Nine Circles ov…Power Metal That Eased Me Into Liking Power Metal (Again)

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I find it fascinating that power metal still doesn’t get the fair shake it deserves from the metal community.  The same folks who mock and ridicule bands for dressing up like superheroes in their videos or writing about dragons or Lord of the Rings are the same folks who worship bands who revel in dressing up and running around in the forest in wizard hats or, come to think of it, also write about the Lord of the Rings (or at least derive their name from it). Yet, despite these similar touch points in silliness power metal still has a stigma attached to it, one I admit to having for a time as I became engrossed in the more extreme aspects of metal.

What’s the point, besides my linking to that awesomely ridiculous Immortal video?  It’s that there’s plenty to love in power metal, and the claims of cheese and pomp are no more valid than they are in any other genre in the scene.  For this edition of Nine Circles ov… I wanted to take a look at a few of the bands and albums that brought me back into the fold – many of them introduced to me by former 9C scribe and power metal champion Frank.  So think of these as gateway bands: we’re not going full-on Gloryhammer yet (although Gloryhammer is awesome); the emphasis is on heaviness, aggression and, ultimately, power ¹.  

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Arrayan Path – IV: Stigmata: The fourth album from this Cyprus five-piece is ridiculously dark and heavy, which befits its more somber content.  There’s a lot of furious palm-muted riffing in the vein of bands like Symphony X that recalls the best speed metal records mixed with the soaring vocals of more traditional power metal.   “The Bible Bleeds” is a crushing tune, and “Harbingers of Death” manages to sprinkle in some hilarious rock riffing that just work despite being somewhat off-kilter for such a heavy song.

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Falconer – Chapters From a Vale Forlorn: Sweden’s Falconer might be one of the oldest bands in this list, steadily putting out albums since 2001.  Second album Chapters From a Vale Forlorn ups the ante from their debut with cleaner production and stronger songwriting.  This is power metal focusing on nature, folk tales and a more varied instrumentation than some of the others on this list.  Revel in the muddy trails and stories of long ago on tracks like “Decadence of Dignity” with its kickass chorus and heed the call.

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InnerWish – InnerWish:  I’m only just starting to realize how fertile power metal is in the Mediterranean.  InnerWish hails from Greece, and their self-titled fifth LP is a banger, mixing atmospheric keyboards, shredding guitars and – for me – the ideal power metal voice in vocalist George Eikosipentakis: capable of hitting those operatic lines while maintaining a grit and bite that roots the sound.  “Machines of Fear” has an opening riff that mandates head banging, and the rest of the album follows suit.

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Iotunn – The Wizard Falls:  Featuring a dense, heavy as shit mix and mastering job by Flemming Rasmussen (who knows a thing or two about great metal) Iotunn heaps a healthy dose of prog into this debut EP from last year.  There’s a real callback to some of the great traditional epic metal of the 80s by bands like Artch and on the strength of the title track and “Hammer of Injustice” you can see strong songwriting in the vein of classic Iron Maiden.  They’re rarely making albums like this anymore, so thankfully we have Iotunn filling in the gap.

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Judicator – Sleepy Plessow: Here we go…epic conceptual power metal about the rise of Prussia and Frederick the Great.  Judicator excel at layering varied vocals (think Hansi from Blind Guardian), intricate instrumentation and a number of different styles and incorporating them into their sound.  There may be a wee bit of the hokey here and there (sorry, spoken word part of “Thirty Years of Terror”) but the great music and incredible vocals more than make up for it, enough so that their long awaited new album is on my list for most anticipated albums of 2017.

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Magma Dragon – Full Attack Action:  A collection of this Wisconsin power metal band’s previous EPs and six new tracks priced to pay what you want is ridiculous – this is sincere, passionate power metal with great guitars, vocals, and copious amounts of dragons, in magma or otherwise.  Lyrically the songs hew closely to modules and realms found in the Pathfinder role playing games, so you know this band is filled to the brim with bonafides.  And “Two Weeks on the Westergale” is a massive slice of power, so have at it.

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Sacred Gate – Tides of War:  You can pick almost anything from Metal on Metal Records and be assured it’ll be righteous and mighty.  Sacred Gate definitely has a bent toward more traditional metal in the vein of Priest and Maiden, but the song construction and harmonization bely some heavy US power elements.  Tides of War is what introduced me to the band, but their latest, Countdown to Armageddon, is just as much of a rage inducer.

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Tanagra – None of This is Real:  The debut album from this Portland, OR band has the power gallop down pat on tracks like “Tyranny of Time” and “10:04 PM” which has to be bar none the strangest song title I’ve ever seen for a power metal band (it works in context of the narrative).  Tanagra plays a hearty stew of metal that owes a lot of allegiance to US power metal but you can hear the European influence in the harmonizations and choruses.

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Unleash the Archers – Defy the Skies:  Quickly becoming one of my top bands in this genre, Unleash the Archers straddle a fine line between power and extreme metal.  Vocalist Brittney Slayes has a great presence, and mixing her clean, powerful vocals with the more extreme death screams of guitarist Brayden Dyczkowski make for a great combination.  The music veers between power, thrash, speed – honestly it’s all over the place yet manages the tricky feat of always being coherent.  Defy the Skies is an EP that nicely packages all their strengths for a great price.  If “Upon Ashen Wings” doesn’t get your heart thumping, I don’t know what to do with you.

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Like I said in the introduction: these albums, powerful as they may be, are gateway albums: they definitely err on the heavy side (“not that there’s anything wrong with it”).  The stirring keyboards and major key choruses are scaled back a bit in favor (flavor?) or a more US/traditional approach.  Sometimes it helps to be eased back into the fold, and these excellent albums helped shape the way for me to love the grandiosity of some of the more full on European symphonic bands, which I can guarantee we’ll be covering in a future installment of Nine Circles ov…

Until then: keep it heavy, keep it true.

– Chris


¹ “But Chris!” you say, “How could you leave out Blind Guardian!  Symphony X!  Or (insert your favorite band here)! Truly they are the greatest in the land! How do you not include them!”  Pretty simple: much as I LOVE Blind Guardian and Symphony X, I wanted to stick to bands with records on Bandcamp.  They’ll probably (definitely) come up in a future post.

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