Before you ask, the answer is no; you haven’t overdosed on power metal yet. You’re still alive and reading about how Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, and Delain (whom I’ve never heard of but was apparently formed by an ex-member of Within Temptation) are about to tour the United States and Canada. If you absolutely had to hear tracks from Endless Forms Most Beautiful in a live context, now might present a golden opportunity for you, or at least a yellowish one. However, this tour is apparently popular enough that some of its earlier dates have already sold out. Expect musical literacy, science advocacy, overblown melodrama, and whatever Sonata Arctica does to rule these nights.
Avantasia is arguably a notable power metal act and perhaps one of the EU’s most profitable exporters of cheese. Man can’t live on cheese alone, but DMU occasionally attracts fans of mainstream power metal, and sometimes for all its goofiness it’s less idiotic than whatever else is trendy. Ghostlights will officially release tomorrow, but the German entertainment news site Bild (at least I think it’s lightweight news; meine Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut) is currently offering a stream of the album for those who want to preview the album. As is typical for this band, Ghostlights will feature an all-star roster of power metal musicians, and is generally very accessible and poppy; saccharine even once listeners acclimate to the sound. We might give it a review someday; no guarantees.
Back in 1999, Iron Maiden released Ed Hunter, a greatest hits compilation that also included a video game of the same name. The game hasn’t aged well at all (and even in 1999, it was underwhelming). 17 years, though, have wrought enormous changes in the video gaming industries, and thusly, Iron Maiden’s second effort (at least, if you don’t count the minigame released for “Speed of Light”) is under development. Legacy of the Beast describes itself as “an epic free-to-play mobile role playing game, set in the expansive Iron Maiden universe,” and like any bandgame it understandably includes many songs from Iron Maiden’s career, as well as some live recordings that will remain exclusive to the game for some time. Little concrete information has been released on how this game will actually play, but a signup for a mailing list on the game’s webpage suggests upcoming information in the near future…
Power metal releases are, admittedly, not the the first thing this site’s audience mainly come here for, but every once in a while we grace your eyes with the occasional appraisal of very rare honorable mentions of this superficial genre. More often than not, power metal is vain and empty, and although musically competent, also musically laughable. By its very nature, it has a higher incidence of worthless products, but that could be said of almost any mainstream genre when compared to underground ones. Contrary to your expectations, Imperial Age will receive praises here today. A cursory glance at Warrior Race might leave the impression that there is nothing new, nothing different in here that could set it apart from the bulk of contemporary power metal releases. It does not even pretend to have the progressive inclinations that some of its most ambitious competitors boast of. Structure-wise, it is as predictable as the most rigid sing-along pop acts. The tone is typically flamboyant and aristocratically haughty as becomes a European power metal ensemble.
Warrior Race distinguishes itself almost imperceptibly by placing musicality itself on a pedestal. Not theatrics or virtuosic display as is the common staple of the genre they move in. In this, they follow in the footsteps of old-school (pre-2002) Rhapsody (later known as ‘Rhapsody of Fire’ due to a legal mix up). A marked difference exists between the Italian veterans and these upcoming Russians, and it is that whether by conscious or natural limitations, Imperial Age’s music is far more toned down, and concentrates on the clarity of long melodies and creating a very fluid feeling around it by not being sloppy with the accompaniment, turning it into a complement rather than simply a generic support. One of the better traits they borrowed from Rhapsody was the art of allowing the music’s tempo to swing from slow and mid-tempos to cautiously implemented faster ones without being obvious and applying smooth, slow transitions and never introducing brusque changes within a song.
In terms of character, Warrior Race displays the traditional hymn-like chanting of epic power metal made more enticing by the healthy and non-pretentious use of at least four different lead singers (or distinct variations in the singing style) that do not clash or contrast too much with each other. This smoothness may be given to the fact that most of the time the voice is leading yet does not “steal the show” on the level of opera singing. This may also have to do with the way vocal lines are composed which melds them to the river-flow of the folk song. On the surface level, the folk element of traditional European power metal also makes an inconspicuous appearance that further contributes to this suave and rather humble album.
Imperial Age will not leave an indelible mark on the genre, nor will they be praised by innovation, but innovation is not required for excellence and interest of the deeper kind. As music with the right amount of variety balanced with a human feeling that streamlined pop metal artists would call “amateur”. Like many an authentic folk music rooted in a strong intuition of simple human sensibilities, Imperial Age’s Warrior Race presents one of those rarely-seen releases that grows with repeated listens from its musicality, making no claim to direct summonings of a deeper, more transcendental nature.
Exmortus is a speed metal band with leanings towards what is commonly called ‘power metal’, although the general public seems to lump them in the mixed bag that so-called melodic death metal is due to their use of angsty growled-barked vocals. Exmortus have built up quite a following in the young, mainstream metal community. Ride Forth is the exciting fourth album these youngsters and guitar enthusiasts have been awaiting. This album features ‘neo-classical’ metal gestures that were first introduced in very small quantities by NWOBHM bands in combination with pentatonic soloing. It took the likes of Malmsteen and Randy Rhodes to bring this aspect to the fore. Exmortus themselves highlight it to the point of making it more than just the center of the music; enlarging it to be all the relevant music to be found herein.
In Ride Forth, Exmortus wears their infatuation with Beethoven and outward classical aesthetics on their sleeves and include a metal cover of the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 (“Appasionata“). Their previous album also included a track based on the third movement of his Piano Sonata No. 14 (aka “Moonlight”). Compare this to other bands that have gone beyond mere adaptation and have used them to expand compositions that take the themes and scale runs of the original piece such as ‘Pathway To The Moon’, by Pathfinder, based on the same Beethoven. Right at the top of the list lie the adaptations done by the Italian band Rhapsody, who only use the themes themselves for arrangements of interludes within otherwise completely original compositions. ‘Heroes Of The Waterfall’s Kingdom” sees Rhapsody using the main theme from the 4th movement (“Prestissimo”) of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 1.
Exmortus Ride Forth can be vivisected for analysis in at least two ways. The first is in terms of the functions and performance of each of the three functional layers of metal; namely rhythm, leads and vocals. The second concerns the structuring of songs, the quality of the sequence of ideas exposed throughout the album. We may take a look at each of these individually and then at how they interact to produce a result.
The three layers are executed with metronomic precision, echoing the modern classical musician’s obsession with machine-like performance. The drums are standard and give no sign of humanity. The bass is functional but rigidly moves under the needs of the alto-soprano guitars. The guitars themselves have a clearly leading role. The whole instrumental texture is very reminiscent of C.P.E. Bach’s classical music, in which all layers are in the service of a main melody. The vocal department is not only out of place but also overdone, although this may have been somewhat enhanced and disfigured by a too clear-cut, synthetic production.
As a an aural story, Ride Forth shows the audience two faces. The first is what gives them what they think is their distinctive taste, their blatant and superficial imitation of classical music. The second is a mechanical speed metal without character that serves as neutral receptor for the former pretensions. The strongest contributor to the personality of the music on the side of metal is the vocalist. But just as Exmortus interpretation of classical music remains on the level of reflected shadows, their take on metal is that of a rebellious attitude that is closer to a child’s tantrum whose candy has been taken away than to a raiding viking.
The downplaying of the whole of instrumentation to emphasize guitar action along with the simplification on the metal side as mere bridge and support for pseudo-classical posturing give rise to the worst incarnation of Yingwie that one can imagine. In regards to the content, it has very poor communication value, as it takes music as pretty wallpaper noise. While these now cliched patterns were born out of the lingos of late 18th-century classical music and the incipient NWOBHM of the late 1970s, it is now presented as mere paper-mache for the fabrication of shiny toys; symbols without depth or reflection, enjoyed sensually in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Here, we may insert a more general critique of the general ignorance the public suffers when it comes to genre significance and the importance of its ‘sub-cultural’ context for it to acquire meaning. We may assume that the reason why two genres are smashed carelessly in this way is because whatever gestures are native to each are considered mere adornments. However, we have reason to think that the particular tropes of different genres are very specific reflections of a very particular group’s intuitional understanding, so to speak, so that without understanding its proper setting, its depth is lost.
Exmortus’ guitarist obviously worships Ludwig van Beethoven, but instead of being inspired by the deeper aspects of the late master’s work, he seems content to masturbate to the angry German’s portrait while wearing a man-bikini made out of fur. The general metal ‘critic’ (haha…) will love this for its easy-going technically appeal and comical value, perhaps giving them the typical, meaningless high scores they hand out cheaply like condoms at a gay-fest. A more critical mind unmoved by gimmicks may see through the ruse and form a useful opinion. It is, therefore, that Death Metal Underground hereby assigns Ride Forth a score of 133/666 Bleeding Anuses.
Michael “Dr. Froth” Millsap isn’t exactly a household name in his progressive rock flavored niche of metal, but through some means, he’s managed to put together a formidable roster of musicians for the “Gathered in Darkness” project. Essentially a narrative-heavy concept album; its most notable contributors include Rob Lowe of Solitude Aeternus and Candlemass, and James Rivera of Helstar. If you’ve ever listened to the works of Nevermore or similar bands, you have a good idea of what to expect from this track – power metal vocals over vaguely progressive-rock oriented mid-paced jazz-fusion groove-metal hyphencore. The musicians involved certainly value their own technical prowess, but overall this is a difficult sell to the DMU audience, and it may end up as little more than a footnote about how that alone is not enough to make an album interesting and worthy of discussion.
Symphony X has quite a following in the progressive power metal scene and has had such mainstream success in the technical musicians camp that almost each of the individual members of the band has his own little cult going on. In its very beginnings, the band leaned towards the so-called neoclassical stylings of ’80s melodic heavy metal. A few albums later, a clear progressive music orientation had crept in. All the while, the band retained a relatively original voice centered in Michael Romeo’s signature licks and Russell Allen’s distinctive vocalizations.
The band followed this course steadily up to their 2002 album titled The Odyssey, which seemed to crown their ever-ascending incursion into a world of structural complexity which tried to keep the music catchy nonetheless. The failure of Symphony X as a band may have to do precisely with this inability to fully compromise on a clear artistic path, choosing instead to use technique as a gimmick that attracts dorm-room guitarists and pop singability with a touch of gospel that makes casual listeners acknowledge the band and perhaps open up their wallets occasionally.
After what seemed like the inevitable end of a journey for Symphony X, 2007 saw them coming back with Paradise Lost, which set a much darker and simpler tone to their music. Unfortunately, like most music of this sort, atmosphere is only skin deep, and the meat and core of the music continued to consist of disguised syncopations, clever groovy riffs with little thematic potential. The album was supported by a 3D music video vaguely illustrating the concept on which the album was supposed to be based. This mildly succeeded in attracting the superficially-minded who did not consider this to be on par with the graphics displayed in their Playstation games, and in pissing off serious art aficionados who cringed at the Hollywoodization of the classic story.
Symphony X took another four years to release their next album, Iconoclast, a massive oeuvre that could not be contained in one compact disc and had the audience yawning after 3 or 4 songs. By this time, it was fairly obvious that the band was beating a dead horse. The band wasn’t heading in any direction, nor was it keeping up in content — it was just a rehashing of riffs around whatever lyrics they came up with. The dumbed-down approach of the new era was prevalent but there was a deliberate intention of concealing it under longer songs and slower developments in tracks not intended for radio airtime.
Underworld in 2015 is the very reflection of an artistically defunct band. As butter scraped over too much bread, only a mere wraith of what the soul-infused band used to be remains. A collection of band cliches accumulated over the year rears its head in different postures and attitudes throughout the album while rather miscellaneous expressions form bridges between Romeo axe winks and Allen’s one-shoulder-shrugging, lip-biting, sensual diva outbursts. Taking the album for what it is (a professional metal pop collection of cool moments put together by very talented musicians) instead of for what it isn’t (an artistic achievement), Underworld shines bright in its hard rock firmly grounded in African American voices. Michael Romeo flashes solos that are worthy of mention in any guitar forum and have a well-earned place in the technical etudes of any student of the metal instrument.
The potpourri character of this album in combination with the adroit aloofness of the songwriting seems to indicate a secretive acknowledgement that the band knows this is the end of the road. The song titles and song lyrics towards the end of the album seem to reinforce this theory. After a relatively successful pop metal career and a couple of bill-paying, drowning-man albums towards the end, this seems like the appropriate place to retire with some dignity left.
Power metal, the post-2000 incarnation of speed metal that mixes radio rock and Hollywood-style theatrical music into a hybrid, gets a lot of flack for being cheesy. This is true. However, it is also one of the few areas where metal musicians can create epic music and still have a large audience, since the underground metal audience disconnected from quality with war metal and was replaced with post-hardcore at the hands of vegan SJWs riding fixies to their artisanal bagel shops.
Beorn is quite cheesy, but musically creative, and they know how to write a competent song. Expect verse chorus with interruptions for operatics and dynamics, but generally heavy metal riffs with speed metal and some death metal technique, mated together with Queen- and Judas Priest-styled vocals. The melodies are awfully similar to those from other power metal acts, but this betrays the hidden influences of the genre in movie music, dinner theater and vaudeville, and even inspirational music. There are certain patterns, and these set up the need to deliver certain conclusions, and these songs do it along with the best of them.
High-pitched vocals guide melodic riffs over jazz-style drums which guide and comment but do not take a leading role. The vocals follow the guitar riff less in rhythm that in riffing off its basic melody, which allows more instrumental depth per passage than the unified approach of underground metal. Constant double-bass keeps the pulse pumping, and choruses carefully silhouette the chant-style rhythm of the vocals, but songs break to interludes and stack those with variations on the major themes. Lead guitars stay within the canon of guitar-rock heroics from the 70s but accelerate themselves to a frenetic postmodern pace.
I sometimes write about the difference between appreciating musical quality and liking something. I will never pick up a Beorn album because the cheesiness of this style repulses me, but I’d be a liar to not acknowledge the quality of the music here and its ability to be powerful in the right context. This type of power metal gives heavy metal the breadth of musicality it always wanted and, while cheesy, brings out a wide range of emotions and evokes the powerful sense of taking a journey that the best prog rock albums did. For those who appreciate that, Time to Dare will be a delight.
Dream Theater’s upcoming album is certainly high concept, although I don’t foresee the results being anything other than the usual technically accomplished vaguely progressive power metal they always put out. As part of the buildup to the scheduled 2016 release of The Astonishing, the band has released a ton of visual and conceptual material, and most recently put up the tracklisting for the album. Other commentators throughout the internet are being psychically assaulted by the sheer 34-ness of the amount of tracks listed; when they recover they often end up claiming that the album will either be excellent or a colossal trainwreck. I’m personally expecting something in the middle, although visual art fans might at least find something of interest in these supplementary materials.
This short EP has been sitting in our review queue for a while, for better or worse. I personally didn’t know what to expect from this band, but I certainly wasn’t expecting Root or After Death style ‘traditional’ heavy metal with extreme metal technique (i.e what we call power metal in the local parlance). The specific genre probably isn’t important, but Eye of the Pantheon does fit in quite well with the nebulous “first wave” of black metal despite its contemporary vintage. Luckily for us, Eurynomos takes after the better metal in that vein by making up for its technical shortcomings with ambitious songwriting and that certain ineffable gutter charisma I find rather common in similarly primitive recordings.
A lot of our readers will probably remember how, during the last decade, Darkthrone earned some notoriety for creating deliberate throwbacks to traditional metal and hardcore punk that were too goofy and self-referential to be of much value. Eurynomos seems to be aiming for something similar, but their efforts actually end up more accomplished and coherent. The musical language is very similar – both bands employ consonant but minimal riffs, halfway harsh shouted vocals, simple song structures, and so forth. Eurynomos, though, manages to write and perform in a more elaborate fashion, hiding their verse-chorus nature with well constructed bridging material and using their vocalist more effectively. Given a style that isn’t all that technically precise, his clear enthusiasm for the material means I’m willing to overlook his awkward cadence and his slurred diction. This overall mix of pros and cons does, as previously mentioned, extend to the rest of the band, especially since this mixture of traditional heavy metal with old underground tropes does not have the greatest musical demands.
In the process of appraising material for DMU reviews (and more generally, just listening to music), I find that a lot of bands would benefit from either simplifying or complicating their material. In this case, I think that Eurynomos would benefit from being a more elaborate and technically ambitious band within their style, but what they have so far is a good foundation, and it’s worth listening to in its own right.