Today we’re going to answer the question: What is power metal music?
Bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest laid the foundation for many power metal bands today. However, other groups like Alestorm, Epica, and Nightwish are staples of the genre and represent what innovative musicians can do with it.
But what makes power metal music different from other subgenres of metal? In this guide, we will explain the subgenre’s history, style, and influential artists in-depth. So, without further ado, let’s dive into it!
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What is Power Metal Music? Definition
So, what exactly is power metal music? Generally, you can identify songs in the genre by their fast-paced, anthem-like songs, with plenty of fantasy inspiration. The term was coined in the mid-80s and stuck to two different but related styles in the subgenre.
Power metal combines elements of other metal subgenres, including traditional heavy metal, speed metal, thrash metal, and neo-classical metal. Many power metal bands also fit into the symphonic power metal subgenre since they incorporate orchestral elements in their music.
Speed metal and neo-classical metal are fast and technically demanding styles that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s.
Thrash metal, while it has a more aggressive style, is also characterized by its fast tempo and shredding-style lead guitar riffs. This style developed in the early 1980s, and “shredding” has become a staple in many metal subgenres.
Power metal combines elements from these metal music styles. You can hear fully layered choral effects and orchestras contributing to certain bands’ music. And power metal music can be technically demanding, with artists producing fast-paced songs.
Power Metal Music Characteristics
Power metal has a unique sound compared to other subgenres of metal, with several distinct elements.
Unlike other metal subgenres, power metal focuses on “clean” vocals instead of the typical growling vocals associated with extreme metal. Many power metal vocalists have a wide vocal range, with most vocalists singing in the tenor range. However, they are very capable of hitting high notes.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this. Chris Boltendahl of Grave Digger and Peavy Wagner of Rage sing in thrash metal style, and other singers will sing in baritone or bass ranges. These stylistic choices in power metal lend themselves to the subgenre’s uplifting sound. They also make it easier for fans to sing along with the music, a common sight at power metal concerts.
Power metal lyrics typically focus on fantasy, mythology, and camaraderie. Hope, personal struggles, strong emotions, war, or any combination of these subjects. Epica, notably, combines themes like science, society, politics, and religion in their lyrics. Lords of the Trident also has an expansive fantasy backstory.
Some unconventional themes include historical events and figures. Sabaton’s lyrics, in particular, focus on historical wars, notable figures, and important events from Samurai to World War II. Powerwolf is another band that diverges from traditional power metal music. Their lyrics include dark myths of vampires and werewolves, as well as spiritual subjects.
Slow Chord Changes
Power metal guitarists and bassists tend to play notes in quick succession, but chord changes are comparatively slow. We’re talking a harmonic tempo of once per measure, if not slower. This is counteracted by fast and technically demanding guitar solos.
Double Bass Patterns
While double bass patterns aren’t exclusive to power metal, many power metal drummers play these patterns. Some use two bass drums or use a double bass pedal to play constant streams of sixteenth notes, with snare drum accents on the beat. Other drummers use a kind of rapid burst of double bass commonly used in thrash metal.
Many power metal bands use keyboards in their arrangements, though each band is different in how they incorporate keyboards. Some power metal bands will use keyboards to provide subtle melodic accents or a complete melody. Even more, bands will record with symphonic elements and replace a keyboard with a full orchestra.
12 Song Examples of Power Metal Music
While power metal bands share similar elements, each band has unique sounds. Depending on what band you listen to, you can hear elements drawn from other subgenres.
Founded in 2004, Alestorm draws from folk metal to create their pirate-themed sound. In the track above, you can hear that the chorus is easy to follow and chant, making it a perfect anthem.
We can also hear folk instruments supporting in the background, with a fast pace reminiscent of speed metal. Because of the band’s pirate aesthetics and lyrics, fans refer to their specific style of music as “pirate metal,” which other bands have taken inspiration from.
Beast in Black
Beast in Black is a Finnish band founded by Anton Kabanen, a former Battle Beast guitarist. Founded in 2015, they delve into other subgenres of heavy metal while taking inspiration from power metal styles.
In the music video above, you can hear how the band uses keyboards to provide the melody, clearly taking after the European style of power metal. We can also hear the subgenre’s distinct anthem-like chorus and higher-pitched vocal delivery.
Blind Guardian is a German band founded in 1984 and is often credited as one of the most influential bands in power metal and speed metal. In the track listed above, we can hear the fast and technical style their drummer and guitarists have.
While these elements are quick and precise, the lyrics are from fantasy themes we are familiar with. And in true power metal fashion, the chorus is practically an anthem, one that a crowd of fans can easily sing along to.
Despite their name, the German band Chinchilla is a serious band with heavy music. In the track listed above, we can hear keyboards out the gate with traditionally-inspired heavy metal guitars.
We can also hear the distinct higher-pitch vocal delivery and an anthem-like chorus. While this band began performing in the early days of power metal, we can hear the origins of the subgenre’s sound.
Founded in 1999, DragonForce is a UK band known for its unique sound. In the track listed above, we can hear the immediate electronic sounds that their music is known for. It isn’t hard to see that their sound is retro video game-influenced and adds flourishes on top of the quick tempo. Herman Li and Sam Totman’s long guitar solos are also on full display, showing the technical skill they bring to the table.
Epica was founded in 2002 by guitarist and vocalist Mark Jansen after he separated from After Forever. Known for their symphonic sound, the band later incorporated elements of death metal into their signature sound.
In the track above, we can hear how the band separates their clean female vocals from their “unclean” male growls, which lends to their gothic theme. Their melodic backing guitars and symphonic elements also lend to this unique blend of metal subgenres.
Fairyland was founded in 1998 by keyboardist Philippe Giordana and distinctly draws from the European style of power metal. In the track listed above, the opening showcases how the keyboard establishes the song’s melody.
The following accompaniment of choral harmonies and later inclusion of acoustic guitar give the song a kind of folk metal song. Put on top of this the chorus’s anthem-like vocal layering and chants, and you have a classic power metal song.
Of course, we can’t forget the original. Helloween was founded in 1984, and their studio albums Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt.1, and Pt. 2 are considered masterpieces of the subgenre.
This song from Pt. 2 combines technically advanced guitar and drum techniques, high-pitched vocal delivery, and anthem-like choruses. While these characteristics might seem common within the power metal genre, these were staples that Helloween helped to define.
Founded in 1996, Nightwish is another power metal band that blends symphonic elements with power metal themes. Their sound is o
ne of the most successful symphonic/power metal acts, and the track listed above is one of their most successful songs.
We can hear the band’s incorporation of keyboards and their soaring female operatic vocal delivery. While Nightwish has gone through several lineup changes, their unique sound is still melodious and powerful.
Founded in 2003, Powerwolf pushes against traditional power metal by incorporating dark themes, imagery, and lyrics. In the track listed above, despite their darker sound, we can tell that Powerwolf still shares many characteristics with traditional power metal.
The opening organ and keyboards are melodic and complement the backing guitars. The band’s lyrics are also in-theme while relying primarily on clean vocals.
Unleash the Archers
Unleash the Archers was founded in 2007 and is currently known for its strong female vocals by Brittney Hayes. In the track listed above, we can hear the anthem-like lyrics with melodic, layered vocals.
We can also hear that once the band delves into the chorus, the drummer and guitarists use technical elements from speed metal. Their distinct sound blends traditional heavy metal with power metal and melodic death metal.
Wind Rose is most notable for their aesthetic based around fantasy Dwarves (primarily from Warhammer Fantasy and The Lord of the Rings). Founded in 2009, this Italian band sticks to its fantasy themes.
The track listed above shows their anthem-like lyrics and vocal work, with no clear lead singer. Their symphonic and folk elements point to their fusion of those respective metal subgenres. Wind Rose’s unique sound and aesthetic have been referred to as “Dwarven Metal.”
A Brief History of Power Metal
The term “power metal” was first used in the mid-1980s to describe two different but related metal music styles. However, anthropologist Sam Dunn traced power metal’s origins to the late 1970s, when Ronnie James Dio wrote the lyrics for the British rock group Rainbow.
In his 2011 documentary series Metal Evolution, Dunn explains how Judas Priest's Rob Halford laid the foundation for power metal’s high-pitched vocal delivery. Iron Maiden also provided the base for modern power metal bands with their epic and melodic sound with anthem-like lyrics.
US power metal (or USPM) first emerged from traditional heavy metal and other styles in the early 1980s and was followed by the European subgenre style. While the exact first origin is highly debated, bands like Warlord, Savatage, and Manilla Road are considered early examples.
Most notably, the German band Helloween released their 1987 album, Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I. This album is widely considered the single most influential power metal album in the subgenre’s history and led its evolution across the globe from the 1990s and beyond. This style of power metal is now the most commonly heard style of the subgenre.
The American style of power metal developed in the early 1980s and draws inspiration mainly from traditional metal and the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM). This style is faster and more energetic than traditional heavy metal music.
While USPM doesn’t typically use keyboards, it puts a big emphasis on guitar leads and riffs. USPM is also known for using plenty of high-register operatic vocals and melodic tones. Bands like Manowar and Virgin Steele are solid representations of the style, which others expanded on with progressive and epic elements.
The European style of power metal emerged in the late 1980s and draws inspiration from speed metal and the NWOBHM. This style is sometimes considered to be the subgenre’s “second wave” and inspired many other bands both in the US and around the world.
Compared to US power metal, European power metal uses keyboards more frequently. With bands like Stratovarius and Blind Guardian, the style evolved to create an epic atmosphere. This style is also where the emotional and fantastical lyrical elements came from. Fans consider Helloween a solid representation of European power metal, if not the subgenre as a whole.
Where Is Power Metal Music Now?
Today, power metal music fuses several other subgenres of heavy metal, with each band taking inspiration from different styles of power metal. Many bands fuse power metal with symphonic or folk metal. Many more incorporate speed and thrash metal in their music for a heavier sound.
Most of the popular power metal bands today fuse folk and symphonic metal styles into their music. But fans have also found their place among bands like Alestorm and Wind Rose, which play up the fantasy aspects of the genre to large degrees. While the genre doesn’t entirely sound like its originators, its ability to adapt and expand is a good reason why it’s still going strong.
What Is Power Metal Music? Final Thoughts
Power metal has been going strong since its inception and has most likely remained successful because its bands draw inspiration from many other genres. By taking the best of other favorite genres, they give fans of these genres a reason to tune in and listen.
The genre can also attribute its success to the fantastical and powerful themes bands use in their lyrics. If anything, fans can look forward to a head-banging good time with songs they can sing along to.