’s Mind, bands who knew how to handle cheese with a delicacy which invests a feeling of care and purpose (especially the former at their peak) to the melodramatic work in question. Similarly, many of the “progressive” metal parts fail for the same reason that Iron Maiden has had trouble elongated NWOBHM into epic song structures: the characteristics of the heavy metal genre are assembled to support choruses, the telling of a story and accommodate climaxing solos. When you repeat them ad mortem they lose the impact they are supposed to have because the listener gets exposed to them beyond their utility. And adding a soloing section in the middle which is harmonically stagnant, as per the requirements of the genre, only increments the dreadful sense of sickening bloating. It is thus that the NWOBHM in Satan’s Host fails. This in turn makes the speed metal riff-driven music lose its impact and drive. Finally, the death metal component is not used prominently except to spice up and add to the intensity.
Each music piece must and should be judged on the basis of what it is trying to accomplish. To be more specific, on two different points: first its goal, second its means to that goal. The goal must be distinguishable. A point must be made that genres, as compromises regarding form as reflection of deeper intentions, have natural and intrinsic limitations. Following this train of thought, it seems to me like the main reason for the pointlessness and mendacity of this music lies in the mixing of NWOBHM, speed metal and small amounts of death metal flavor. There is a reason why these are different genres and it isn’t just because “some people like to box and tag everything” like the ignorant rabble who do not understand the concept of form and its purpose would like everybody to believe. These failings leave Satan’s Host short of finding an artistic voice to express what obviously are passionate ideas, causing this listening experience to fall apart half-way and not motivate the hearer to pick up the pieces and try again.
Heavy metal with melodic vocal lines, Mindcage immediately calls to mind a cross between Queensryche and Candlemass, writing complex guitar leads on top of rock-rhythm classic heavy metal riffs. This allows Mindcage to create verses which showcase the melodic male and female vocals that serve as the lead instrument in these mid-paced songs, but also facilitate the inclusion of more intense metal riffing and soloing that will please fans of middle-period Iron Maiden. The rock-based focus on vocals pulls inside-out the extreme guitar-centric attitude of most metal bands, but with Mindcage, the result stands on its own.
Much of this material resembles 1980s Judas Priest in its mix of hard-rocking verses and metal choruses but song structures mostly stay within a reversed Slayer formula of verse-intro-chorus-bridge, yet vary the length and tempo to fit vocals and so manage to remain interesting. Because of its inclusion of post-speed metal riff styles, this band falls solidly in the “power metal” category but really spans over three decades of metal in a smoothly integrated whole. Those who like the paced vocal delivery of Candlemass and the melodic development of sung lines in the sense of later Queensryche will find some familiar twists and turns interpreted in a new way. While this would not make sense to most doom-metal fans, it maintains a mood that complements the plaintive despair of some doom and despite some fast riffs keeps songs within a reasonable pace.
The strength of power metal closely corresponds to its weakness. It is listenable, energetic and can be playing in the background while conversations happen. This means however that like rock it is intensely repetitive compared to death metal, where riffs vary more frequently and instead of vocals, serve as the lead instrument in composition. Within the framework of hybrid heavy metal and speed metal with death metal technique that is power metal, few are doing as well as Mindcage at keeping musical and emotional interest high without sliding into over-the-top dramatism like nu-metal bands. These songs present themselves in two stages, first appreciating the verse-chorus loop and its variations, and second, recognizing the moment of song development in the bridge or equivalent. This allows the band to keep any radical shifts muted until crucial points in the album, which allows this to be a good listen for being who are not focusing their entire being into the music. You would find it infinitely preferable to hear this at your regular bar than the usual power metal mishmash of theatrics, insistent verses and overly bombastic choruses.
Our Own Devices may not be over-active enough in the dramatic way that power metal has come to be, nor as inspirational and New Age positive as European listeners apparently like, but the solidity of this album lies in, like Queensryche and Candlemass, its ability to build a foundation around the vocals that enhance the mood-sensation of what they present. This creates a space for the kind of epic imagination that metal has always nourished with a touch of the science fiction style of outside narrative reflecting a technology for the soul that has hovered at the edge of power metal for some years now. Although Mindcage offer a different trip than riff-based power metal, Our Own Devices shows that they are one of the higher-quality players in that very specific niche.
I’ll let you in on a dark secret from music reviewers: sometimes we write about stuff that is fun to write about even if it will quickly slip under the foamy surf of history. Neopera is one of these bands which is proficient in a terrible cheesy style but whose presence evokes so many observations on metal and society that it cannot be passed up. It is not an easy bash like the phenomenally boring Abysmal Lord, nor a making fun of chronic idiots like a Pantera or Meshuggah review would be, but an insight into human thinking about the uses for music and what it says about us.
To get it out of the way, let it be said that these musicians clearly know what they’re about. These players could have made an album in any style, but deliberately chose one that allowed them to target a power metal audience that wants male and female vocals with extensive harmonization and a positive outlook to the music as a whole. What emerges as a result is basically “princess metal” in that it has more in common with Disney theme songs and inspirational (Christian) rock than anything else, adorned in some folk-metal trappings but in that sweetened overly-romanticized way that works in children’s movies but not so well with red-blooded stout-hearted metal. Excessive sentimental and lush in its use of keyboards and vocals in a swell that relegates guitars to a constant background texture and primary rhythmic instrument, with drums shadowing that role, Destined Ways overflows with the kind of soaring choruses and heavy use of theme that Hollywood soundtracks made famous. The descriptions of this album mention “classical music,” but the closest it comes to that is the instrumentation and moments that sound like Andre Rieu covering Tchaikovsky with Trans-Siberian Orchestra overseeing.
Songs follow the Iron Maiden formula of a compelling intro, a descent into theme through paired contrasting motifs, and then a deepening with verse and chorus repeated in layers as melodic adornments expand the vocal, then a triumphant return and fade out in a variation on the theme. Far more organized than the average metal composers, Neopera show the promise of their name: a kind of melodramatic adaptation of the vocal forms of European music but applied through the pop formula for satisfaction with underlying metal. Fortunately, the metal they use tends to be consistent with the better half of speed metal, but it cannot take away from the perception that this music is essentially a saccharine play set to words with guitars going in the background.
A forthcoming journal on folk-metal, mostly in the pagan metal and viking metal sub-genres, requests that those with essays on the topic submit them for publication next year. The journal focuses on metal bands who use traditional musical instruments, lyrical references to customs and mythology, allusions to traditional culture, or displaying of cultural imagery in performer attire and artwork.
Folk-metal refers to the style of music that arose in the 1990s in Europe which consisted of “fusing traditional or folk music with heavy metal music forms.” The journal lists a number of bands from the power metal, black metal and death metal genres who qualify under this style:
Interested writers must submit a 300-word abstract and short biography of 50-100 words to to the editor, Dr Jenny Butler at [email protected] and cc. to [email protected] by November 10, 2014. The final essays must be 4,000-7,000 words and will be due by June 1, 2015.
The journal suggests the following themes as a topical starting point:
Folklore, song lyrics, and cultural identity
Neo-pagan worldview of the bands
History of the genre, participants and events
Indigenous religion and mythology
Political and/or nationalistic agendas
The concept of homeland
The representation of deities and mythological beings in songs
Judas Priest contributed much to the science of metal riffing. Where Black Sabbath strung together power chords into long phrases, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden re-introduced lead picking to this role as well with guitars that harmonized each other; Iron Maiden focused more on melody, where Judas Priest narrowed its exploration to the use of structure in riffs to get around the predictable patterns and rhythms still inherited from rock music. The band straddled the line between rock, hard rock and heavy metal.
Over the years, the band has unlike any other metal band explored any influences it could make meaningful. In the 1980s, Judas Priest explored electronic sounds and applied them to a type of hard rock/metal tinged with industrial and synthpop influences. In the early 1990s, the band took on Slayer and death metal with perhaps its highest musical point, Painkiller. Two decades later, the band both returns to its roots and attempts to find new directions for an artform which has lost sense of its urgency.
Redeemer of Souls begins with a pure hard rock track that shows off bluesy guitars and familiar rhythms and riff forms from 1970s-1980s radio hard rock. Perhaps the idea is to start the album slowly, or to have some track that can make it onto radio, but this track probably turned off most actual music fans because it is the metal equivalent of a cliché. After that, the band launches into more ambitious fare that quotes from the past styles of Judas Priest but tries to work in the rock appeal that marked its earliest albums. Hints of Ram it Down merge with a mainstay of pulsing rhythms from the Painkiller and Jugulator years slowed down to fit within the more sedate pacing of early Judas Priest.
Occasional citations can be heard to diverse metal bands including Metallica and at least one riff that sounds like later Iron Maiden. The band experiments with a number of variants on the theme citing mostly from rock favorites, such as the ballad and classic country, as well as working in a number of rock tropes in lead guitar and rhythm. Halford’s vocals take on a more restrained and sentimental approach. Tipton’s influence emerges through a style that fits classic Priest with a leaning toward the bluesy over the progressive or more metallic structured solos of the past. Where more intensive metal riffing emerges, it tends to lead not to an expansion on the same, but to a more vocal-centric and slower-paced take.
Redeemer of Souls like many later albums from groundbreaking bands revisits many successes of the past and mixes them in with known crowd pleasers, but seems focused more than Judas Priest in recent memory on fusing rock and metal to escape the sterile and eclectic but unfocused material of the jazz-lite fusion years of recent metal. While Redeemer of Souls has moments of power, its focus on breadth and variety leaves it feeling less like an album and more like a collection of singles, and experienced Priest fans may find it both approximates past releases too much and fails to leap to their level of intensity.
Coroner occupy a unique place in metal history. Coming from the speed metal camp, they injected their music with technicality and a high art sense that placed them alongside Voivod and Prong as some of the 1980s oddities.
As power metal grew popular in the 2000s, Coroner came back into focus because so much of what they did presaged what power metal would become. As a result, the band re-united and began to play live again.
However, today drummer Marquis Marky announced on Facebook that he will be leaving the band at the end of February:
I think we have played more than enough reunion shows and now it’s time to either stop doing reunion shows or to move on with a new album. For me it was clear from the start that I didn’t want to record another album. I love the sound of Coroner but for me it’s the moment to explore new sounds without the weight of the past on my shoulders.
Ron, Tommy and I agreed that Coroner should continue with another drummer.
As with many situations, strength is also weakness. To be in Coroner is to be weighted down by Coroner, and to thus long for the green grass on the other side of that fence. Thus his departure is understandable; it has been 30 years since Coroner started out, and presumably a musician might change world-outlook and thus musical style during that time.