I’m right and you’re wrong.
That’s what we all think about our own taste, deep down. As we get older we curtail the desire to bludgeon others to death when they say Devildriver are their favourite band (although seriously, you might as well like Lamb o’ God; at least they have a mass murderer in their ranks [*PARODY*]) But though we quell the urge to spit, nonetheless we still stare at them blankly, thinking ‘you sir are an ignoble poltroon.’
This rather entrenched self-delusion is most obviously at play when discussing the merits of which heavy metal subgenre is the most awesomest at being awesome. It’s something that goes with the territory. Thrash fans hate glam fans, glam fans hate goths, goths hate themselves, everyone hates the hippy stoners and the complaining emos, and death metallers hate changing their clothes, soap and girls.
But there is one subgenre of metal that evokes such vitriol that were it an adorable young puppy, all would be lining up to puppy-punch it in its uncomprehending puppy-face. That subgenre is ‘Power Metal.’ Ask the average metal fan what they think about power metal, they will remark that it is ‘totally gay,’ ‘false metal,’ ‘for dorks,’ and so on.
It’s that music what Germans like. You know, the ones with terrible taste in everything. Not the cool hippy Germans who make cool drug rock, nor those ones who play guitars shaped like spunking cocks while everything on stage BURNS.
No, these are the balding, overweight, living-at-home-with-their-mums Germans, the ones jealously guarding their vast archives of degrading pornography from Chinese hackers they encountered playing League of Legends; the Germans who can only relate to anything if it has themes of noble self-sacrifice (or dragons) in it, and it is unremittingly cheerful. They are feeble. They are geeks, dorks, nerds, virgins. The people who still buy Terry Pratchett novels. The ones you suspect must exist but have never witnessed out of doors. They’re Not Worthy.
But wait, idiots! Here’s the thing: If you like metal of pretty much any stripe, then you are also a dork. You’re definitely a geek, at least. The bands you love are also geeks. To get to any level of good at anything you have to be a geek. The only exception to this rule is vocalists and unfortunately it’s now the law that we have to let them join in, like at school sports day when everybody gets a medal and a patronising pat on the head.
To be a halfway-respectable musician (not even a professional one) you have to give up a ridiculous amount of your time, forgo a life, prolong your virginity, hoping against hope that your newfound skills will ensure a lifetime of lady interest, or at least make up for the calloused fingers. To be a professional musician, you must also gamble your very livelihood on your ability to thrive in a literally deafening marketplace.
Power metal musicians are some of the most proficient you’ll find anywhere in music. That alone deserves respect. On top of that, they’re geeks and nerds. That means they’re just like us, except they’re not all depressed losers listening to stone rock and post metal. No. They’re singing songs about galloping their flaming war-unicorns across skies of gold, vanquishing hordes of slathering demons with blades made of hammered sunshine.
Almost a month ago now I told Mr Paul Pigeon that I would be doing this awesome article on how brilliant power metal is. Because it is. But it’s one of the hardest things I have ever attempted, and I’ll admit now that I failed miserably.
I was trying to show what was great about power metal using true-life examples and realistic analysis. There may have been colourful bar charts and a twenty slide PowerPoint presentation. But why the hell should I have to justify power metal’s worth? Why do I have to defend it? Power metal is awesome.
Here is a brief description why I am right, and you are wrong. Unless you already agree with me, in which case, read it anyway.
Generally speaking, power metal is vastly different thematically to other subgenres of metal. But what power metal does better than say, thrash, is proudly extol the ‘virtues’ of heavy metal. ‘Metal is Forever,’ after all.
It is chest-beatingly self-aggrandising, and it’s all the better for it. But pride is something that we don’t like; success is even worse. Power metal has both in abundance. Is this a British thing? Are we too bloody miserable to like it? Probably. (I type this while listening to Neurosis. Hmm.)
I think it’s important to add here that we’re not just talking about a bit of Maiden and Priest, which for some reason are okay to like without some uptight twat of a thrash (ie Metallica) fan telling you it’s false metal. No, I’m talking about bands like Gamma Ray, Helloween, Primal Fear, Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica and even a bit of Hammerfall (just a little bit, mind).
These bands, this scene, are all European and for the most part German. So what is it about being German that predisposes someone to make jolly happy music in the world of misery that occupies the rest of metal? Let’s learn something.
The subgenre first came to the fore in the 1990s, back when the rest of metal was still trying to distance itself from the awful hangover of the 80s, either through ever more brutal skull-popping heaviness, or via the advent of Seattle grunge, with all its baritone whining and sad faces; which is probably why power metal has always been the butt of jokes. Because it went back to the bombastic technical theatricality of heavy metal’s earliest days and turned all the knobs it could find up to 11. “What is wrong with playing exclusively in minor keys?” whines the rest of heavy metal. “What do you mean it’s all in 2/4? How dare they?!”
Now I’m not going to deny power metal’s had some blinding success. Maiden have always been there and while Priest will never again match the brilliance of Painkiller they will always have a huge fan-base. Nintendo-obsessed Dragonforce even had a brief spell of credibility in the mid-noughties due to their sickeningly complex guitar work and their inclusion in Guitar Hero. But just like that particular game they have vanished from popular thinking. No more Kerrang! for you and certainly no Terrorizer. And since then, power metal has once again become the orthopaedic shoe of heavy music.
Even the resurrection of Anvil (and I can personally testify to how awful they are) was just a gimmick; a car crash of middle-aged men trapped in an unending alternate reality of Spinal Tap clichés. But it turned out to be okay because nobody was taking them seriously in the first place! And besides it’s always funny to laugh at some old losers to reaffirm how awesome and young we are, right? If you’re a power metal band, why the fuck should you have to be funny in order to be accepted?
I came late to the power metal party and I can only offer thanks to the wonderful Monsters of Metal DVDs for showing me the light and the way. At first, like most people, I thought the power metal bands sucked; they were an amusement, a novelty added to the black and death bands I was really into. But then, a strange thing happened and increasingly, I found myself going to the power metal videos first. What had happened?!
For a start I became aware that I would occasionally watch them while completely alone, as if indulging a very guilty pleasure—like a 13-year-old boy waiting for his parents to go shopping on Saturday morning so he could slip one off the wrist to The Chart Show. There was no one there to judge me, nor for me to impress. If I liked it on my own, then obviously I actually liked it. I wasn’t trying to impress a girl by saying that I liked Papa Roach (or whatever passes for cool these days. Papa Roach are still cool, right?)
I’d had dalliances with power metal previously but never enough to say I loved it, or God forbid to admit to liking it to other people. But being a child of the 80s, this sounded familiar; much like all that old stuff but with better production and, for the most part, better musicians.
I think it is fair to say that one song changed my outlook: Money by Gamma Ray. Yes, it is amusing and witty and this is how it was introduced to me. But pull that apart and it is also a great rock song. Imagine if Queen just went for it a little bit more, and you’d be halfway there.
What needs to change for power metal to become socially acceptable? In my case, what made me change my slightly jaded opinion was seeing Rhapsody live. They were on at a festival just before At The Gates. They were bloody brilliant too, but Rhapsody stole the show. Not only was it a flawless performance but they were clearly happy and having a great time. They weren’t beating their chests or swanning about the stage throwing macho poses and acting ‘metal.’ They were just having a good time and they wanted the crowd to have a good time too.
So I think it’s time for us all to take a long hard look in the mirror. Set face to gurn. Pick up your imaginary guitar (or drumsticks) and rock the fuck out. Hairbrush microphones are not mandatory, but encouraged. Make sure you’re in private though. Whatever you do, don’t let any girls see you. And most importantly, don’t tell any of your judgmental twat-faced heavy metal peers. Just enjoy it. No, don’t speak. Listen. Shhhhhhh…
Now some of the good stuff to prove my point. Just remember to view/listen alone. Shave your chest and smear it with oil. Put on some leather pants. Brandish a kitchen knife as if it were your trusty steel and swear to fight for glory with honour and pride. And don’t forget to feel zero shame.
Judas Priest – Painkiller
Money – Gamma Ray
Helloween – Where The Rain Grows
Sonata Artica – Of Wolf and Raven
Primal Fear – Metal is Forever
Primal Fear – Armageddon