It’s been a blast covering the vast expanse of styles that power metal has to offer on a monthly basis, but sadly all things must pass. As I went through each month finding amazing records I kept holding off writing about them until the end of month post, and by doing so there were times I couldn’t give some of the albums their proper turn in the spotlight. So rather than one post a month where we cover the genre my goal is to integrate power metal more fully into the coverage here at Nine Circles, allowing the bands and albums the proper room to shine on their own.
But before we do that, let’s get December out of the way with the only band to make the Power Metal Album of the Month twice in the same year: Lovebites and their new full length Clockwork Immortal.
In the year since lauding the band’s debut album Awakening From Abyss, the Japanese outfit have been busy, putting out an EP that made our PMATOM in June and now sophomore effort Clockwork Immortality. Few bands are working that twin guitar lead thing like Lovebites does, and tracks like early favorites “Addicted” and “Rising” really work that angle hard. “M.D.O.” take a harder attack, the rhythmic patter of the palm muted riffs echoing the heavier push of bands like Symphony X.
In fact that chameleon-like ability to blend disparate styles really allows Lovebites to be any kind of band they want. “Mastermind 01” brings in a thrash influence that may seem at odds with the more melodic components of something like “Journey to the Otherside” but the strength of Asami’s vocals act as a bridge for all the differences the songs have. Everything has a foundation of classic European power metal, but built atop that are layers of global influence, whether it’s early NWOBHM or mid 80s speed metal or the anthemic melodies that come out of modern J-Pop, Lovebites ability to congeal it all into a killer package that embraces its more melodramatic moments makes Clockwork Immortality a potent cocktail of power metal and a great way to cap off 2018.
The 9C Top Power Metal Albums of 2018
You’d think this would be easy…just go back through the months and rank the albums that obtained the coveted top spot. But like anything else, and like I mentioned in my end of year list, what is “best” at any given point in time is malleable. Anyone telling you different is selling something. And so it goes with this list – as I went back over the months listening and re-listening, albums moved up and down the spectrum of my tastes, revealing new depths and intricacies I didn’t notice before.
All that being said, there are probably little in the way of surprises here. I tried to keep out anyone that wasn’t purely power metal: you’ll find great bands like Visigoth and Gatekeeper on my other lists, and though it didn’t get a mention on the site, the latest from Metal Church is top notch metal that seamlessly fits next to their best stuff from the late 80s and early 90s. With that being said, let’s jump in!
10. Marius Danielsen – Legend of Valley Doom Part 2: After writing up the November PMAOTM post, I couldn’t stop listening to Marius Danielsen. I even went and bought this and the previous entry on vinyl. There’s something about the scope of the music and the unabashed glory in the fantasy narrative, helped immensely by Danielsen’s insane group of guest musicians, all who give phenomenal performances. I’m still partial to “Angel of Light” owing to my love of classic Helloween, but everything here rules with an armored fist.
9. Manimal – Purgatorio: The guitar tone on opener “Black Plague” is so damn good it hurts. Is it a clone of “Painkiller?” I don’t care – the way Manimal rocks on Purgatorio reminds me of Judas Priest meeting Stryper in a dark alley and joining forces. The title track shoots for more traditional power metal shores, but there’s an underlying darkness that really makes the music rise above stuff that gets a listen and is forgotten later. It’s there on “Spreading the Dread” too, and I love it. The more I listen the more vocalist Sam Nyman hits me as one of the best vocalists out there right now. Also that guitar tone, amirite?
8. Arrayan Path – Archegonoi: There was little chance one of my favorite power metal bands wasn’t going to make this list. It also speaks to how good the year was that they only made #8. The Greek band went all in on this ambitious double disc held together conceptually if not narratively, and it also makes a welcome return to some of the more classic power elements the band excelled in early in their career. “Sins of Pandora” is a current favorite, but there’s a lot to digest over the course of its 85-minute run time, you can dig in anywhere and get some great metal.
7. Kamelot – The Shadow Theory: Since taking over the reigns for power metal here at Nine Circles I’ve come to appreciate the orchestral components to the genre more and more, and it’s the combining of those elements as accents with the aggressive guitars and precise rhythm section that makes The Shadow Theory such a success for me. It’s the heavier stuff that still works the most, such as “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)” and “Mindfall Remedy” but overall the cohesiveness of the album reveals its merit.
6. Crystal Tears – Decadence Deluxe: Yup, still loving this. The mix of heavy aggression and rock and roll swagger really puts this one over the top, and I’m starting to realize this is the third album in a row to come out of Greece – they have to be putting something in the water there. Take the first four songs and you’ll find a complete guide to everything that rocked about metal in the 80s, polished and honed to a razor’s edge for today. And after those first four (great) songs be prepared to have your face punched in by “Death Haunts Forever” which might be my current favorite track when I play Decadence Deluxe – quite often, it has to be said.
5. Guardians of Time – Tearing Up the World: ABBATH! I don’t know that anything more needs to be said, but I’ll go on a bit anyway. Maybe the best Ripper performance committed to tape this year (I say maybe because he’s also great on the aforementioned Marius Danielsen album)? Epic, soaring battle metal that takes no prisoners? THAT COVER? There’s so much that is great about this album I tend to lose track because when it plays I focus on the driving metal and anthems of war that make my head spin and my fists pump in allegiance. What more should power metal do?
4. Powerwolf – The Sacrament of Sin: This album is ridiculous. It is also fantastic: brutal, melodic, kick-ass and it owns every ounce of it. All music needs to be like this. I’m making no joke when I say that Powerwolf’s album reminds me of the best of glam rock in the 70s – that outlandishness is there, as is the complete sincerity when it comes to giving a show. Did I mention the music absolutely slays? Because it does: check out opener “Fire & Forgive” and tell me these guys can’t rip a stage apart. Then move on to “Demons Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and realize they don’t care what you think – they’re going to go their way regardless.
3. Immortal Guardian – Age of Revolution: Sometimes I listen to Age of Revolution and think to myself: this is what I wanted Dragonforce to be, but never were. The best power metal mixes technical prowess, bombast, and drama in a perfect blend, but there’s something about how everything is turned up to 11 on Age of Revolution I can’t get enough of. Do I wish the drums didn’t sound so tinny? Sure. But damn do I love the crazy mix of sounds these guys put together. When I’m in the mood this album is perfect. When I’m not it has the power to change my mind. Also: saxophone.
2. Dire Peril – The Extraterrestrial Compendium: As I said in my review, Dire Peril embodies everything I love about the genre on The Extraterrestrial Compendium. There’s a personal synergy when a band writes about things I love in a style I have grown to love, and Dire Peril’s song cycles about Predator, The Thing, Barberella, and other classics of science fiction and horror are just icing on an already delicious and epic metal cake. I may have let that last sentence get away from me, but don’t let Dire Peril get away from you. Oh, and speaking about how amazing a singer John Yelland is…
1. Judicator – The Last Emperor: Let’s face it…nothing was gonna top this. I’ve said it a few times but it bears repeating here: Judicator is the band you turn to when someone says they don’t get the appeal of power metal. With each release the combination of Tony Cordisco and John Yelland concoct a potent dose of tried and true metal, full of power and craft and heart – everything that the best of power metal can achieve. But in The Last Emperor there’s just something more, something that pushes the already prestigious catalog the band have assembled and moves everything up to another level. From the killer opening title track to the blazing harmonies on “Take Up the Cross” to the massive centerpiece of the album “The Queen of All Cities” Judicator continue to claim the crown when it comes to power metal, and news that they’re already working on a follow-up has me chomping at the bit to hear more.
It’s been an honor, a privilege, and an absolute hoot to spend these last nine months diving headfirst into the waters of power metal to not only find and share with you, but to better inform my own listening tastes. And although the dedicated column itself might be leaving, rest assured we’re going to be featuring power metal in all its glorious forms on the site. I hope you’ll stick with it, and I hope to see you where the skies glow gold with reflections of shield and sword. Time to ride forth into glory.