We Have The Power Presents: The Top 100 Power Metal Albums Of All Time, Part 3

HaaaaammerFallllll, weee willlll prevaaaaiiiil. HaaaaammerFallllll, let us haaaaail.

Oh, hello! Welcome! You’re looking magnificent as always. Great to see you. Whatcha got there? A 7-layer dip. Cool cool. I’ll just go ahead and put that right over here with all the other 7-layer dips. Thanks so much for that. Come on in. Make yourself at home. There’s a keg of Cleanhead Kiske out on the deck, and someone brought a buttload of Freedom Call Hard Seltzer that’s resting comfortably in the fridge. Help yourself. If you haven’t been keeping up, here’s what we’ve done so far:

We Have the Power Presents: The Top 100 Power Metal Albums of All Time, Part 1
We Have the Power Presents: The Top 100 Power Metal Albums of All Time, Part 2

And in case you need a refresher regarding the rules, they’re pretty straightforward:
» (4) articles celebrating (25) albums each, every other week
» Only one album per band will qualify
» The order of the albums is totally randomized
» Progressive power allowed entry
» US power metal has already been covered here and here

Clean and simple. And just to get all the rules and regulations out of the way, here’s the copy / paste statement regarding the timeline narrative:

I am not one of those soreheads who thinks all modern releases must age on some cellar shelf for decades before being able to qualify for an endeavor such as this. Power metal has seen a serious influx of remarkable talent in recent years, and I very much believe the genre is bristling with more explosive spirit today than ever, thanks to new talent AND veterans discovering pathways to new energy. Put simply, it’s a great time to be alive and a fan of power metal, and a portion of this list will certainly reflect that truth.

Wait! Holy smoke! We’re into Part 3! That means following this, we have just ONE MORE CHANCE to catch anything you might believe in your goldenest of hearts belongs on a list such as this and remains ignored. Are ye kindly denizens of Fairyland Meadows busy putting flint to torches yet? I honestly wouldn’t blame you, being the menacing warlock I am and ostensibly threatening the well-being of the village this way. But there’s still time! And I am determined to prove my noble intentions! Part 4 is yet to land, and Part 3 below offers up some notable doozies, I’m sure you’ll agree.

On a personal note, what I’m actually most excited about this week is our  SUPER COLOSSAL GUEST APPEARANCE in the form of a guest blurb written by a friend of mine named Jackson. 

Here’s the deal: Jackson is 11 and just about to turn 12 (happy birthday, buddy), and I know him because I also happen to be a big fan of his parents, one of whom has been a part of the Metalreview / Last Rites team for a great many years. So, yeah, he’s the son of our very own Lone Watie, and I am not entirely convinced that Lone and his lovely wife didn’t first encounter Jackson after finding him secured away inside a fallen meteorite from a distant planet, because his awesomeness often comes across as otherworldly when compared to other kids his age. For one thing, he’s pretty much a Zelda savant, which isn’t exactly rare for ANY human, but I’m pretty sure Jackson was wielding The Master Sword at age 2.

More importantly, however, Jackson has pretty tremendous taste in music. Other kids flip over Fetty Wap, Drake, Ariana Grande, etc., which is obviously just great, but Jackson prefers power metal, dungeon synth and smooth jazz, which makes him pretty splendidly unique. His taste in power metal in particular is second to none, so it was basically a no-brainer for me to reach out and see if he’d like to make the SABATON SELECTION (yeah, you knew they’d be on this list) for part 3 and write it up in his own charismatic voice. BOOM: done deal—the very first entry for Part 3 of We Have the Power Presents: The Top 100 Power Metal Albums of All Time is courtesy of the mighty JACKSON.

So, without further adieu, let’s dive in!

THE TOP 100 POWER AND PROGRESSIVE POWER METAL ALBUMS OF ALL TIME // THE NEXT 25

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Sabaton – The Great War [2019]

[Cover artwork: Péter Sallai]

REVIEW BY THE MIGHTY JACKSON:

I started listening to Sabaton a year or so ago, when my dad had been playing a lot of power metal. Eventually, I started to enjoy it as well, and maybe a month after I had been listening, I heard Sabaton. Soon they became my favorite band due to their great singer and guitar work and the way the music makes me feel.

I think Sabaton’s best album is The Great War. The song that stuck out to me the most was “The Red Baron,” due to its mix of keyboards and their traditional type of metal, as well as how they told the story of the Red Baron.

Another great song is “Attack of The Dead Men.” The lyrics sound very strange and are hard to understand, until you listen more. It reveals the true persistence of the Russians during WW1. They were somehow able to keep on fighting after getting hit by chlorine gas and “Striking fear into their foe,” just like the lyrics describe. One of the main reasons for this being a great song is the vocal counterpoint towards the end. The lead singer, Joakim Brodén, and the rest of the band sing together, although they do different melodies. The best part of this song is Tommy Johansson’s guitar riffs and great solos.

The title track has probably the best choir start of a song I have ever heard. It’s like a tragedy but also a form of power, which gives off a strange feeling of grief. “Great War” describes war like no other song I have heard from Sabaton. Their other songs describe winning the war, whereas this song gives a feeling of sadness and losing the hope of winning. It really describes the tragedy of war.

The ninth studio album of Sabaton, The Great War, is like a combination of all their albums. It has a great diversity of fast and powerful type music, like “Devil Dogs,” and serious or sad songs, like “The Future of Warfare.” Other great Sabaton albums would be The War To End All Wars and Carolus Rex and even a few others. The diversity of The Great War and how it combines all of their best styles really makes it stand out above the rest. No matter if you like sad, serious, or triumphant type songs, if you love power metal, you should check out The Great War.

Primitive origins: Sweden
Label(s): Nuclear Blast / Chaos Reigns / Shinigami Records / Evolution Music
Sample: “The Red Baron

Gamma Ray – Land of the Free [1995]

[Cover artwork: Eike R. Gall]

Clearly, the preference here is to hit you with the BIG releases, and Land of the Free is basically the textbook definition of BIG. This record is big in sound, distinction and influence, as it marked Kai Hansen’s return to the microphone for the first time in 8 years (upon the departure of Ralf Scheepers); it reintroduced that classic Walls of Jericho sound (and look!) so many fans were starving to wolf down again; and it launched a classic run of iconic German power metal from Gamma Ray that set the tone for the scene as it soared through the end of the ‘90s and into power metal’s golden ‘00s. With all due respect, if you call yourself a dedicated power metal fan and don’t care for Land of the Free, you should perhaps consider replacing that busted cantaloupe you call a head with a bag of old barn hay. It’s a joke, please do not try to remove your busted cantaloupe of a head, you beautiful and tragic hero, you.

But seriously, this record flexes most every muscle that makes the most powerful power metal powerful. Heck, even the ballad is a banger (Hansi Kürsch!). And closing out the album with a candid goodbye / tribute to Ingo Schwichtenberg that isn’t overly maudlin? It’s pretty easy to understand why Kai and crew have been perennial favorites for 3+ decades. [Everybody Loves Gamma Raymond joke] [overwhelming standing ovation]

Primitive origins: Germany
Label(s): Noise Records / Metal Mind Productions / Seoul Records / Victor
Sample: “Rebellion in Dreamland” OFFICIAL VIDEO

Lost Horizon – A Flame to the Ground Beneath [2003]

[Cover artwork: Mattias Norén]

My first exposure to Lost Horizon occurred somewhere around 2004, upon coming across used (!!!) CD copies of both full-lengths in the wild at Amoeba Records in Berkeley, CA. I decided to try one and opted for Awakening the World, thanks to the sheer ABSURDITY of its album cover artwork. Later that day, after having plowed through AtW precisely one time, I roared right back to Amoeba for A Flame to the Ground Beneath, already finding myself fully ensorcelled by the band’s Daniel Heiman-fueled glory and starving for more.

I must have listened to both albums a hundred times inside a week, powered above all by Heiman’s stunning vocal acrobatics, and I spent many a night just staring at the ceiling and wondering who in their right mind would ever see fit to trade in such majestic music. “Is it me?” I asked myself, bewildered. “Is this power metal actually unfit for battle? Am I the schlemiel? Whose bed is this, anyway? This isn’t even my apartment!” I dashed away as fast as I could. And there, under the yellowed glow of a stricken street light, the king of all stray cats raised his divine scepter and pointed in my general direction, declaring: “LO, YOUNG HERO! YOU HAVE DISCOVERED THE ARMOUR OF GRANDEUR! YOUR LIFE SHALL FOREVERMORE BE TRANSFORMED!”

I mean, I ended up getting arrested for breaking and entering, which sucked. And trying to explain to a judge that a royal street cat attempted to anoint me for discovering a band called Lost Horizon went over like a turd in a punchbowl. But somewhere along the way, I realized my life was now blessed having discovered the voice of Daniel Heiman, and the only reason I can offer as to why I now select A Flame to the Ground Beneath over the debut is because it counts “Highlander (The One)” in its ranks—a touchstone for any budding or long-standing vocalist who thinks they can flex a similarly mighty range. (Whoa-oh-oh-WAHHH-hah-oh-WAHHH-ahhh-oh-WAHHHHH!!! See, I can’t even come close. Pellek does, though!)

Primitive origins: Sweden
Label(s): Music for Nations / Koch Records / PT Indo Semar Sakti / Victor / Pony Canyon Korea / Magnum Music
Sample: “Highlander (The One)

Majestica – Above the Sky [2019]

[Cover artwork: Chris Rörland]

I have long been a fan of Tommy “ReinXeed” Johansson, from the first time I stumbled across his work with Golden Resurrection—featuring Narnia frontman and all around Christian laird, Christian Liljegren—and up to and including his most recent efforts as a newly hired gun in Sabaton. Put simply, the guy is an absolute sorcerer on the guitar and keys, matched only by his impressive prowess as a vocalist capable of hitting highs with the sort of natural panache that conjures Michael Kiske circa 1987. Yeah, that clean.

Johansson’s work under his ReinXeed namesake (six full-lengths!) was always under-appreciated, likely due to a lack of promotion / distribution, but I’d venture a guess that the artwork never helped the band much, either. (How is that a lesson still being learned in the modern age?) Upon their discovery by Nuclear Blast, though? Very smart to reinvent themselves under the Majestica banner and opt for a more polished sound that underscores the symphonic element. Plus, look at that inviting artwork! Well played, Tommy-Jo, Chris David (bass), Alex Oriz (guitar) and guest star Uli Kusch (!!!) on drums—your super sneaky “debut” is a delectable wonder. H… How on earth can a song called “Mötley True” be this good? And even more outrageous, the band made a follow-up Christmas album that actually rips! Read that sentence again and watch the world fold in on itself.

Primitive origins: Sweden
Label(s): Nuclear Blast / Chaos Reigns / Soyuz Music / Evolution Music
Sample: “Rising Tide

Galneryus – Under the Force of Courage [2015]

[Cover artwork: Kazuki Aoyama]

I will never stop complaining about the lack of US distribution for all the works from Japan’s Galneryus. Well, never say never, I guess. But it’s been two decades and I have yet to find any of their albums for less than 30 bucks on CD, which is absolutely unacceptable for a band that’s consistently released some of the most explosive power metal this planet has ever witnessed, stretching all the way back to 2003.

Point of fact: If your brain has become cluttered into every possible corner with the hot flippin’ mess that is the ins and outs of life on planet Earth in the modern age, consider using a record like Under the Force of Courage (correctly declared quite loudly in all caps on Apple Music) to raze all brain matter and allow for nature’s soft and beautiful rebirth. Doesn’t a fresh meadow inside your head sound wonderful? GALNERYUS is the key to such a blessed plan of action, friend-o. Guitarist Shusuke “Syu” Ueda is, simply put, a total force of nature—a destructive force where mighty riffs and limitless leads that scald with the might of seven angry suns CRACK from his fingertips to explode through faces and concrete alike. He always makes a point of welding 10 tonnes of melodic charm to that overwhelming energy, too, so the listener ends up enjoying the leveling and coming back for more. And true to form for so many Japanese bands that feature a noted virtuoso, Syu surrounds himself with players of equal strength, resulting in something overwhelmingly volatile and hugely entertaining.

Why Under the Force of Courage and not virtually any of the other explosive Galneryus meteor strikes? It has “RAISE MY (FRIGGIN’) SWORD,” that’s why.

Primitive origins: Japan
Label(s): VAP
Sample: “Raise My Sword” OFFICIAL VIDEO

Theocracy – Mirror of Souls [2008]

[Cover artwork: Robert Wilson]

There’s a good bit of tricky ground to cover when it comes to Theocracy, the two principal issues being: 1) They are proudly and loudly Christian, and some metal fans get sensitive when bands like this opt to put the pit in pulpit, and 2) Each of the four studio albums Theocracy has released over the course of the last 20 years are defended to the death by those who count the band as one of power’s best kept secrets that is not at all a secret.

A few of the more obvious arguments in favor of each full-length: The self-titled debut (2003) is a remarkable achievement in that founder Matt Smith pretty much built the record from the ground up all on his own; 2008’s Mirror of Souls took a much more polished next step as a full band, and it features their heaviest song (“Laying the Demon to Rest”) and their most adventurous stride to date (the 22-minute title track); 2011’s As the World Bleeds delivers what is arguably considered the band’s greatest song, the opening lightning strike of “I Am”; and 2016’s Ghost Ship found Theocracy streamlining their sound in favor of a more direct but no less daring approach.

For me, it’s album number two that wins the gold, largely for the reasons stated above, but also because Mirror of Souls features the catchiest overall choruses and still harbors some of the rawness that made the debut such a heavy hitter.

And on the eight day, the Lord didst windmill his majestic hair.

Primitive origins: USA
Label(s): Ulterium Records / Soundholic Co. Ltd.
Sample: “Laying the Demon to Rest

Vision Divine – Stream of Consciousness [2004]

[Cover artwork: Le Ali Communication]

We enjoy laughing about sub-genre distinctions, do we not? Let us laugh about sub-genre distinctions, you and I together, and more specifically as it pertains to what allegedly separates progressive / power and power / progressive metal. Same thing? Perhaps. Or maybe the emphasis depends on which tag lands first? Oh, sure, why not. There has to be a distinction, though, right? Otherwise, why would an individual of sound mind, Olaf Thörsen, feel the need to form a solo power / progressive project called Vision Divine whilst already thriving under the progressive / power banner of Labÿrinth? Because he wanted more power, probably. More power as in “calling all the shots,” and maybe just a touch more of that classic Italian power metal we’ve come to know and love.

Look, I don’t have all the answers, I’m just here to inform you that Thörsen’s Vision Divine project has delivered more than their fair share of hard hitters over the last 25 years, with a notable peak occurring with Stream of Consciousness, an emotional triumph of a concept record that, in my estimation, comes across a bit like the Italian power cousin of While Heaven Wept, another band that enjoyed playing with sub-genre modifiers like it was their flippin’ job. Sure, some might argue for the first two Fabio Leone-fronted records, but VD (hmmm) really hit their stride once Michele Luppi slinked behind the mic. Stream celebrates the launch of that era in a kick-ass way.

Primitive origins: Italy
Label(s): Scarlet Records / Nexus / Evolution Music / Rock Empire / Metal Blade Records
Sample: “Chapter II: Secret of Life

Steel Attack – Fall Into Madness [2001]

[Cover artwork: Jean-Pascal Fournier]

There are two distinct eras of Sweden’s Steel Attack: The early years built on a nascent Blind Guardian blueprint and equally dedicated to fantasy / sword & sorcery realms that focused largely on a speedy delivery similar to, say, Stormwarrior, and then the not at all fantasy-inspired second era that cooled the engines a bit in favor of a more straightforward heavy metal formula, fronted by proven belter and current Tad Morose vocalist Ronny Hemlin.

While I will always be prepared to endorse the latter interpretation of Steel Attack that produced the very respectable Diabolic Symphony, it is the former era of the band and their sophomore full-length that gets the highest honors here because, while certainly not something most would consider innovative, Fall into Madness delivers 45 minutes of exceptionally entertaining speedy power that underscores the massively underrated lead guitar talent of John Allan Forssén. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the band ain’t exactly peasants fighting for scraps tossed over the battlement—everyone’s performance here is worthy of high praise—but holy crap does Forssén’s melodic perceptivity ever give this record the extra edge needed to make one wonder why Fall into Madness doesn’t seem to get the credit it truly deserves. Furthermore and forsooth, this record is dying for a fancy-shmancy reissue.

Primitive origins: Sweden
Label(s): AFM Records / CD-Maximum / Dark Angel Records
Sample: “Guardians

Human Fortress – Defenders of the Crown [2003]

[Cover artwork: Mathias Janke]

In part two of this series, I spoke of special albums from bands we often reach for when it comes time to demonstrate righteously deep knowledge that inspires hundreds of onlookers to heave treasures our direction as they yield to our impressive competence as a Big Time Power Metal Pundits, which is obviously extremely important to us all. Galloglass and their stellar debut won that accolade in round 2, and here we have Human Fortress’s mighty sophomore effort taking home the prize in part 3. (Bonus surprise: Galloglass guitarist Nobby Geiseler provides a fittingly awesome guest solo on track 8, “Schattentor.”) Again, not a totally unheard of band or release, but yet another example where some sort of ideal environment / time and circumstance allows for greatness to be achieved a little deeper underground.

Stylistically, Defenders of the Crown delivers—surprise!—medieval power metal, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with an array of tiny grandpa’s guitars in a Symphony of Enchanted Lands II sort of way. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Yes, there are medieval elements, but above all else, Defenders delivers a more epic and strapping variety of medieval power that never loses sight of that sweet, sweet melody.

All the players here show up to the party ready to commit, but the star of the show is undoubtedly vocalist Joti Parcharidis, who would unfortunately leave the band following Defenders. His is a belting style that underscores deep emotion—not too flowery, thankfully, and just the perfect pinch of grit. Consider the following: In a realm where Fabio Lione is quite literally a troubadour, Parcharidis is that fighter who probably has minstrel blood in his veins, maybe through his parents, but he’s hesitant to tromp it out. And when he does, his comrades fully shit their woolen breeches fireside and look at him in a whole new light. Yeah, that scene in that movie or show you love.

Primitive origins: Germany
Label(s): Massacre Records / Art Music Group
Sample: “Gladiator of Rome

Fogalord – A Legend to Believe In [2012]

[Cover artwork: Felipe Machado Franco]

“Foga” means “heat” or “passion” in Italian, you lunkheads snickering in the corner of the school bus.

Imagine the following slightly unlikely scenario…

Your crappy nü metal Rhapsody of Fire cover band, Rapcity for Hire, is traveling through the forest to play some bullshit town no one has ever heard of, when suddenly the ol’ van fully breaks down. Eventually, a group of elegant elves descends from the trees to help. They inquire as to whomst thou art and wherest thou headeth, and upon explaining the full gist of what your band does in service to the mighty Rhapsody of Fire, they politely shake their heads, tee-hee amongst themselves, and then gingerly lead you to their hamlet to swathe everyone in elvish hospitality. As you and your lame band unbend in a local tavern, the elves study the work of Rhapsody, putz around with the strange instruments found in your busted-ass van, and by evenfall they have put together their own interpretation of Rhapsody within 5 hours time. Being elves, they are of course immediately proficient, and the results pretty much sound like A Legend to Believe In—a little raw, a lot awesome, and certainly magickal. Good enough to inspire you and your cohorts to just give them your instruments, which was the plan from the beginning.

If Rhapsody is the Peter Jackson version of Lord of the Rings, A Legend to Believe In is the animated Ralph Bakshi interpretation.

Primitive origins: Italy
Label(s): Limb Music
Sample: “At the Gates of the Silent Storm

HammerFall – Glory to the Brave [1997]

[Cover artwork: Andreas Marschall]

I was taking applications for Manowar supplements around ’97 / ‘98, having found myself rather nonplussed and discontent with Louder than Hell and the band’s less than prolific activity. I found a copy of Glory to the Brave in a local shop, noted the strangely extreme record label, sanctioned the mythical artwork and impressive song titles, and thusly whisked it home for expert analysis.

Hey! How about that. Glory to the Brave wasn’t very much like “Germany’s answer to Manowar” at all, which is precisely what some publications back then wanted us to believe.

But wait….

WAIT A MINUTE…

WAIT JUST ONE TINY YET EXTREMELY SIGNIFICANT MINUTE…

Much like The Farseer Trilogy I was reading around the very same time, Glory to the Brave proved itself to be 100% impossible to put down! In fact, the record was singlehandedly responsible for whipping yours truly back into power metal’s splendid and restorative glory, following years spent brooding in the (admittedly enjoyable) grim sloughs of extreme black and death metal. Suddenly, my core became shielded by HammerFall’s impervious magnificence, and every single bout delivered by GttB inspired a full re-awareness of the extraordinary power of noble triumph this genre surrenders out of the goodness of its heart. What more could any living creature on this planet Earth ever hope to encounter? (Sweeeeeet bonus: Glory to the Brave also features one of the finest Warlord covers on the planet!)

Primitive origins: Germany
Label(s): Nuclear Blast / Hammer Müzik / Morbid Noizz Productions / PT Indo Semar Sakti / Rocris Disc / Wizard / Victor / Seoul Records
Sample: “HammerFall” OFFICIAL VIDEO

Hibria – Defying the Rules [2004]

[Cover artwork: Daniel HDR]

I had a crappy 8-6 job as a marketing manager 20 or so years ago that jettisoned my soul into the crapper on a daily basis. One particular Friday, I managed to slip out of me fetters and flee to a nearby Rasputin’s Records in hopes of washing away the workaday malaise with one or two fresh goodies to relight my spirit. There, glowing like a divine beacon, was Hibria’s Defying the Rules, very succinctly encapsulating everything I was feeling at that very moment without even having one clue as to what it sounded like: “Oh! I would like to defy the rules! And I would very much like to do so whilst straddling a motorcycle that is clearly defying the rules itself! Amidst a sword fight with a notably irritated ninja! That sounds a lot better than fax-blasting Materials Handling vouchers to a bunch of wheezing salesmen punishing the waistline of their dockers.” (Direct quote.)

I figured the record had to be some form of power, but I was not at all prepared for just how POWERFUL the power would be. I mean, 2004 was pretty ginormous for power metal in general, but Defying the Rules swooped in out of nowhere and challenged Angra, Edguy, Persuader, Iron Savior etc. (seriously, was 2004 the best year for power metal and its relations in the last 25 years??) for the ultimate crown, and it did so at the behest of impeccable musicianship and the SOOOOARRRING vocals of one Iuri Sanson (Eternity’s End). So, yeah, thank you, Hibria and Defying the Rules, for very literally saving me that day. I owe you one gigantic Caipirinha.

Primitive origins: Brazil
Label(s): Remedy Records / Encore Records
Sample: “Steel Lord On Wheels” OFFICIAL VIDEO

Wuthering Heights – The Shadow Cabinet [2006]

[Cover artwork: Annika von Holdt (*gulp*)]

My first experience with Denmark’s Wuthering Heights didn’t happen until 2006, when a promo for The Shadow Cabinet landed and I finally decided to get over my bias concerning their moniker, which essentially spawned from having been forced to read Wuthering Heights in English class in my youth—an absolute POS novel that was torture to get through. Hey, on a similar note, I’d sure as shit steer clear of a band called Atlas Shrugged.

Much to my surprise, The Shadow Cabinet blew my doors off the hinges, basically right from the jump. People have doors, right? On our person? To be blown off? I assume so, as your barn door’s open as we speak.

Anyway, this is surprisingly heavy and aggressive progressive power / folk metal that straddles the line between being almost too much to process in one sitting and something that’s just so bloody intriguing you can’t help but hit play again once that last note drifts off into the wind. Erik Ravn is an absolute MADMAN when it comes to songcrafting, lyrics and play, making it seem fairly likely that he’d literally explode if he didn’t get the energy behind a record like The Shadow Cabinet out of his system, and of course you know vocalist Nils Patrik Johansson, who once again turns in one hell of dramatic performance from stem to stern. Bottom line, if the idea of being hurled down a rabbit hole replete with whirlwind prog / power and a spinning and genuinely tragic narrative tickles ye fancy, get ready for the ultimate tickle fight.

Primitive origins: Denmark
Label(s): Soundholic Co. Ltd. / Locomotive Records / Sensory Records
Sample: “I Shall Not Yield

Rob Rock – Garden of Chaos [2007]

[Cover artwork: Felipe Machado Franco]

I assume you’re aware of Rob Rock. If not, just know he’s got one heck of a voice, and he’s attached that voice to a number of notable bands / albums over a great many years, including Warrior, M.A.R.S., Axel Rudi Pell, Impellitteri et al. Rock also happens to be a very dedicated Christian, so most of what he produces inspires all the stock “sparkling angel gif” responses you’d normally expect to see on your dear mee-maw’s incredibly inactive but still present FB page. I’m not here to say that’s a bad thing, it’s just something to be aware of if you’re the type that hurtles to the safety of infinitely dark corners the moment someone has the nerve to say “bless you.”

Rock’s solo project has always flown comfortably within a notably dynamic heavy / power metal realm, and although there have been a couple of highlights (2005’s Holy Hell is also very worthy), he hit the target absolutely dead center with the relentless power of 2007’s Garden of Chaos.

Outside of two ballads, both of which are actually pretty good (“Unconditional” and “Ode to Alexander”), this record is absolutely stacked with total bangers. Rock of course sounds incredible, but the band behind him is equally as relentless with the anthemic, melodic power. Great lead guitar work, hooks for yeeeeeaaaaars, and you will not find a better selection if you suddenly find yourself in need of clearing the area of devout Norma Evangelium Diaboli black metal devils.

“Hey, man, is that Freedom Rock?”
“No, man, it’s Rob Rock!”
“Welllllll, turn it up, man!”

(You will not get that reference)

Primitive origins: USA
Label(s): AFM Records / Victor / Candlelight Records USA
Sample: “Millennial Reign

DragonForce – Sonic Firestorm [2004]

[Cover artwork: Marko Jakobi]

I will forever associate DragonForce with Trivium. It’s not DragonForce’s fault, nor do I actually harbor any true hatred for Trivium, apart from a natural and violent gag reaction to most anything metalcore related. It’s just that both groups hit the planet at precisely the same time, and both made a big enough impact upon landing to elicit deep think-pieces stock with dreaded headlines similar to: “[BAND X] is Here, and They’re Going to Save Heavy Metal.” We don’t like those sorts of headlines. Heavy metal will never ever ever need saving in any way, shape or form. Unless it goes swimming right after eating, then it’s absolutely toast.

Right, so Dragonium. Trivorce. I avoided DragonForce for years because I’m kind of a peckerhead, and also because a number of power metal newcomers sashayed into the door barking about “why would I ever care about Keeper of the Seven Keys when Valley of the Damned is the greatest power metal album ever released.” Turns out, I was already OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUDS 20 years ago, but thankfully I eventually saw the error of my ways. Like, even if you don’t care about power metal in the least, at some point everyone should throw a couple DragonForce records on just to hear Sam Totman, Herman Li and Vadim Pruzhanov fire off an endless amount of leads in every single direction like a bunch of 13 year-olds firing off beams to secure a Laser Tag homebase that hides a mint Black Lotus card. This happens on every DragonForce album, but Sonic Firestorm gets the ultimate nod because wowow did it ever sound like they had an extra load of bees in their keisters back in ‘04.

Primitive origins: United Kingdom
Label(s): Noise Records / Century Media Records / Dynamo Records / Scarecrow Records / Союз / Victor / Sauron Music
Sample: “Prepare for War

Domine – Stormbringer Ruler – The Legend of the Power Supreme [2001]

[Cover artwork: Giovanna Corsini]

I am such an easy mark for Stormbringer Ruler – The Legend of the Power Supreme. I have read books devoted to Moorcock’s Eternal Champion since I was kid, I’ve forever been feverishly obsessed with the idea of possessing a living blade like Stormbringer, and having the accounts of Elric of Melniboné sewn to Domine’s brand of epic and galloping power that conjures some form of dream collision between DoomSword and classic Manowar… Yeah, just leave me here to die, please. With all my stuff. And ample provisions. And Claire Beaucham from Outlander as my companion. You know, because she’s an amazing nurse, and that would be really wonderful to have around in that sort of scenario.

There’s oh so much to love about a record like Stormbringer Ruler: Enrico Paoli’s guitar work is top-shelf, providing epic riffs (1:10 into “The Ride of the Valkyries”—zoiks!) and plenty of alluring leads that are flashy without being unnecessarily flamboyant; the band utilizes the ideal pinch (probably a bit more than a pinch) of orchestral (keyboard) / choral complement to give the record’s overall epic spirit added punch; Riccardo Paoli’s bass play is wonderfully present and heavy, suitably matched by new (at the time) drummer Stefano Bonini; and vocalist Morby is pretty much totally unhinged front to back. In truth, that last detail could be a sticking point for some who are sensitive about vocals, as Morby’s delivery has always been pretty RIGHT UP IN YOUR FACE, which has a tendency to illicit “love it or hate it” reactions. Clearly, I dig it, and I am wise beyond my years, so just go with it, baby.

Primitive origins: Italy
Label(s): Dragonheart Records / Rock Empire / Soundholic Co. Ltd.
Sample: “Horn of Fate (The Chronicles of the Black Sword – The End of an Era Part 2)

Wizard – Head of the Deceiver [2001]

[Cover artwork: Jörg Scheibner]

No, these are not Right Said Fred lyrics: “Show me your fist / Show me your muscles / Your bronze-colored body out of control / Can you sense it? / Can you feel it? / It’s like an apparition!”

Wizard vocalist Sven D’Anna belts out that incredible ode to barbaric rage just after “Magic Potion” explodes off the backs of 400 fully armored steeds coked out their flippin’ minds, and Head of the Deceiver basically never even glances back thereafter. Aggression, power, fire, subjugation, being buff as hell: These things are best in life, and this record throws it all into a blender with equal doses of walloping force, frenetic leads, and catchy choruses that honestly border on being a bit too repetitive. (Hey, when you gotta drive the nail home, you might as well pound it to Hell, no?)

The terrifically bizarre bonus behind Head of the Deceiver, though? Gang background vocals straight off a lost Sick of it All album. Say whaaaaaat? It’s clobberin’ time, baby! The record is fundamentally absurd, head to toe, and it’s pretty much a perfect representation of the equally fundamentally absurd artwork adorning the cover.

Primitive origins: Germany
Label(s): Limb Music / Rocris Disc
Sample: “Magic Potion

Evertale – Of Dragons and Elves [2013]

[Cover artwork: Felipe Machado Franco]

If you’re in the mood to believe everything you read on the internet (and why on earth would we not? Where else can we expect to discover the world is actually flat? The library? Good luck with that), then march away from Of Dragons and Elves this very moment in disgust over its blatant swipery of early Blind Guardian and / or Rhapsody. Or, conversely, SLAY all them naysayers with hellish might in defense of a record that defies all logic by delivering a perfectly produced epic symphonic power metal record by a largely unknown band that didn’t even have a sniff of a label at the time of its release. Choose one side or the other, brave warrior, or face the gallows.

Actually, as it often does, the truth lies somewhere in between. Is Of Dragons and Elves a terrifically innovative record? Not even close. Neither are about a gillion other power metal records. But buddy, it lays down the formula in a very satisfying, deliciously aggressive manner that actually comes across like Persuader if they’d realized that taking the dragons and elves out of Blind Guardian for their core sound was actually a mistake. Nice!

It’s certainly not a flawless record—at an hour and 17 minutes (even longer via the bonus track version), Of Dragons and Elves remains a rather exhausting listen. But there’s well enough good-to-great going on to make the adventure worthy of a great many return trips.

Primitive origins: Germany
Label(s): Independent (wtf)
Sample: “Firestorm

Fellowship – The Saberlight Chronicles [2022]

[Cover artwork: Péter Sallai]

Do you have one of those people in your crew that absolutely refuses to see the bad side of most any situation? One of those “When Gandalf closes a door, he always opens a window” type of folks who doesn’t even break stride when the check engine light comes on while driving their spouse to the hospital after a tornado leveled their home? That’s Fellowship, and that’s certainly The Saberlight Chronicles. Call it Disney metal all you want, then try to convince everyone you subscribe to Disney+ just for the Star Wars shows. Surrrrrrre, Lord Wolfwind of Carpathia, suuuurrrrre. Go ahead and pretend The Rescuers doesn’t even exist.

Yes, The Saberlight Chronicles is happier than Jack Black mowing through five scoops of ice cream sprinkled with pixie dust at a Dragonforce show, but the talent level of all the players here is through the danged roof, so I guaran-blag-danged-tee you’ll be back after that sweet, sweet sugar rush eventually subsides.

And I see you giving me the side-eye for allowing an album that’s barely a year old into these hallowed halls. I SEE YOU. How do I know Saberlight is already one of power’s best? Because I am an EXPERT. I am a very incredibly impressive E-X-P-E-R-[falls through an open manhole cover] [errrr, an open personhole cover]

Primitive origins: United Kingdom
Label(s): Avalon / Scarlet Records
Sample: “Glory Days

Labÿrinth – Return to Heaven Denied [1998]

[Cover artwork: Sunrise Multimedia Studios]

“Wait, you don’t have your entry lanyard anywhere on your person? Look, I know you’ve got the wings and all, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you around the pool, but your return to Heaven is DENIED. Please exit the hall using the door to your left.” ~ Ol’ “Follow the Code or GTFO” St. Peter, probably.

Album number two from Italy’s Labÿrinth might not have given them the green light back into the Pearly Gates, but the songs are strong enough top to bottom that even the saintliest of saints would likely risk a slip into the Netherworld to poke their head into whichever club is lucky enough to feature shredding progressive power such as this pealing from the big speakers. Yes, there is romance and elegance and a level of puffy-shirtedness (especially Rob Tyrant’s vocals, which are excellent) attached to the full picture, but Return to Heaven Denied also flexes a perhaps surprising measure of explicit velocity here and there, and the guitar tandem of Olaf Thörsen (Vision Divine) and Anders Rain is not to be missed.

Return to the CD player about 5000 times since 1998 confirmed!

Primitive origins: Italy
Label(s): Metal Blade Records / Teichiku Records / M.A.B. Records / Roadrunner Brasil / Wizard
Sample: “Thunder

Armory – Empyrean Realms [2013]

[Cover artwork: Gary Tonge]

Similar to their US compatriots Lorenguard, Armory is a young and very talented power metal group whose status now appears to hang in limbo because of an extraordinarily unfortunate event that resulted in the passing of one of the band’s principal architects. Armory cofounder / composer / guitarist / drummer Joe Kurland died in 2021, following a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer, which has clearly left a massive set of shoes to fill—perhaps too big to fill, all things considered. But if 2013’s Empyrean Realms turns out to be the last thing this band does under the Armory moniker, they’ll be leaving the spotlight on one hell of a high note, as this record delivers 50 minutes of sophisticated progressive power tailor-made for those who prefer the style to be lead by loads and loads of lead guitar and keyboard battling. (Extraordinarily amiable battling, mind you, but battling nonetheless.) The results: A full journey that’s a little Angra and a lot Pagan’s Mind, thanks to the comprehensive sci-fi slant front to back. The rest of the band comes loaded for bear, too, make no mistake, but it’s that wonderful insistence on underscoring a flying form of melody that ultimately allows Empyrean Realms to reign supreme.

Primitive origins: USA
Label(s): Metavania Music
Sample: “Eternal Mind

Wisdom – Marching for Liberty [2013]

[Cover artwork: Gyula Havancsák]

Wisdom just might be the most ideal Power Metal 101 textbook band currently on the shelves. Listen to a great little record like Marching for Liberty and you will hear what almost appears to be a deliberate ease attached to each song that never pushes too far in any direction, ensuring that listeners with virtually any level of power metal acquaintance will be able to keep pace and readily absorb what each player is generating.

The band is clearly well versed in the full spectrum of power metal’s essential tenets—melody, oomph, drama, bounce, hook—and they add their own bit of flair—in this case, full choral refrains on every song—to give everything a little added refinement. The songs are compact (save for the 8-minute closer, which is also a key lesson in PM 101), bright, punchy and lifting, and at no point will you find yourself saying, “Whoa, that was unexpected.” On the other hand, you will also never walk away in the middle of a song looking for something that fills your heart more. Furthermore, if you’re a power metal band that’s spent years and years pushing the envelope to every imaginable limit, listening to something as straightforward and entertaining as Marching for Liberty might very well remind you why you got into the game in the first place. The full experience of the record is… in a word, grounding, and that’s a very valuable tool to have in your kit.

Primitive origins: Hungary
Label(s): Nail Records / NoiseArt Records
Sample: “Take Me to Neverland” OFFICIAL VIDEO

Dialith – Extinction Six [2019]

[Cover artwork: Marta Sokołowska]

The reckless adventurer in me wants to kick this blurb off thusly: “Of all the promising up-and-coming US power acts currently in action, and there are a lot of them, Connecticut’s Dialith is absolutely the most underrated.” That is an alarmingly bold statement, though, and probably requires a little more introspection and a deeper dive into a bunch of other releases. I shall do so and return in a few hours…

Oh, hello again!

Of all the promising up-and-coming US power acts currently in action—and there a LOT of them—Connecticut’s Dialith is absolutely the most underrated. I didn’t say they’re the best, necessarily (though they’re making a play for that crown as well), but they are impossibly underrated in that they released an album as humongous as Extinction Six (which includes the great Jacob Hansen of Pyramaze / ex-Anubis Gate in the role of mixing / mastering and Francesco Ferrini of Fleshgod Apocalypse aiding in orchestration arrangement) without the service of a record label, yet they still remain exceptionally underground. Someone should do something about that. Someone like Metal Blade, because this band should really be pinging the radar of most every corner of our snuggly little globe.

So, what is it? This Extinction Six? It is symphonic power metal fronted by an operatic vocalist who happens to be a woman, so every Joe Fabeets on every corner of Power Town will throw the Epica card as the album plays. I get it. You get it. We all get it. But Dialith is mother-flippin’ dialed in, baby. This record has RIFFS! My Lord, the riffs. This record has DRAMA! Cinematic drama akin to your fave adventure films, so nothing overly maudlin / schmaltzy. This record has HOOKS! Homeslice, when was the last time you heard an operatic power record with this many infectious hooks?

Extinction Six is just… an extraordinary achievement, pure and simple. Certainly something that should herald even greater things to come for Dialith in the not too distant future. (P.S. The follow-up EP is equally tremendous!)

Primitive origins: USA
Label(s): Independent (you’re shittin’ me)
Sample: “The Sound of Your Voice” OFFICIAL VIDEO

Adagio – Sanctus Ignis [2001]

 [Cover artwork: Isabel de Amorim]

Adagio has every right to be some sort of puffy-shirted, overly gothic symphonic metal band that runs alongside any number of other troupes that spell “theater” “theatre”—Theatre of Tragedy, Theatres des Vampires, etc. But gothic metal they certainly ain’t. Well, to be clear, there are gothic elements afoot—bits of harpsichord or church organ rolling through here and there, and a certain sort of romantic flair that conjures thoughts of, say, early Labÿrinth. But the closest cousin to a record like Sanctus Ignis, Adagio’s stellar debut, is… Well, take your pick from any of the early works from Symphony X.

This record is proggy, quite often explicitly heavy, and as neoclassical as a dusty painting of Claude Debussy sitting in an extremely uncomfortable chair. Will you fall for its charms if you’re diametrically opposed to all things baroque? Probably not. But if that’s the case, maybe you need to spend a little time looking at yourself in the mirror while wearing an ostentatious hat embellished even further with an elaborate feather. Did you ever think of that, Mr. “Does This Cannibal Corpse Tank Top Make My Neck Look To Small?”

Primitive origins: France
Label(s): Limb Music / NTS / Rock Brigade Records / Rocris Disc / Avalon / Pony Canyon Korea
Sample: “The Stringless Violin

Sacred Outcry – Towers of Gold [2023]

[Cover Artwork: George Apalodimas]

Will this guy ever shut up about Sacred Outcry? Will this guy ever shut up about Daniel Heiman? Will this guy ever shut up about anything?

Who, me? This roguish swashbuckler with gemstone eyes and a smile that could slay a 600lb ogre? Me?

The answer is no, but I promise I’ll keep it a bit more succinct compared to the effusive adoration I so heroically [trips on knightly cape] placed upon power metal’s most hallowed altar just before Towers of Gold landed back May.

And what?? A record that’s just three months old hitting a Best of All Time List such as this? What madness! How… What… Just who… Where do you get… Now wait just a… What sort of lunkheadedness is afoot to allow such a young album entry into these halls?!

Well, it is a pretty special album, pure and simple. Sure, Newton’s Turd Law of Motion prrrrretty much guarantees we’ll eventually see people hurling droppings in an effort to balance all the praise being lofted this record’s direction, but as of this day—July 24th, 2023—all five of the reviews on Metal Archives sit at 100%. Has that ever happened? Is Towers of Gold very literally comprised of towers of gold?? For some of us, clearly so. (On a relevant side note: I still don’t think the band has revealed its magnum opus, which is actually rather exciting!)

First of all, a very strong argument can be made that Daniel Heiman has never sounded better than this (how is that possible), and the Sacred Outcriers that surround him—founder / composer / bassist George Apalodimas, guitarist Steve Lado, and drummer Defkalion Dimos— provide the groundwork necessary to allow that peerless voice a most ideal avenue for maximum exultation. In a sense, if Heiman is the fiery meteorite, which he most certainly is, Sacred Outcry is the imposing trebuchet launching him into the keep’s flinty walls.

Also not to be undersold, though, is the strength of the songwriting here. Even without Heiman, these ten narratives are wonderfully emotional, glowing and as epic as a John Martin painting framed in Brasher Doubloon gold—a consummate blend of Euro AND US power. The fact that they additionally feature one of power’s greatest voices to date is just… well, an incredibly agreeable assembly, let’s put it that way. So, yes, a really wise plan moving forward would likely involve spending less time waiting for the other shoe to drop and more time soaring to the tippy-tops of those towers of gold. JOIN ME, NO? Yes!

Primitive origins: Greece
Label(s): No Remorse Records / Independent
Sample: “The Voyage (Towards Immortality)

~ Please enjoy a selection of part 1, 2 & 3 as a playlist below ~

Where we are so far:

    • Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I [1987]
    • Avantasia – The Metal Opera, Pt. 1 [2001]
    • Symphony X – V: The New Mythology Suite [2000]
    • Power Quest – Neverworld [2003]
    • Nightwish – Wishmaster [2000]
    • Dark Forest – Beyond the Veil [2016]
    • Masterplan – Aeronautics [2005]
    • Judicator – At the Expense of Humanity [2015]
    • Running Wild – Death or Glory [1989]
    • Blazon Stone – No Sign of Glory [2015]
    • Pagan’s Mind – Enigmatic: Calling [2005]
    • Scanner – Hypertrace [1988]
    • Highland Glory – Forever Endeavor [2005]
    • Fairyland – The Fall of an Empire [2006]
    • Brainstorm – Liquid Monster [2005]
    • Conception – Parallel Minds [1993]
    • Shaman – Ritual [2002]
    • Tad Morose – Modus Vivendi [2003]
    • Powerwolf – Blessed and Possessed [2015]
    • Lovebites – Awakening from the Abyss [2017]
    • Mob Rules – Tales from Beyond [2016]
    • Outworld – Outworld [2006]
    • Guardians of Time – Machines of Mental Design [2004]
    • At Vance – Dragonchaser [2001]
    • Lorenguard – Eve of Corruption: The Days of Astasia – Part One [2011]
    • Blind Guardian – Imaginations from the Other Side [1995]
    • Edguy – Mandrake [2001]
    • Nocturnal Rites – Grand Illusion [2005]
    • Manticora – 8 Deadly Sins [2004]
    • Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels [2010]
    • Falconer – Falconer [2001]
    • Persuader – Evolution Purgatory [2004]
    • Viathyn – Cynosure [2014]
    • SinBreed – Shadows [2014]
    • Grave Digger – Rheingold [2003]
    • Angel Dust – Bleed [1999]
    • Dark Moor – The Gates of Oblivion [2002]
    • Michael Romeo – War of the Worlds // Pt. 1 [2018]
    • Iron Fire – Thunderstorm [2000]
    • Seven Spires – Emerald Seas [2020]
    • Twilightning – Delirium Veil [2003]
    • StormWarrior – Northern Rage [2004]
    • Unleash the Archers – Apex [2017]
    • Angra – Temple of Shadows [2003]
    • Primal Fear – Seven Seals [2005]
    • X Japan – Blue Blood [1989]
    • Crystal Viper – Legends [2010]
    • Elegy – Labyrinth of Dreams [1992]
    • Galloglass – Legends from Now and Nevermore [2003]
    • Dimhav – The Boreal Flame [2019]
    • Sabaton – The Great War [2019]
    • Gamma Ray – Land of the Free [1995]
    • Lost Horizon – A Flame to the Ground Beneath [2003]
    • Majestica – Above the Sky [2019]
    • Galneryus – Under the Force of Courage [2015]
    • Theocracy – Mirror of Souls [2008]
    • Vision Divine – Stream of Consciousness [2004]
    • Steel Attack – Fall into Madness [2001]
    • Human Fortress – Defenders of the Crown [2003]
    • Fogalord – A Legend to Believe In [2012]
    • HammerFall – Glory to the Brave [1997]
    • Hibria – Defying the Rules [2004]
    • Wuthering Heights – The Shadow Cabinet [2006]
    • Rob Rock – Garden of Chaos [2007]
    • Dragonforce – Sonic Firestorm [2004]
    • Domine – Stormbringer Ruler – The Legend of Power Supreme [2001]
    • Wizard – Head of the Deceiver [2001]
    • Evertale – Of Dragons and Elves [2013]
    • Fellowship – The Saberlight Chronicles [2022]
    • Labÿrinth – Return to Heaven Denied [1998]
    • Armory – Empyrean Realms [2013]
    • Wisdom – Marching for Liberty [2013]
    • Dialith – Extinction Six [2019]
    • Adagio – Sanctus Ignis [2001]
    • Sacred Outcry – Towers of Gold [2023]

«»

See you in two weeks for THE FINALE

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; That was my skull!

  1. Beast of Burden July 28, 2023 at 10:26 am

    My god, “Return to Heaven Denied” is so good that it’s a crime I haven’t listened to it in years. I’m gonna remedy that RIGHT NOW!

    Great list BTW, gonna check out some of these other bands-lots of earcandy to try 🙂

    Reply

  2. As a bit of a WWI enthusiast, I fully endorse Jackson’s selection, great pick! Please come back anytime my friend, would love to have you!

    Good job to smelly Captain too I suppose

    Reply

  3. Thanks for someone using Apple Music for a playlist instead of Spotify. Will definitely be checking out your selected gems on the playlist.

    Reply

  4. This really is some great writing!

    Reply

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