Monday, December 19, 2011

Power metal is basically dead

Admittedly, saying that implies that it was alive at some point, which I'm not entirely sure of.

TBO obviously doesn't cover a whole lot of power metal, and there's a reason for that: it's a genre that's basically been circling itself since its inception. I enjoy some power metal (see my post on X-Japan,) but I openly consider it musical candy; I don't think that at any point Kaledon is going to change my life or views of art. This is not to say that power metal can't be artistic- merely that such examples are few and far between, and even within that tiny bracket usually a result of combining power metal with some other style of metal. Next to thrash, power metal is just about the most restrictive and infertile style of metal in the greater pantheon, but unlike thrash, power metal didn't have the useful transitional property of leading towards extreme metal. Power metal just sits and rots.

(As an aside, the transitional purpose of thrash was by far its most important quality, and it should probably have been forgotten completely after death and black metal consolidated themselves. The best thrash sounds a lot like death or black metal, and the further away from the extreme edge of the style it gets, the worse it tends to be.)

At this point a number of people will probably cry out that I'm not making a distinction between the US and Euro styles of power metal, but this is a false dichotomy since USPM shouldn't really be considered "power metal" anyway. USPM tends to just be an expanded and intensified version of Manowar (or, for those with higher opinions of themselves, Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol,) and really ends up just being heavy metal rather than "power metal." Of course, this is a matter of opinion also, since Euro power metal has never become substantially more than an expanded and intensified version of Iron Maiden with some influence from thrash's more aggressive rhythmic aspects. Of course, we can break it down further from there, with pop-metal like Sonata Arctica or halfhearted extreme metal experiments like Wintersun, but the answer seems fairly clear: when it comes to this discussion, USPM is fairly irrelevant since no one's listening to it anyway.

Much like thrash, power metal's development as a genre is hamstrung by a set of inherent restrictions to its construction. The reason why power metal hasn't evolved further is the same reason that blues is now ignored: when you can't break out of a certain structural limitation, stagnation is the only result. In power metal's case, it's a combination of several factors:

1. Dissonance is forbidden. Without the ability to really maneuver around the chromatic scale, and with power metal's over-reliance on major key melodies, the musical palette available to the genre is painfully limited. Dovetailing with this is the reliance on clean vocals- why, exactly, is Children of Bodom one of the only popular power metal bands to employ something a little harsher?

2. There's only one way to go- prog. While I despise hybridization for its own sake, I understand that it has its points, and power metal's hybridization is basically limited to prog and prog alone. While there are token instances of further diversion- power/death (Painmuseum,) power/black (Bal-Sagoth)- power metal tends to just go further and further down the rabbit hole into prog, which, ironically enough, just tends to restrict it further.

The other option is folk/power, which has produced one band worth investigating (Elvenking) and a lot of garbage.

3. Sheer laziness in riffcraft. This might be a minor point, but show me a goddamn power metal band these days with riffs that aren't remarkably similar sped-up Zao breakdowns.

I would provide a list of power metal bands that are doing something worthwhile, but I would prefer just to say that power metal is stupid and will probably never get better and consider them collateral damage.

12 comments:

  1. right on, especially with that comment about built-in structural limitations. i will say that USPM rules, and that I'm going to try and post some more on TBO as I delve deeper into it, but yeah it's certainly nothing like today's Power Metal.

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  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XBTcm2EmNo

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  3. dude nice! that song rips! but i'm pretty sure it's more speed metal or thrash than power metal.

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  4. I find myself moved to post and concur with the sub-point about thrash metal's greatest value being a stepping stone to death and black metal. I couldn't agree more. Someone needs to get that memo out to all of the mid-2000s retro-thrash bands that have stuck around.

    I enjoyed this

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  5. by the way, i had never listened to children of bodom in my life before this post but somehow seeing them mentioned as power metal--rather than, i dunno, Hot Topic shred--made me want to check them out. and I gotta say, pretty fucking sweet! exactly what i want in a ridiculous, highly commercial metal band for 14-year-olds.

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  6. the first two (MAYBE three) bodom albums are actually really tight. a lot of people claim that they're melodeath for some reason (growls??) but if you're not autistic you can tell that it's straight-up power metal. don't listen to anything after follow the reaper though, it'll make you really sad and angry.

    @flemming - thrash after the rise of death and black metal tends to be inherently flawed because it's such a transitional style of music. i'll probably do a big piece on what exactly is wrong with retro-genres (and retro-thrash in particular,) but to give you a preview of my main point, modern thrash fails because it depends on artificially restricting musical elements that have in modern times been surpassed. to rephrase in a clearer manner, dark angel is great because they were being as fast and heavy as possible, but with the advent of last days of humanity, a thrash band can't replicate dark angel simply because those concepts of extremity have been so thoroughly surpassed.

    of course old thrash that's good is still great, but modern thrash is basically bullshit apart from a very few stalwart geniuses like invasion (us). worth checking out are the most extreme albums made by thrash bands who were going through the death/black switch such as "tapping the vein" by sodom, a borderline death metal album made by a thrash band that was already one of the most severe. it's basically one of the best thrash albums ever made, listen to it.

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  7. Actually, the latest Satan's Host release restored a fraction of my faith in power metal.

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  8. I agree with a lot of what you're saying here. I still love me some power metal. I find that pm bands tend to be quite a bit better at music than bm and dm bands in some less rarefied sense than "these guys have artistic depth" or whatever. Sometimes I get a little burnt out on extreme stuff and I find that certain pm bands are great for traditional songwriting and catchiness.

    I just bought a copy of Nocturnal Rites - Afterlife today. I've been listening to this album for a long time and now I finally have a real copy of it. It's probably my favorite power metal album, although it might be more accurate to say that it's a speed/power metal album. It's like a cross between the best things about Judas Priest's Painkiller album and Euro power metal/neoclassical metal: Very heavy, catchier than seasonal influenza, excellent performances all around, great melodies and choruses, and a distinct lack of generic power metal aesthetic tropes. A lot of Euro power metal is the sort of stuff where you can pretty much predict what the next note is going to be or where the melody is going. This NR album seems to me to avoid that problem while sticking to the traditional musical "straightjacket" of power metal. But I definitely wouldn't put it on the level of "artistry" as my very favorite black metal and death metal albums. It's also one of the better albums that Century Media has released (in addition to some of the bm they picked up in the mid-late 90s. Also, Onward is another good pm band that was on CM.)

    Oh, and you can't go wrong with Fates Warning - Awaken the Guardian.

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  9. Well if you're listening to bands like Elvenking (ew) and Kaledon you probably would come to a conclusion like this...but in seriousness, I guess I can see HOW you would come to this post's conclusion, but I really don't agree with it on pretty much any point.

    Power metal bands don't really experiment with dissonance a lot or do anything weird like some bands in extreme metal do, and nor do they have to. It's a genre more about refining what already was and just having a good time. I really don't think EVERYTHING has to push the envelope or do something new to be relevant. Just writing good songs is enough for me. Play with finesse, plug out some first-rate songs, have passion in your music, and you don't need to innovate at all to captivate.

    There are plenty of great new bands that are putting out quality power metal. TOC's "Loss Angeles" album, Kamelot's "The Black Halo," Tad Morose's "Undead," Sunrise's "Trust Your Soul," Orden Ogan's "Vale," Hibria's "Blind Ride" or the recent Excalion albums are all excellent choices. Vulvagun also released an awesome debut this year with "Cold Moon Over Babylon" and newbies Force Majeure put out a great release in "Saints of Sulphur." Are they revolutionary albums that continue to push the boundaries of music? No. But they don't have to be, I don't think. You can go ahead and check these out if you want. You probably won't like them as much as I do, but frankly power metal is doing just fine in my books. You got your shitty bands and really weak stuff that gets touted as good quality by people who don't know any better, but it's like that with any genre.

    Your standards for good music seem to be based around solely creating new sounds and innovating. You seem to have this mindset where people shouldn't play styles of music that have become outdated, and that just really baffles me. Why not? Your comment about thrash - "it basically should have stopped existing when death and black came along," while based in logic, just seems like a really odd thing to say. People still liked the thrash sound even as some certain visionaries were taking it further. What's wrong with that?

    So yeah, just some stuff to ponder. Interesting viewpoint for sure, but I can't say I really agreed with much of it. Nice to see such in depth analyses for metal on here, though.

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    1. I don't know a lot about power metal, but I think the point is valid for at least extreme thrash metal. Stuff like Slayer and Sodom were basically created to push the envelope, and if you try to ape their styles you get the "what" but not the "why". They were trying to be as extreme as possible, and your music is intentionally toned down. It seems obvious to me that most bands with this approach would suck.

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