Its been an exceptionally quiet start to the new year for metal related news and happenings, but one announcement a couple weeks ago really caught my attention. After twelve years and five studio albums, Power Quest from the UK, one of the premiere power metal bands of the past decade was calling it quits. In an extremely blunt, and forthright statement, band founder and keyboardist Steve Williams laid out the circumstances surrounding the band’s demise, and the blame seemed to fall for the most part on the ugly truths of finances. And here’s the thing: Regardless of whether I like any band’s music or not, whether I’ve enjoyed their live shows or thought they sucked and wished they’d get off the stage, I’d be extremely disheartened to hear of any band having to throw in the towel for reasons as soul crushingly bare as the ones that were described in Williams’ statement.
I myself do enjoy Power Quest’s albums and while I can’t say that they’ve been my favorite power metal band by any means, I have always thought that Williams (who as the primary songwriting force is essentially Power Quest) was an exceptionally skillful songwriter in the conventional sense of penning undeniably catchy melody lines and hooky choruses, an ability which is sadly undervalued within metal. Unlike their fellow UK siblings in Dragonforce (both sprang from the old mp3.com era band Dragonheart of the early 2000s), Power Quest were far less concerned with speed and furious soloing as they were with keeping all the arrangements and window dressings as uncluttered as possible to allow their pure melodies to soar through. The results were the cornerstones of what European power metal should be: great melodies, memorable hooks and choruses, and really really fun songs.
But power metal like all other kinds of metal has the potential for subtext and depth, and Power Quest were no exception in this regard. And there was the enjoyability of the music on a surface level, and then the quiet reasons why you were able to accept this poppy, cheery, optimistic music as a type of metal when so many fellow metal fans would scoff at it. A reviewer named thedudeofdudeness on the Metal Archives perhaps said it best, in describing the band’s music as “power metal’s proclivity toward escapism, setting fantasy and science fiction themes against the backdrop of the real world and treating romanticism and imagination as a last refuge against the conflicts and alienation of modernity”.
I understand all bands have to end sometime, but you’d rather the end come through a natural course of progression such as key band members leaving, artistic changes of heart, or feeling like they’ve said all they can say. The gut feeling with Power Quest is that Williams was on to something fresh with 2011’s Blood Alliance and its increased blend of 80’s AOR with traditional power metal, and that they’re leaving with their career’s work unfinished. It really does feel as if these guys had a few more albums left on the table, and that they’re having to walk away now is a shame.
So here’s a nod, a cheer, a toast, or a metal horns salute to Power Quest, and a listen to five reasons why they mattered:
1. “Edge of Time” (from the Neverworld album): The ultimate Power Quest song. A perfect mix of 80s Euro-hard rock swagger and traditional power metal elements fused into one punctuatingly catchy paean to the spirit of defiance. Rocking guitar riffs support dominating keyboard melodies that guide one of the best vocal performances in recent power metal history. You already have the music video idea in your head.
2. “Better Days” (from the Blood Alliance album): The website AllMusic wrote of this song, “”Better Days” sounds like it was written to soundtrack a training montage in an ’80s movie about a high-school wrestler recruited to battle Soviet soldiers, or something”. Its hard to argue against that, because when I think on it, that would be really awesome (someone outta be working on a YouTube clip of that btw), but hahas aside, “Better Days” may be one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard. And I’m not embarrassed to say that when I listen to it, I feel a little better, no matter how down of a day I’m having. And sometimes that’s what certain songs are for.
3. “When I’m Gone” (from the Neverworld album): This stately, semi-awkwardly constructed ballad is endearing on a number of levels. First for the simple yet emotive keyboard intro, secondly for the sublime harmony vocals in the chorus (always a great trait for a power metal band to have), and finally for the bittersweet poetic chorus lyric “And when I’m gone, the world carries on / And you must carry on too / When I’m not around, time won’t stand still / Your memories will always be true” — a simple lyric to be sure but memorable at that and set to a bed of music that evokes a sense of nostalgia, fear, and optimism all at once.
4. “Hold On To Love” (from the Magic Never Dies album): Despite the at times ‘on the nose’ lyrics that skirt the boundaries of saccharine melodrama, this was a highly memorable song from an album full of memorable songs. A hook that never goes away coupled with the lean, sharp guitars that characterized many of Power Quest’s more hard rock inflected tunes has made this a personal favorite. There’s also a fantastic guitar solo that sounds eerily similar to the old Melrose Place theme song (not that I would ever watch that)!
5. Lost Without You” (from the Neverworld album): If you haven’t noticed, Neverworld was a spectacular album — a power metal gem. This is the longest song the band ever did, and it showcases their prog-influenced side, taking a page from Kansas, Styx, and the like. Ten minute songs by power metal bands are normally a dicey proposition with few bands having the skills to craft one worth its length, but Williams succeeded in shaping a multifaceted epic with varying tempos, styles, even vocalists — but at the core is a rockin’ verse and chorus section with aggressive hooks and a refrain that soars.