Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In Defense of POWER METAL!!!

Not the Pantera album, but the musical sub-type/sub-genre. So in this following article I will be defending this style from its detractors, and going into point by point what some of their arguments are and rebutting each and every one of them. And in the process, defending what may very well be my most beloved sub genre of metal. Why write this article? Well, because I've had to defend this in the spur of the moment without having all of my intellectual resources armed and ready to fight their onslaught of bullshit and fallacious reasoning. And above all, to explain/explore what this sub-genre means to me and why its sustained its influence over me for so many years. To begin with, let's go back to my early days of metal fandom. The first band in metal that I got into was Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden are/were a semi-progressive and very melodic metal band with influences from prog rock, and also a very literate one at that.

 Whether it'd be taking lyrical influences from the bible, Frank Herbert's Dune, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge, they really defined much of the more "intellectual" side of Heavy metal in the eighties and beyond. This fostered my musical development and maybe things would have been different if my first metal band were say, Black Sabbath even, or Pantera. Chunkier guitars and heavier riffs would have been more important to me than dual guitar harmonies and epic songs (not that Sabbath didn't lean towards the latter much of the time). So it makes sense to me, however much I got into shortly thereafter such subgenres as crossover and thrash that my musical pedigree would be greatly influenced by Maiden, and then a couple months later, Judas Priest- that the high operatic vocals of both bands and their musical approaches would form a deep impression on my musical development. Flash forward, the mid-late nineties. I had abandoned metal in some ways, but as my friends got into some of what had been going on in Europe at the time (including extreme and power metal bands) I had a revelation- Metal had survived the onslaught of commercial "alternative" music in the United States but was primarily focused overseas. I also discovered a new genre/style of metal- even if I had owned one Helloween album (though only for a short period of time because of me trading it for another tape as a kid), and was super into Queensryche before- Power Metal. To me, Power Metal was the logical extension of Maiden and Priest. If you toned down the hardcore punk influences in bands like say, Metallica, and took the more melodic (but not less fast) route, you had power metal. That's not to say the only style that gave birth to my renaissance of metal after nearly abandonding it was only power metal as I got into many of the new bands ranging from Anathema to Emperor and beyond. I got into Black Metal, Technical Metal, and Doom and Gothic Metal. I heard the Progressive metal bands that took metal to places far beyond anything I had imagined. The resurgence of metal in my life was both a discovery and rediscovery after years of seeing metal attacked as a "dead" genre in the United States and elsewhere, because of the trend towards disparaging it as dated because of the "Alternative revolution".

 By the late nineties however Metal's fortunes seemed to rise again, even if from sometimes dubious sources, like the "nu metal" trend (a trend I never liked). But what of power metal? What is my story with the subgenre? Simply, when I got back into metal (after exploring such things as Industrial, Goth, and experimental Techno) it was something that I really committed to learning about and getting into more than I was before. I had gone the route of denying my "metalness" to a large extent though I would never have said I hated it, or stopped listening to Maiden or something. The rising tides of European metal and all the permutations that the bands were putting on the various sub genres were something I found highly interesting. I had picked up a few Helloween albums, including the fabled "speed metal" album, Walls of Jericho, and was looking for bands in a similar vein. The speed, the melody, the harmonies, and the aggression mixed all in had appealed to me in a way that few other bands did...It was like Maiden but even more aggressive and more intense. That's when I was reading a lot of Metal Maniacs at the time (the famous now defunct magazine that was a goto for mid-underground metal in the nineties, despite having its appearance at a lot of mainstream supermarkets) and I encountered an "playlist" of some famous underground musicians. One was Samoth from Emperor, and at the time, I had hovered around near worship of the band (though thankfully never emulated none of their now infamous extra curricular activities). One of the bands on his list was Blind Guardian's Imaginations From the Other Side, and when I read some other press about this "little known in the US but big band in Europe" I was intrigued. They played a somewhat progressive form of power metal that featured orchestral interludes, lyrics revolving around fantasy novels (a subject I was intrigued by, considering how cool I thought huge conceptual ideas played out in metal), and above all, virtuous musicianship that recalled something that was in between early Metallica and Queen's majestic harmonized chamber music.

I had already ordered cds from mail order companies that had their ads in Metal Maniacs or other magazines (remember this was before the downloading explosion) and then I got the curiousity to hear Blind Guardian. Upon retrieval of Tales From The Twilight World, I was floored. I had never heard anything like this before- full on choir vocals over speed metal with ultra fast harmonized guitar solos. It took me to a whole other level in metal, and I remember the first time listening to the first song on the album, eyes and mouth wide open with awe. I subsequently got into all the "German Melodic Speed Metal" bands (something a metal maniacs writer came up with, the usage of the term "power metal" was used but it was much less common at the time), Gamma Ray, Running Wild, Rage, etc..It made a huge impact on my life and musical influences. Here were these bands, they could be as heavy and fast at least as thrash, but they added huge melodies and hooks at the same time. I was irresistable. So this got me on the journey to being a Power Metal fanatic, but even to this day, I don't identify myself as a Power Metal person because there is a lot of tiring aspects about the genre that lead me not to use the term. But with regards to the criticisms, I see two types of people as criticizing power metal. There are the metal elitists who may like some traditional metal like Maiden or Mercyful Fate, but they remain ignorant to the fact that not all power metal is dragons and fairies. Sure, the genre uses a lot more major key melodies than a lot of regular types of metal (moreso in recent years) but there are plenty of bands that have clean vocals who are part of power metal but are still dark and heavy (case in point: Helstar and bands of that type, or even Nevermore, which I have never liked a whole lot but they are definitely part of power metal). And is there anything WRONG with having uplifting melodies, majestic songs (say songs by Helloween like Eagle Fly Free, or Stratovarius) that affirm life rather than denigrate it? Is this a threat to these people's tastes that much that they have to criticize this as some abhorrent derivation of metal music? A lot of the same metal elitists may say bad things about "melodeth" or call Opeth "blopeth" (not that some of the fans don't deserve a bit of ribbing occasionally)..its as if anything melodic and musically proficient in metal, if its not according to their little tastes, is bad.  There are also people who liked melodeath who hated Power Metal, something I never understood, as Melodeath in a lot of ways was just a heavier more extreme version of the melodic aspects of power metal. Case in point, In Flames- early stuff had a lot of Helloween and Iron Maiden influences (even the riffs have the muted harmonized lines that Helloween made famous), Dark Tranquility basically had said in interviews it was German Power Metal, and technical death metal that were their early influences, I recall an interview where they were listening to a lot of "Scanner, Helloween and Blind Guardian". The second type of person against power metal is the Groove Metal/Death Metal, if its not super masculine its "Gay" crowd. I had a confrontation with a friend recently who I typecast as part of this. He said some derogatory things about the fact that my band played some power metal style songs, but the guy won't listen to any metal less "heavy" than Pantera. Its almost as if, there were no metal bands between Black Sabbath and Pantera, and Pantera being the main proponent of the style they like. Its as if, Metal's evolution doesn't matter, its just whatever you can lift the most weights to or be the most macho with. To me, that's only PART of what Metal's about, and not the main aspect. And that leads me to what I like about power metal. The genre is undoubtedly varied, its not all Reinxeed or Stratovarius happy little ditties. There are bands such as Biomechanical, a band that blends technical groove metal, with more higher pitched power metal vocals, there are bands like the aforementioned Nevermore or Helstar, there are bands that in between Prog and Power metal like Symphony X (Prog Metal being very close at times to Power Metal and some bands being interchangeable), there are tons of bands that such as well and do no service to Power Metal's image as a cheesy genre. The main aspects I like about Power Metal, are why I also like Prog Metal, though I have to edge Power Metal as a genre I like more. I like the literate and intellectual subject matter, ranging from concept albums about famous scientists, to albums based on classic literature, and so on. I like the musical virtuosity, even if its not done in the same way as Progressive Metal, its done in a way that's catchy and aggressive. I like a lot of the influence of Classical music, and this is something that makes it stand out to me, even if other genres of metal are, a lot of power metal quotes more often from famous classical composers and features those parts in their songs (whether it'd be Racer X, Malmsteen (if you consider him Power Metal) or Symphony X, etc). I like the fantasy subjects, I like to have music be escapist a lot of the time. Much of the nineties rebelled against escapism in music, and wanted things to be "real and political" and its refreshing to have metal bands pull you into a fantasy world. I like the positive and life affirming lyrics (everything from Manowar to Stratovarius) and I identify with them through tough times. I doubt listening to Cannibal Corpse lyrics (other than to be funny) would have accomplished the same in my past during dark times). I like the mix of aggression and melody- listen to Iced Earth basically be as heavy as classic Metallica but add a lot of melody to boot (especially older Iced Earth). I like a lot of the major key harmonies in SOME of the Power Metal bands. They're catchy, and as someone who first started listening to the Misfits when he was 11 years old, I appreciate big hooks.
Above all though, music is subjective, and I happen to like a lot of power metal. Its lyrics, subject matter, ideas and musical influences have been a part of my life for a long time, and for anyone to dismiss it and denigrate me as a person because of my liking for it, well they can go fuck right off!

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