Some music is intentionally nerdy such as novelty acts or steampunk music. Some artists release nerdy songs, such as Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”. Heck there are even occasional nerdy albums released by otherwise normal artists, darn near every single concept album ever. While all have their place, none take the crown of the nerdiest accepted sub-genre of music. That title belongs to the glorious, ridiculous, stupid and fun sub-genre of metal known as Power Metal.
Power Metal’s greatness and geeky bona-fides are inherent to what defines it as a sub-genre of music. Musically it has clean, often high, vocals, upbeat melodies, virtuoso guitar playing, usually featuring two guitars. The features could apply to other genres of metal, but what we’re concerned with are the lyrical themes. The songs are often about fantasy, or science fiction themes. Given that most power metal bands are European, these fantasy themes reflect their heritage. Sometimes the bands will incorporate some symphonic elements, though not too many or else it will veer into the realm of symphonic metal which is a different, but related thing altogether.
Now that Power Metal has been defined, it’s time to look at three albums that serve as a good starting point for someone trying to get into the music. I’ve intentionally chosen three bands from different part of the world that also reflect different elements of power metal. First we’re going to look at “Nightfall on Middle Earth” from Germany’s Blind Guardian, an over the top concept album about the Silmarillion. Then it’s on to Sweeden for “Legacy of Kings” by Hammerfall, a straight up metal album. Finally, it’s to America for Iced Earth’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” probably the hardest of the three.
“Nightfall on Middle Earth” is an album that combines completely over the top songs with narration as it tells the story of the Silmarillion. After a spoken introduction, the album kicks into gear with “Into the Storm” about as straight forward of a song as you’re going to get on the album. The symphonic elements are not everywhere, and the overdub of lead singer Hansi Kursch’s relatively deep vocals are not over the top. The album moves at a smooth pace hitting classic upon classic. The songs that are the real standouts are “Nightfall” whose chorus is great on the album, but comes alive live where the fans sing along with it. It starts out slowly, and then gets up to speed quickly, slowing down with the chorus. It tells the story of how the Noldor were changed after well, do I really need to say it? Another major song that gets played every concert is “Mirror Mirror” whose solo hearkens back to the one “Stairway to Heaven”. It’s a lyrically straightforward song, but the playing elevates it. One other song that I personally love is “When Sorrow Sang” because of the alliteration in the chorus.
“Legacy of Kings” is the most stereotypical power metal of the three, and that’s not a bad thing. From the first song “Heeding the Call” you hear the high voice of lead singer Joacim Cans high vocals about Templars heading back in time to serve. It’s straightforward, it kicks ass and is lyrically about fantasy subjects. That is basically true of every song in the entire album. What Hammerfall does is present the best possible version of the most traditional power metal songs. The ballads are a fun diversion from the rest of the album, but they also take it down a bit. They are just not as good as you’d like them to be.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes” has an edge to it that the other albums lack. The guitars are noticeably harder than the other two from the moment the opening track “The Burning Times” hits. Lead singer Matt Barlow is capable of going high, but mostly chooses to go a deeper route with his vocals on most of the songs. The final three songs make up the Something Wicked Trilogy which tell the story of the coming apocalypse. These are the most complex of the songs bringing in other elements than just straight guitars. All three are awesome and the story is incredibly coherent. The other song that is worth noting on this album is “Watching Over Me” written about the motorcycle death of one of band leader and bass guitarist Jon Schaeffer’s friends. You’d think it would be a soft ballad, and you would be wrong. It’s not a soft song by any stretch of the imagination and is a kick as requiem for Schaeffer’s fallen friend.
Well there you go, this is a great starting point. If you find you like what you hear, Youtube is a wonderful place to find new bands and more music.