Something that I’ve noticed happening over the past few years now in increasing frequency is the propagation of what I’m going to umbrella term as “dumb power metal”. If you’re a power metal detractor, this is where you’ll chime in with some goofball interjection of “but Pigeon, all power metal is dumb“, and to you I’ll say, take a hike (or you know, stick around and hear me out). My definition of dumb power metal is a broad one for sure, but I’ll point to a recent moment as a singular example of what I’m trying to illustrate here, that being Angus McSix’s track “Laser-Shooting Dinosaur” off their debut album Angus McSix and the Sword of Power. This is the new band formed by former Gloryhammer vocalist Thomas Winkler, whose singing I enjoyed in that band, and despite having little interest in the also purposefully silly lore that streaked through that band’s own albums, I was able to appreciate that Christopher Bowes was at least writing some well crafted power metal, reductive for sure, but memorable and charming in it’s own way. But in retrospect, I think the success of Gloryhammer might be screwing us as power metal fans in the long run, because when that band was alone in that lane, they came across as a quirky outlier that you’d tag with adjectives such as “fun” or “campy”, while giving them credit as a musically credible parody act. Yet their commercial success was undeniable, bringing with it a host of copycats, and that lane has become crowded with a handful of bands that are pushing the limits of silliness towards outright stupidity. And as a result, I suspect that to many new power metal fans, this is what they think this genre is. And to this power metal fan anyway, that makes me sad.
I’ll be the first to admit that throughout the history of power metal, there’s been a lot of ridiculous concepts both thematically and lyrically that have pockmarked otherwise fine bands and albums… the kinds that we’d just gloss over and ignore on purpose because the music was so enjoyable. There’s no denying that the lyrics on the first two Hammerfall albums aren’t deeply intellectual, they’re riding that mix of fantasy tropes and basic heavy metal brotherhood stuff that has been a part of metal tradition since the early days of Dio and Priest. But they weren’t childishly stupid either. I was driving to work when I first listened to that aforementioned Angus McSix album, and I just remember sitting at a red light feeling more and more annoyed at the vapidity that was pouring out of my speakers before I disgustedly switched over to sports radio. I say this fully admitting that perhaps I’m sounding like a grumpy old(er) power metal fan but I’ve started to hit that point of not giving a damn about that. One of my favorite power metal bands is Edguy, I’ve been a fan since the late 90s, and they had baked into them that Helloween-like tendency to pack a touch of humor in their albums, as on “Save Us Now” off Mandrake (an otherwise somber-toned album), or on the 80s hard rock pastiche “Lavatory Love Machine” off Hellfire Club (complete with absurd music video). Nothing about tracks like those felt forced, it felt like humor that radiated off the personalities of the band members themselves, those early 2000s audio interviews of a wise-cracking, goofy Tobias Sammet being ample evidence of that. It was also merely one aspect of their work, this being the same band that released the deeply introspective and spiritual Theater of Salvation.
So many fantastic bands echoed that spirit of indulging in a little bit of refreshing silliness, Blind Guardian with all their covers of classic rock songs such as the Beach Boys “Barbara Ann” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, or their even more surreal cover of “Mr. Sandman” (I’ll never get over hearing Hansi singing “make her the cutest that I’ve ever seen”). The aforementioned originators in Helloween wrote the cartoonish rock n’ roll road anthem “Lost In America” on their 2015 album My God Given Right, where they wonder aloud if they should “plunder the sky bar”. Iron Maiden had a few of them too, dunking on manager Rod Smallwood with “Sheriff of Huddersfield”, or the absurd “Black Bart Blues”. Dragonforce largely used generic fantasy adjacent lyrics to the point of nullifying any meaning still played it straight faced, with their lyrics being almost placeholder vignettes for you to interject yourself into however you saw fit — and their reimagining of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was funny not just because it was a cover of one of the most overplayed romantic ballads in history, but for the extra layer of just how perfect it fit as a Dragonforce song. Ditto for Sonata Arctica’s cover of “The Wind Beneath My Wings”. Point is that one, I’m not a humorless, po-faced grump shaking his fist at the idea of silliness in power metal or metal in general; and two, that when done right, its really endearing.
In retrospect and I suspect even at the time, all those little moments of humor just made me appreciate those bands all the more because it smacked of genuineness, the willingness to pull down the mask a bit and reveal a bit about who they were as people offstage. So when I see so much of power metal heading into this lazy, cheap laughs getting, nerd-audience baiting direction, it sorta explains why I’ve felt so unenthusiastic about the state of power metal as a whole over the past few years (the positive enthusiasm I felt at the beginning of the 2010s has definitely dissipated). As one of the frequent contributors at the r/PowerMetal discord put it, “Silliness is fine in PM, it’s just when it goes too far and you get bands doing “The Sword of Poo Poo Pee Pee”, and you can just tell there’s nothing behind it“. Exactly, there’s nothing behind it. Sadder than the Angus McSix Laser Dinosaur song was it reminding me about the career trajectory of Victorius, a once promising power metal band that broke onto the scene in 2014 with a strong debut in Dreamchaser, followed up by two other pretty good albums, only to see them take a turn for the dumb in 2018 with their EP Dinosaur Warfare – Legend of the Power Saurus. They followed it up with the Space Ninjas From Hell album, and their last record was Dinosaur Warfare Pt2. – The Great Ninja War. Of course.
I guess this makes me an old power metal fan, because it seems like a lot of discussions on the r/PowerMetal subreddit initiated by new fans to the subgenre are people who are mostly attracted to stuff like this and the likes of Gloryhammer (of course, and understood), Grailknights, Wind Rose, Rumahoy, or frigging Hevisaurus. Hey maybe I’m wrong and it’s selective vision on my part… but I kinda doubt it. Because it’s very reminiscent to what happened to folk metal around ten to fifteen years back when the genre went from gorgeous, haunting, mystique soaked music to humppa abusing drinking songs and Finntroll wearing elf-ears onstage the next time I saw them on tour (still the most disappointing live show I’ve ever seen), years after they were recording blistering blackened folk metal albums that were amazing. The hope as always is that these newcomer fans will eventually stick around long enough to discover the actual depth that does exist within power metal, with amazing bands and records that aren’t dealing in the most basic nerd-baiting nonsense just for clicks and views. If you’re still of the position that I need to lighten up and relax, promptly piss off, I’ve been listening to metal for a long time and I’m allowed to think some of this crap is just that, disposable garbage that shouldn’t be representing the face of the subgenre. But what can I do, apart from spill my thoughts on this blog… because no matter how much I’ve come to loathe it, the plastic swords and hammers and spiky plastic colorful body armor will continue, on stage and in the crowd and it will get dumber and dumber until that aforementioned “The Sword of Poo Poo Pee Pee” will become an actual song title, and not just a pointed jab in a Discord channel.
So I’ll do the only thing here that I can do, because I can see that this trend isn’t going away anytime soon, not as long as there are gullible droves who’ll lap up every ironic second of it. I’ll recommend an amazing, old school power metal album that was just released this year that has artistic depth, a serious disposition, and features the vocal talents of one of the genre’s most overlooked greats in Daniel Heiman, this being the sophomore album by Greece’s Sacred Outcry, Towers of Gold. This is it everyone, this is the most convincingly well done old school pure power metal record I’ve heard in a very long time. I say pure power metal because while in the past few years I’ve crowned albums by both Seven Spires and Dialith as my albums of the year, those bands are doing crossover power metal fusions; Spires with melodic death metal elements and Dialith blending symphonic and gothic metal into their power metal swirls — all wonderful in their own right for sure, but not examples of classical power metal the way Sacred Outcry is doing it. The weird thing about Sacred Outcry is that it was a project hatched in the late 90s that did some demos back in the day but didn’t put out a debut until 2020 with Yannis Papadopoulos on vocals (yeah that Yannis!), a debut that is just as excellent as it’s successor by the way (I didn’t realize Yannis had this kinda performance in him, but anyway back to Daniel and the new one). I can’t express to you all just how happy Sacred Outcry’s Towers of Gold makes me, it’s like someone finally pushed the curtain back a bit and let through some glorious autumn sunlight into this summer darkened dreary room (yeah that’s reality with 100 degree temperatures, summer fun my ass, the Beach Boys can go to hell).
I was wondering who besides the mighty Heiman was responsible for such an incredible record, that surely someone with power metal bonafides was pulling the songwriting strings. Surprise of surprises, its George Apalodimas of The Eternal Suffering, one of the most unheralded symphonic black metal bands that released one of my favorite records in the genre, Miasma, to virtually no acclaim in 2010 except for the few people who were trying to download a supposed leak of Dimmu Borgir’s Abrahadabra off Soulseek before it was released and ended up with it instead because of someone intentionally mislabeling mp3s (for a few weeks there people were mistakenly raving about how awesome the new Dimmu was on the UltimateMetal.com forums and who knows where else, until Dimmu released the “Gateways” single and the jig was up). God what the memory holds onto. Anyway, figures that it would take a symphonic black metal dude to start delivering new power metal here in the dawn of the post-pandemic era that might just have the power to re-focus this subgenre and renew the faith of old hands like myself. Fortunately there are also some people within the power metal world who are also contributing to the fight against “dumb power metal”, like the guys in Saint Deamon, whose League of the Serpent is an incredible power metal release that came out back in April and has been on my recent heavy rotation (featuring the underrated talents of Jan Thore Grefstad, Highland Glory’s first vocalist). I’ll also shout out here the new album Hellriot by Mystic Prophecy, a band as eternal and reliable as any in the power metal/thrash sphere and doing an admirable job of filling the void left behind by Tad Morose and others in that heavier vein.
I realize I’ve been complaining quite a bit here, so I’ll conclude things on a positive note by saying that I think there’s something to be hopeful about. On Metallum, Towers of Gold already has 8 reviews posted for it, a pretty high number for an album that just came out in late May by a very underground band, and that’s an encouraging sign that word is spreading, and of course that those reviews are just as glowing as I feel when I listen to it. Recently, in reading posts and talking to fellow power metal fans, I’ve been feeling that there is a growing undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the direction that the subgenre’s heading in, and that there’s an increasingly vocalized urge to find stuff that’s it’s exact opposite (be it in sound or spirit). That may result in more people checking out progressive metal for the former, just to find something that satisfies sonically, but regarding the latter, I think there are people in bands working on new material that also feel the same way. I’m encouraged by a demo I listened to recently from a new power metal project called Glyph featuring R.A. Voltaire from Ravenous. Year end list maker Fellowship released a strong debut album and there’s the promise of new music in the future from them, and there’ a new Spires album in development as well. We’re for sure in a drought of quality power metal lately, but there are a few rain showers here and there, hopefully it’ll start pouring down soon to help wash the dumb away.