Powerlord – The Awakening


When people want to say something “controversial” but inoffensive about metal, they talk about how great 1980s speed metal was. I beg to differ: that music had a few standouts but for the most part was exceptional only in pulling metal out of its 1970s slump into audience-pleasing hard rock, and most of it was boring and repetitive like the punk on which it was based.

Powerlord create a functional hybrid between Judas Priest and early Metallica with The Awakening, but songs develop more like the middle-of-the-road heavy metal of the 1970s. Like dolphins swimming, songs dive from surface to chorus and resurrect, with perhaps a bridge but often just a break, and then do it again until the end.

Nostalgia for the 80s seems misplaced when listening to this 1986 recording re-mastered for a new generation, or the 40-somethings who want to recapture some of the joy of youth by purchasing things. It completely fails here, because the 1980s were essentially a hybrid time. Caught between the salaryman mentality of the 1950s and the licentious 1970s, with fear of the ugliness of the late 1960s resurrecting, the 1980s showed America pulling itself apart between two extremes, those who wanted to join with the Soviets and those who would rather die by nuclear warfare than yield to them. This created a powerfully unstable social climate but also meant that to stay in the middle, artists had to focus on the trivial. From that you get goodtimes metal like Powerlord which avoids hitting anything too hard, but repetitively tears into known quantities that the audience has been proven to enjoy.

Some say The Awakening helped found the power metal genre. Aside from the fact that power metal means “speed metal,” this statement may be true but does not change the fact that this music owes more to its 1980s backdrop than to heavy metal itself. It repeats itself, goes nowhere, and while not fully random like bad metal, also has no internal dialogue and so seems really pointless unless the sound itself of repetitive downstroke riffing makes you excited.

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24 thoughts on “Powerlord – The Awakening

  1. Tralf says:

    Good 1980-1986 Metal:

    Heavy/NWOBHM/Trad Doom:
    Iron Maiden, Angel Witch, Motorhead, Manowar, Candlemass, Saint Vitus, Trouble, Witchfinder General (Judas Priest blew their load in the 70s. Manilla Road should have been forgotten. Dio Sabbath is just meh. Most NWOBHM is just hard rock schlock.)

    Speed metal:
    Metallica, maybeVoivod or Exodus… speed metal just kind of sucks tbh. (Megadeth and Overkill haven’t aged well, and most of the Metal Archives’ “thrash” favorites are shite.)

    Slayer, Bathory, Celtic Frost (Sodom kind of sucks. I don’t think I need to explain the reason for Venom’s omission. That reason applies to most other 80s “black metal”.)

    Power Metal (No, it’s not just speed metal. It’s MELODIC speed metal):
    Helloween, Satan, Slauter Xstroyes, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory

    Am I missing anything?

    1. ralfe says:

      I agree with a lot of that, but I can’t abide by the Venom underrating here! “In Nomine Satanas” is essentially Celtic Frost before Celtic Frost. The whole Black Metal album has this guttural, sepulchral riffcraft that undeniably foreshadows what’s to come.

      Venom were no more corny rock schlock than Motorhead… That’s Motorhead’s motto for god sake, “we play rock n’ roll.” No shame in that. No matter what the archives say, there is good rock.

      1. Richard Head says:

        Just because you can play good rock doesn’t mean you can play good metal. The circlejerking about Motorhead baffles me. They seem only barely more relevant than Venom. I have a hard time discerning this massive impact that both bands supposedly had on the development of extreme metal beyond the mid-’80s. Of course I could just be ignorant, so feel free to explain why I’m wrong.

    2. Graham Chapman says:

      “Dio Sabbath is just meh”

      Bloody proletarian.

      1. ralfe says:

        Holy Diver is great too.

        It exists in this bizarre limbo on the internet where nobody criticizes it much, but it’s not cool to like either because it’s mainstream, it’s not Cirith Ungol, etc.

        But feck it, it’s classic!

      2. Richard Head says:

        Offer a worthy counter-argument or fall on your own sword, you fop.

        Ozzie’s Rhoads-era solo albums are better than Dio-era Sabbath. Fukn fight me.

    3. Richard Head says:

      You are missing Sepultura. Also you are wrong about Manilla Road but right about Venom, so you’re okay in my book.

  2. Mike says:

    Manilla Road should have been forgotten but not Witchfinder General? lol, c’mon. MR’s albums may have been patchy but they had an awesome run, particularly from ’83-’87.

  3. Duke says:

    Omiting Manilla road seems silly. Motorhead, just like Venom are only relevant because of their influence and not much else.

    1. Richard Head says:

      Care to explain the influence of Motorhead on extreme metal? Speaking out of genuine curiosity.

      1. ralfe says:

        They’re fundamental in kickstarting speed metal (more drumming than riffs/phrasing, but still). Without speed metal there’s no black/death metal etc. Also a TON of extreme metal vocalists were essentially imitating or trying to outdo Cronos, and Cronos was imitating Lemmy with his gravelly voice.

        1. Richard Head says:

          So their biggest influence was not structural, more aesthetic? I’m not convinced about the speedy drumming being that important; punk started up about the same time as Motorhead and once Americans picked up on it, they made hardcore with fast-as-fuck drumming. Obviously there is a lot of crossover influence early hardcore and the fledgling extreme metal. If I’m right about that, then Motorhead is more like Venom; adopted some “extreme” aesthetic but still played fast rock music that developed in parallel with hardcore punk but had less impact on the actual musical development.

      2. ODB says:

        They’re extremely important to NWOBHM and thrash, or speed metal as it is known in these parts. First and foremost for the instantly resolved, short and repeating phrasal riff that all subsequent metal but especially the faster variants borrow from. Second, and equally important, for the speed at which these were played. And lastly for the aesthetics and the attitude.

        I don’t personally consider Motorhead “metal” and neither does Lemmy. My belief however regarding metal/non-metal is that these things become self evident the more time you spend listening to the music over the years. With heart and brain, though I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t always easy to keep the two in balance. Certain things are ineffable and only felt on some pseudo mystical plane of awareness and can’t be explained away with dry academic logic.

        1. Richard Head says:

          I think you’re drawing links where they don’t exist by saying that Motorhead’s short, recursive phrases were later developed into speed metal. They are basically just Ramones chord progressions in a minor key.

          Your last comments are totally in line with my understanding, but work against the idea that Motorhead had some hand in the shaping of extreme metal (and to be clear, we should consider speed metal the first real step into extreme territory) because their music just sounds like something to blast while playing beer pong or doing burnouts in your Camaro (it’s good skateboarding music, too). I’ve never felt anything particularly “heavy” from Motorhead.

          1. Richard Head says:

            I should be more clear about my first paragraph; speed metal was special because of the way bands used riffs that logically lead from one into another. Excuse me if I sound pedantic because you might already know all this, but the main mechanic that separates metal from rock is the method of stringing phrases (in the form of guitar riffs) together in such a way that the strings begin, evolve, and conclude logically. Motorhead’s music lacks this mechanic. If you think about it that way, Motorhead sounds more like a punk band. The method of stringing phrases together is what makes death metal so interesting, and speed metal developed the extreme approach by using contrasting melodic and rhythmic developments, and even some heavy metal bands approached the edge of the style but were too rock-based to get to where Slayer, Bathory, Possessed, and Sepultura would. Motorhead came nowhere close.

            1. I should be more clear about my first paragraph; speed metal was special because of the way bands used riffs that logically lead from one into another.

              This development served as the basis for the extensive riff dialogue of death metal. The difference is that death metal severed guitar from drums and vocals which allowed riffs to change independent of the rest of the instrumentation. Credit goes to Discharge for the initial steps in that direction.

              Motorhead and Venom are extremely similar when you think about it. Driven by vocal hooks, written in pop song format, generally admiring rock more than punk or metal, both of them ended up where they were in an effort to be extreme and beyond what was normally tolerated. This recalls bands like MC5 and The Who.

              However, the combination of rough vocals, punk rhythms and heavy distortion caused these bands to be an aesthetic inspiration. No one got a handle on what they were doing musically until Bathory, Hellhammer, Sodom and Slayer.

              What is interesting about speed metal is that it took the progressive rock format, unhooked it from harmony, and made it about riffs in linear progression instead of layers of harmony built around either guitar or vocals. That owes its heritage to punk in part as well.

              This fits with a pattern we might expect, where bands approximate a state of greater relevance to extreme metal the more they leave regular rock behind. The first wave, with King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, and Iggy and the Stooges mostly achieved independence of the riff. The second wave, with NWOBHM (recovering from hard rock assimilation of metal after Black Sabbath) put riff form front and center and had bands competing on the level of phrase. This extended into speed metal, who expanded song structures, which is why its most important works were probably the Metallica instrumentals. Then Slayer-Bathory-Hellhammer-Sodom took over by using the distorted vocals to depress the use of vocals as a melody line, adding Discharge style independent guitars and drums, and incorporating the more complex structures of speed metal. Now you had the grammar of progressive rock in the vocabulary of punk.

            2. ODB says:

              Thanks. All interesting inputs. I realize the punk in Motorhead’s progressions as well as the lack of evolution in song structure. I’d also like to point out that Motorhead wrote riffs around individual notes as much as the climactic, punctuating power chord that signaled the beginning of yet another round of the same arrangement. Which in turn came about from Lemmy using the bass guitar a lot like a lead instrument. A lot of punk used chorded shapes almost exclusively through their songs. The use of the minor key, as you point out, and often times even standard blues progressions (found quite a lot on the Bomber album) are other qualities that make them stand apart from punk and push them closer to a lot of “heavy” metal.

              It may be a cliche to call Motorhead the band that united punks and metalheads but there’s an element of truth in that statement as well.

  4. Tralf says:

    Well I suppose it’s possible to live without Witchfinder General, but if they go, so does Trouble.

    Also, I only put Motorhead because of peer pressure. Glad to know I’m not the only one utterly disinterested in them.

    As for Venom… I’m listening to the song ralfe mentioned; still sounds like simple NWOBHM with lots of fuzz and a guy who does’t know how to sing.

    1. One way to view this: metal being birthed slowly from rock.

      Reason for Motorhead’s importance: parallel to hardcore punk, developed an extreme sound, used Beatles-style melodic songwriting (like a really simple, one way fugue). Relevance to fan of death metal: will come across as simplistic and repetitive. Additional problem: band members on meth, thus albums are hasty and usually have 2-3 standout songs and then a bunch of stuff that everyone recognizes is “Motorhead.” Highly recommended: the first album.

      Venom: OBVIOUSLY NWOBHM with punk influences. Importance is aesthetic only. Music is essentially a metal version of Britney Spears: good hooks on the chorus, verses are sort of pro forma, song structure is nominal. Why to like Venom: they kept trying despite low musical ability at the time. They tried a progressive/theatrical-style album, tried out some variations in style, kept bashing out material. Phillip Wang thought they improved in their later years, although no one cites these albums, and I tend to agree.

      Husker Du: not relevant to a metalhead; this is a rock band. They are heavy-ish but have nothing else in common with metal.

      Manilla Road: maybe there’s a good album in there. Someone here referred to it as a heavier version of Dokken and so far I agree.

      Dio: came from rock music roots, never could leave them. Good guy. I never listen to his music but consider it well-executed, just have zero interest in radio pop songs.

      Mystifier: came after the Norwegians (1989-1990). Like Blasphemy, heavily inspired by infusing grindcore ideas into the nascent proto-black metal (Sarcofago, Merciless, Bathory, Hellhammer, Sodom) of the day. If you take the Sodom demo and add grindcore, you get Blasphemy. If you take Hellhammer and add grindcore, you end up closer to Mystifier. A really interesting mentally fertile time, but consider what had happened: Discharge (1982), Slayer (1983), Bathory-Sodom-Hellhammer-Possessed (1984-1985), Sepultura, Master: same years, some overlap, Morbid Angel (1986), Merciless (1989), Immortal (1990).

      1. Richard Head says:

        I just made some conjecture in an above comment (before I read yours, unfortunately) about Motorhead’s sound developing in parallel to hc punk. My argument is that extreme metal would have picked up the speed of hc without Motorhead’s development, and that speed is basically the only musical mechanism that links Motorhead to extreme metal. Therefore they are not relevant to the devlopment of extreme metal.

  5. ralfe says:

    It seems inconsistent that you can talk about stuff like ambient tension and social importance in hardcore punk (ultimately very boring, bouncy music that’s often even more boneheadedly recursive than Britney Spears… but that begs the question “why is simplicity and recursiveness always bad?”). And yet, Venom gets the shaft like that. Venom are vastly superior to, say, Disfear (an archives-approved band) not just in terms of influence, but musically. It’s self-evident.

    1. Venom are aesthetically important and recognized. But they are from the pop tradition and tend to make for poor listening and representation of what metal has to offer. We could extend the same standard of importance to Pantera for standardizing brocore.

  6. Carg says:

    This one track is musically better than most Death Metal ’94-’14. It’s not very good, either.

  7. Dismember your Member says:

    Let me add my analysis

    The origins of Speed metal/thrash metal
    Can be traced in Songs like
    Highway Star- deep purple
    Symptom of the universe-black sabbath ( your chugga chugga riffs)
    Moțrhead РBite the bullet/overkill
    Discharge- the final bloodbath
    And there might many more but these are that comes to my mind
    And to me
    The fast tremolo type of riffs in songs like
    Metallica – whiplash/metal militia
    Slayer – black magic/fight till death/show no mercy / final command
    Megadeth-rattle head
    Kreator – Flag of hate
    Death – evil dead
    And many more
    Owes to this song
    Witching hour by Venom , I don’t think there was anything like this song in the metal world during that time

    Regarding Motörhead, Lemmy himself thinks they are just a heavily distorted rock n roll band Playing music influenced by Chuck Berry/little Richard / bill Haley etc
    Many influential metal bands growing up in those era loved the bands highly agressive and distorted sound , nobody mentioned Lemmys distorted bass playing that defied traditional bass sounds and role. In fact his bass acts like a guitar …
    Take the song Overkill …
    The first thing that you hear is the double bass attack which prior before there were many progressive rock and jazz bands that used double bass drumming but in this song itself it plays a major role …
    I don’t think you will find this in any HC songs or HC bands in that era,
    And double bass drums are essential to death metal …

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