If I had a buck for every moment someone asked me how I’m able to “tolerate power metal,” I’d probably be rolling in a fleet of Ferraris regal enough to make Yngwie’s head spin for a week.
Really, the best way I can think to clarify my now multiple-decade love of this funny little offshoot is to re-emphasize the “metal as a religion” sentiment. One of our genre’s greatest draws lies in its ability to provoke or enhance such a broad palette of emotions. Feel the need to reacquaint with your primal side? Haul an Old Wainds album into the snowy woods and howl at the moon all by your lonesome. Furious? Rip through some Suffocation while imagining your boss being rolled ‘neath those tank treads. Heartbroken? Warning will cloak that grieving brow. Metal is a great equalizer; a sincere accomplice; and it’s something a great many of us have grown to depend on when life comes at you with its knuckles taped.
For me, power metal holds the wondrous ability to morph into an omnipotent spaghetti monster in the clouds that begs for life’s burdens during those cruelly stretched valleys with zero peaks in sight. Of course, I’m not literally praying to Helloween when things are turbulently grim (Our Pumpkin, who art in headphones, hellowed be Thy name…), but there’s an unmistakable comfort experienced when you’re sick to fucking death of being consumed by pitch despair and finally allow yourself to be lifted from the doldrums by a heaping dose of blithe, bouncy European-styled power metal. That, in a nutshell, is the true allure of this sub-genre. We are always on the anvil; by trials, Metal is shaping us for higher things.
With that in mind, the most difficult part about kicking off this piece was trying to determine where to draw a couple necessary lines. In truth, the full subtitle should probably read “Top Ten Most Satisfying Power Metal Albums of the Last 10 Years That Don’t Include Pagan’s Mind, Nocturnal Rites and Rhapsody,” because Enigmatic Calling, Grand Illusion and Symphony of Enchanted Lands II all landed within the last decade and should be considered essential to a power metal collection. But I wanted to dig a little deeper – find a couple fistfuls that fly a little further beneath the radar that would benefit from getting re-shoved under a spotlight.
Also, as is often the case in our squabbling realm, genre boundaries can get kind of fuzzy. It’s the old “one man’s ‘traditional’ is another man’s ‘power’ is another man’s ‘progressive'” dilemma that could easily be wrestled to the ground for hours with near useless results. Basically, I’ve decided to include albums that dip toes into “progressive” waters, and I’ve vetoed those that would fit more snuggly beneath the “traditional” banner. More “European sounding,” to abbreviate. Apologies to bands such as Crescent Shield, Sinister Realm and Pharaoh.
To the goods…
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Heed – The Call
Released: 21 October, 2005 on Bohus Entertainment
From: Gothenburg, Sweden
No other power metal album has dominated my eardrums more over the last decade than Heed‘s sadly overlooked 2004 debut, The Call. Unfortunately, it’s also the only album the band managed to release, outside of a 4-song demo (very limitedly) released three years later. Those with some fundamental power knowledge are likely aware that Heed‘s principle claim to fame stems from the fact that they formed after guitarist Fredrik Olsson and vocalist Daniel Heiman left Lost Horizon – a band whose album A Flame to the Ground Beneath would qualify for this list had it not been released 11 years ago – and those hip to these roots equally understand that Lost Horizon essentially crashed in flames the moment Heiman left. Why? Because he’s the best in the goddamn business. Seriously. The amount of vocalists able to hit notes like this with as much conviction as Daniel is vastly limited, and he now spends his time painting by numbers in a modern hard rock band that approximately zero of us would give the teensiest of shits to hear. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that – a feller’s gotta put surströmming on the table. But Come back to us, Daniel. Please. And as long as I’m begging, someone please reissue The Call with the 4-song demo as added bonus tracks.
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Hibria – Defying the Rules
Released: 17 November, 2004 on Remedy Records
From: Porto Alegre, Brazil
The notion of agreeing to an album cover featuring a hair farmer and a ninja battling it out while riding motorcycles might seem utterly bananas, but it’s a concept that somehow becomes plausible once Hibria‘s fantastic debut fully sinks through to the marrow. Defying the Rules crams all the elements people love (and hate) about power metal into a triple-barrel shotgun and fires it directly into your face for 53 minutes straight. It’s grinningly melodic, like 10 Dave Murrays draped in 15 Adrian Smiths; as infectious as a flu-ridden pig with a double dose of pink eye; and more wailing than Rob Halford dropping fifty consecutive bowling balls on his big toe. Just massively over the top in nearly every regard, including the phenomenally absurd lyrics. Sadly, the band has never managed the full level of Defying the Rules glory with any of their subsequent releases. But what is life without hope?
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Anubis Gate – The Detached
Released: 30 March, 2009 on Locomotive Records
From: Aalborg, Denmark
One could make a clear case for any of the last three records these Danes have released for a list such as this, but The Detached gets the win because 1) I’ve already exhaustively praised their 2011 self-titled album, and 2) the thirteen minutes of towering, ear-worming bliss whipped up via the back-to-back strike of “Yiri” and “Lost in Myself” is colossal. Just shut me in a room with these two honeyed slices of progressive power on repeat and you won’t even need to toss me a heel of bread and water to keep the ticker ticking. I hesitate to use a word such as “mature” to describe Anubis Gate‘s overall songwriting approach, as it’s likely the equivalent to referring to someone as “sophisticated” when trying to applaud the fact that they’ve really got their shit together, but yeah, these guys really have their shit together. All the genre’s paramount elements swirl about The Detached in such a harmoniously beautiful manner, and subtle nuances will flitter to the surface and rekindle the infatuation even after a hundred listens – I should know.
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Rob Rock – Garden of Chaos
Released: 22 August, 2007 on Candlelight Records
From: Florida, USA
Rob Rock‘s amazing Garden of Chaos offers up a double dose of discomfort to those who normally recoil from this end of the spectrum: power metal AND Christian lyrics. RUN! QUICK! If you listen to it too much, you might mistakenly secure yourself a cozy seat next to Grandma Blanche up in the Pearly Gates, and Lord knows you don’t want to spend eternity sitting around watching angels complimenting one another on their flaxen hair and dainty halos. But this album just works on so many levels – primarily because its players deliver the formula with a phenomenal amount of gusto. It’s melodic as balls (Gus G. and Roy Z. guest alongside one-time Narnia note-blesser, Carl-Johan Grimmark); it’s surprisingly heavy; and it’s as infectious as a leper colony in 100 degree heat. Garden of Chaos is such a satisfying romp, you might not even notice Rob’s wailed concerns of whether or not you’ve heard “the Savior’s call.” Well, I’m probably wrong about that, but pencil this one in as the most likely candidate when you’re on your eventual deathbed and want to make sure all the bases are covered before they shovel 25lbs of dirt over your head.
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Wuthering Heights – The Shadow Cabinet
Released: 27 October, 2004 on Sensory Records
From: Copenhagen, Denmark
Status: On hold
Wuthering Heights – “A classic novel of consuming passions played out against the lonely moors of northern England that recounts the turbulent and tempestuous love story of Cathy and Heathcliff.” Ack! Who the Hell would willingly submit to reading a book detailing the love conflict between a poorly drawn woman constantly struggling with a bon-bon addiction and a smarmy, wisecracking cat. I’d rather read a month’s worth of NFL linebacker tweets while hanging upside-down. The Danish version of Wuthering Heights, however – now there’s something worthy of any power metaller’s undivided attention, and 2006’s The Shadow Cabinet represents the pinnacle of the band’s dramatic progressive/power/folk career. This thing is more spectacularly dramatic and in your face than a 70s Meat Loaf record with ten sets of Rottweiler balls. Whew, and I thought I’d get through the year without saying “Rottweiler balls.”
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