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Power Metal: The Best Of The Best



By: Rich Catino, Asylum Owner

When I started writing for an online metal music website in late 2002/2003, one of the goals was my crusade to bring more attention to the European Power Metal bands who emerged in the mid 90s. This list is comprised of the pioneers from the 80s, and those who carried on those traditions from the 90s, and 2000s to the present.


Note: before reading the list, there are select albums from other bands in the 80s who didn’t make a career playing this style but were part of the development of the genre, influential, and should be noted for their contributions.

Fates Warning: Night on Bröcken (1984), The Spectre Within (1985).

Queensryche: Queensryche e.p. (1983), The Warning (1984)

Savatage - Hall of the Mountain King (1987)

Omen: Warning of Danger (1985), The Curse (1986)

Riot: Thundersteel (1988), The Privilege of Power (1990).

Helstar: Remnants of War (1986), A Distant Thunder (1988)

Attacker - Battle At Helm's Deep (1985)


The 1980s

Helloween. (Germany): Obviously the most influential for this style of Heavy Metal, singlehandedly creating the genre by mixing speed with traditional Maiden/Priest metal establishing their formula on the albums “Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1 & 2” (1987/88).

Other albums to check out: “Walls Of Jericho” (1985), “Master of the Rings” (1994), “The Time of the Oath” (1996), Better Than Raw (1998), “Gambling With The Devil” (2007), “Straight Out Of Hell (2013).

Yngwie Malmsteen. (Sweden): Guitarist who invented Neoclassical Heavy Metal with his 1984-1986 album trilogy “Rising Force”, “Marching Out”, and “Trilogy” which features the timeless instrumentals ‘Black Star’, ‘Far Beyond The Sun’, and single/video favorites ‘I'll See the Light, Tonight’ and ‘You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget’. Other album recommendations: Magnum Opus (1995), Facing The Animal (1997).

Running Wild. (Germany): Title to their 1987 album “Under Jolly Roger” said it all. Since then these guys have been sailing the seas to the beat of their own pirate drum with swashbuckling hymns like ‘Port Royal’, ‘Riding The Storm’, ‘Bad To The Bone’, ‘Lead or Gold’, ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Black Hand Inn’, and ‘Rebel At Heart’. Other album recommendations: Death or Glory (1989), Black Hand Inn (1994), The Rivalry (1998), Pile of Skulls (1992).

Ronnie James Dio. (American) Ronnie James Dio is the Godfather of writing poetic fantasy/dungeons & dragons lyrics. His contributions to the classic Rainbow albums "Rising" (1976) and "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" (1978), with Black Sabbath; "Heaven and Hell" (1980) and "Mob Rules" (1981), and for his solo band; "Holy Diver", "The Last In Line", and "Sacred Heart" (1983-1985) all contain too many classic songs to name. Dio's voice, lyrics, and music with all three bands became synonymous, the inspiration and influence for European and American power metal bands. Other album recommendations: Dio – Strange Highways (1993), Dream Evil (1987), Magica (2000).

Virgin Steele. (American): Releasing their debut in 1982, with Manowar and Yngwie Malmsteen, we have the Steele to thank for Dungeons & Dragons/Conan the Barbarian inspired fantasy power metal. 1986’s “Noble Savage”, the more bluesy “Life Among the Ruins” in 1993, to “The Marriage Of Heaven and Hell Pt.1&2” are lessons in variety and grandiose (Greek) musical theater. Other album recommendations: Invictus (1998), The House Of Atreus Act. 1&2 (1999/2000).

Manowar. (American): Their name alone screams metal with power, and every song title from their debut “Battle Hymns” in 1982, to “Hail To England”, through 1988’s “Kings Of Metal” include words like “fire”, “steel”, “crown”, “hail”, “kill”, “blood”, “power”, “fighting”, and “defender”. Music to go to war, crown a king, or slay the dragon. Other album recommendations: Fighting The World (1987), Louder Than Hell (1996), Warriors Of The World (2002).

Jag Panzer. (American): Regardless of releasing their debut on a small independent label in 1984, “Ample Destruction” still became an underground classic. Ten years later the band got back in action recording more music in the 90s and notable albums like “The Age of Mastery” and “Mechanized Warfare”. Other album recommendations: Chain of Command (1987 reissue), The Deviant Chord (2017).

Impellitteri. (American): In the mid 80s, Chris Impellitteri was seen as the next Yngwie Malmsteen with the hit song “Stand In Line” in 1988. Chris continued to make music through the difficult 90s, “Answer to the Master “in 1994 featuring the anthem ‘Warrior’ with Rob Rock on vocals. Other album recommendations: Wicked Maiden (2009).

Chastain. (American): Formed in 1984 by guitarist David T. Chastain, the band featured female vocals of Leather Leone, a rarity in heavy metal at the time aside from Doro Pesch, Lee Aaron, and Lita Ford. The debut “Mystery of Illusion” in 1985 and “Ruler of the Wasteland” (1986) are underground classics mixing shred guitar, tough vocals, and fantasy lyrics.


90s

Gamma Ray. (Germany): The sister band to Helloween featuring alum Kai Hansen, it took three albums of trial and error before finding the “Land Of The Free” in 1995 and going “Somewhere Out In Space”, thus writing the classic fantasy based said album title tracks, ‘Rebellion In Dreamland’, ‘Abyss Of The Void”. ‘Beyond The Blackhole’, and ‘Valley Of The Kings’. Other album recommendations: Powerplant (1999), Majestic (2005).

Grave Digger. (Germany): Following the release of their debut “Heavy Metal Breakdown” in 1984, in the 90s the reaper decided to write about more historical topics, and incorporate bagpipes and other orchestral elements for the landmark 1996 album “Tunes Of War” (that includes the anthem ‘Rebellion’), up through 20012’s “Clash Of The Gods”.

Other album recommendations: Excalibur, The Grave Digger, Rheingold, Return Of The Reaper.

Iced Earth. (American): With the self titled debut in 1990 and ‘91’s “Night Of The Stormrider”, Iced Earth combined the twin guitar melodies and galloping rhythms of Iron Maiden with the power and aggressiveness of thrash metal, mastering their formula in 1998 for the album “Something Wicked This Way Comes” which could be seen as their “Powerslave” (Iron Maiden).

Other album recommendations: The Dark Saga, The Glorious Burden (2004), Incorruptable (2017).

Blind Guardian. (Germany): After releasing two Helloween “Walls Of Jericho” influenced albums (that include the now classics ‘Valhalla’ and ‘Majesty’) in the late 80s, Guardian started incorporating more Celtic and orchestral elements for the now much celebrated albums “Tales From The Twilight World”, “Somewhere Far Beyond” and the Middle Earth anthems ‘Lord Of The Rings’, ‘The Bard’s Song (In The Forest’), to the epic concept album “Nightfall In Middle Earth” 1998. Other album recommendations: Imaginations From The Other Side (1995), A Night At The Opera (2002), Beyond The Red Mirror (2015).

Stratovarius. (Finland): By the excellent “Fourth Dimension” and follow-up “Episode” album in 1996, Stratovarius hit the stratosphere with their formula of merging Yngwie Malmsteen, Europe, and Dream Theater prog metal, solidifying their “Visions” in 1997. ‘Black Diamond’, ‘Twilight Symphony’, ‘Eternity’, and the title track to “Destiny” (to name a few), set the template for this style. Other album recommendations: Twilight Time (1992), Elements, Pt.1 (2003), Nemesis (2013).

Axel Rudi Pell: Germany's answer to Yngwie Malmsteen and Richie Blackmore, since the mid 90s and the albums “Between The Walls” (1994) and "Magic" (1997), "The Masquerade Ball" (2000), and "Kings and Queens” (2004), with talented singers like Jeff Scott Soto, Johnny Gioeli, and Rob Rock, Axel’s guitar work has made several contributions to the genre both in the music and lyrics. Other album recommendations: Mystica (2006), Tales of the Crown (2008), Into The Storm (2014).



Late 90s – 2000s

Kamelot. (American): By album “Fourth Legacy” in 1999, Kamelot establish their formula, combining the best of Queensryche with symphonic metal from the Scandinavian countries. Concept albums “Karma”, and “Epica” in 2003, both including multi part songs, established them as major players for the current generation. Other album recommendations: The Black Halo (2005).

Angra. (Brazil): Being from South America, Angra clearly had something different to offer, combining many instruments (including percussion, strings, woodwinds, keyboards) from their native country for the stellar 1996 album “Holy Land”. The album’s title track and ‘Carolina IV’ are just part of this beautiful painting one should listen to and be influenced by. Other album recommendations: Temple Of Shadows (2004), Aqua (2010), Secret Garden (2014).

Rhapsody of Fire. (Italy): By their third album “Dawn Of Victory” in 2000, and most notably “Power of the Dragonflame”, the combination of Pavarotti operatic vocals with charging guitars, bass, drums and symphonic keyboard and instrumentation, Rhapsody are the most grandiose from the genre. Other album recommendations: Triumph Or Agony (2006), Dark Wings of Steel (2013).

Hammerfall. (Sweden): Iron Maiden +Judas Priest + Accept + Manowar = Hammerfall. Their 1997 debut “Glory To The Brave” and “Legacy Of Kings” in ’98 are seen as saviors for traditional Heavy Metal in the struggling 90s. Both album’s title tracks, ‘The Dragon Lies Bleeding’, ‘Let The Hammer Fall’, ‘Heading The Call’, plus several more sing a long anthems are often in the live setlist. Other album recommendations: Crimson Thunder (2002), Chapter V (2005), No Sacrifice, No Victory (2009).

Edguy. (Germany): Take Helloween, Iron Maiden, Savatage, and Motley Crue, put em in a blender and you get a smoothie that has the flavor of these bands, depending on the song. The album “Hellfire Club” (2004), and “Rocket Ride” are a perfect palate of traditional, European, and LA glam metal. ‘Mysteria’, epic ‘Piper Never Dies’, radio friendly singles ‘King Of Fools’, ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ and ‘Superheroes’, ballad ‘Save Me’, and ‘Navigator’ are all tough to match, or top. Even for them to this day. Other album recommendations: Mandrake (2001), Age Of The Joker (2013).

Primal Fear. (Germany): Clearly the second generation successors to the Judas Priest throne, hands down! “Nuclear Fire” from 2001 is everything you’d want from Tipton/Downing influenced heavy metal iron and steel riffs and screaming vocals with the album’s title track and ‘Angel of Black’. Plus, they wrote a metal anthem for the ages, ‘Metal Is Forever’. Other album recommendations: Devil’s Ground (2004), 16.6 (2009), Rulebreaker (20016).

Brainstorm. (Germany): In the family with the heavier keyboard-less American bands like Iced Earth, and Grave Digger, the storm landed with power and force on “Ambiguity” in 2000, fine tuning things on “Soul Temptation” and “Liquid Monster”, (2003/05). Other album recommendations: Memorial Roots, Firesoul (2014).

Nightwish. (Finland): Symphonic power metal with a sexy siren behind the mic, combine grace and passion with power. “Wishmaster” album established a creative template for the future and several songs always make the live setlist, but even the masked monster himself won’t deny their astounding interpretation of Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom Of The Opera” from the also triumphant “Century Child” in 2002. Other album recommendations: Once (2004), Imaginaerum (20010), Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015).

Freedom Call. (Germany): Naturally, with Gamma Ray drummer Daniel Zimmermann as a founding member and their debut “Stairway to Fairyland” (1999), Freedom Call’s formula owes much to the Rays. With Chris Bay’s high vocal tone, this pedigree epitomizes the upbeat, happy trademarks European Power Metal are known for. But, unlike those followers who came after, Freedom Call use all the elements in reasonable doses combining bright melodies with guitar tones and chorus’. See the album “Beyond” from 2014. Other album recommendations: The Circle of Life (2005).

Firewind. (Greece): On his 2014 solo album debut, guitarist Gus G has demonstrated the variety he possesses as a writer and player. Over the course of Firewind’s eight albums, hit singles "Falling to Pieces" and "Breaking the Silence" off the breakout “Allegiance” (2006), you will also hear different styles of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal; from the Scorpions, to Whitesnake, Judas Priest, to Arch Enemy, and Gamma Ray, radio ready hard rockers, ballads, to instrumentals. Other album recommendations: The Premonition (2008), Immortals (2017).

Sabaton (Sweden): Take the true metal image and sonic power of Manowar with Hammerfall’s anthemic chorus’ and you have the historical war themed hymns of Sabaton. Since their breakthrough 4th album “The Art Of War” in 2008, in recent years have become a leader for the new generation of European Power Metal. Other album recommendations: Metalizer (2007), Coat Of Arms (2010), Heroes (2014).

Sonata Arctica (Finland): It took a couple albums to get out of Stratovarius’ shadow, but since “Reckoning Night” in 2004, Sonata have found their own successful sound by incorporating various instruments and taking chances with composition. Other album recommendations: Silence (2001), The Days Of Grays (2009), Pariah’s Child (2014).

Powerwolf. (Germany): A newcomer to the game, debut album “Return In Bloodred” (2005), Powerwolf found a way to bring their own creativity to the table both musically and lyrically, including corpse paint, gothic anthemic hymns about Romanian werewolf and vampire legends and dark religious tales, with those big layered chorus’ Sabaton are known for. Other album recommendations: Bible Of The Beast (2009), Blood Of The Saints (2011).


 
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