Nine Circles ov…Power Metal in 2019

Gloryhammer 2019

It’s been a hot minute since this site dove into the hallowed halls of power metal.  Sure, there was that Rhapsody of Fire review a few months ago, and if you’ve been listening to our monthly Album of the Month podcast we can’t stop talking about how great the latest Gloryhammer is (seriously, it’s great…so much so that we’re not even including it in this post but giving it the header.  Run, don’t walk to check out Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex), but this year’s been a bit of a slog regarding content, let alone content for that most triumphant of genres.  So let’s rectify that with this edition of Nine Circles ov…and talk about some of the great power metal in 2019.

desert - fortune favors the brave

This is how I like my power metal.  Heavy on the guitars, tasteful with the keyboards, and a voice that can rage as well as soar.  Israel’s Desert conjures up some serious Sabaton vibes on their third full length Fortune Favors the Brave, but keep their own identity intact.  There’s some great aggression on “My Black Flag” that pushes this into some real metal territory, but there’s no mistaking the power that serves as the foundation for the songs.  Bonus when your keyboard solos don’t make me cringe, and they don’t on this album.

dialith - extinction six

First let’s just soak in the cover to Extinction Six, the debut from Connecticut’s Dialith.  I’ll be the first to say that the whole symphonic metal things tends to leave me wanting, but the way Extinction Six kicks off from the grand mood setting of intro “Emergence” to the kick-ass riff attack of “The Sound of Your Voice” is just about perfect for any metal album, let alone a symphonic metal album.  Vocalist Krista Sion certainly has the chops to go full operatic, but she keeps the power of the songs firmly in mind with each line, and as a result never feels apart from the music, which is heavy and propulsive, tons of chugging guitars and drums that start and stop on a dime.  Or a gold piece.  Did I mention how great the cover is?  It is, and so is this album.

fireland - forged in fire

Noticing a trend yet?  Yeah…power metal can be HEAVY.  Ireland’s Firewind takes from a variety of sources like thrash and speed metal but keeps the choruses full bore anthemic on IV: Forged in Fire. There’s more than a hint of Iron Maiden in the way riffs are constructed on songs like “Dragon Slayer” but the real influence here is classic Iced Earth.  And sure you can say Iced Earth learned their gallop from Harris & Co., but the distinct modern heavy I hear on something like “Rule 13” feels more Schaffer than anything from Powerslave. And when the music is this driving is there really a need to argue?

hammerfall_dominion

Few names are whispered with as much reverence in the halls of modern power metal as Hammerfall, and Dominion, the band’s 11th full length does nothing to negate their standing.  In between all the intricate solos and interludes, the soaring vocals and power ballads Hammerfall always remembers to inject a healthy dose of rock and roll, something too many bands focused on the “metal” tend to forget.  Songs like “Never Forgive, Never Forget” and “One Against the World” may not seem like rock and roll on the surface, but it’s there in every breath, and it’s only one of the secrets that keep the band relevant and vital in the genre.

sellsword - unto the breach

At this point what is classic power metal?  Is it in the music, the lyrical content?  I don’t know that I can answer that, but I will say when I hear Sellsword I get the classic vibe.  …Unto the Breach is the sophomore album from the UK band, and leading track “Pendragon” does about everything I want a classic power metal song to do.  The keyboards lay back to reinforce the guitars, and vocalist Stuart Perry has a unique cadence that sets him apart from other, more generic singers in the field.  Come for the marching anthems of the opener and “Inquisitor” but stay for later killers like the brooding “Heart of the Brave” and the 11-minute closer “Blackened Sky” and see why Sellsword, only two albums, in is a band to watch.

tanagra - meridiem

I think this is the third time I’m mentioning the new Tanagra on Nine Circles.  Their previous album, 2015’s None of This Is Real was a highlight of the year, and the follow-up Meridiem is no different.  Incorporating progressive metal elements into a sleek and slick power metal machine there are not one, not two, but three epics clocking in at over 10 minutes.  There’s a strong sense of melody riding over everything, so the chugging riffs and solos all serve the through line of each song, whether it’s carried by vocalist Tom Socia or the superlative playing of guitarists Josh Kay and Steven Soderberg who, despite the difference in spelling, makes me happy to think it’s the filmmaker taking a break between shoots to rip off some killer power metal.

thornbridge - theatrical masterpiece

Thornbridge sits on that precarious line between classic Helloween and modern power metal, along the lines of the mighty Blind Guardian. 2016’s What Will Prevail was a capable debut, but Theatrical Masterpiece ups the ante with better songwriting, a stronger production, and a faster, heavier sound that suits the vocals.  There might be an over-abundance of galloping on tracks like “Keeper of the Royal Treasure” that sound a little too like Helloween, but for my money that’s not a bad thing at all.

twilight force - dawn of the dragonstar

You want dragons?  Twilight Force is here to give you dragons.  Dawn of the Dragonstar is here to check off all the boxes for your over the top, glorious power metal.  And I say that in the best way.  Ridiculously high vocals that almost but not quite hit Kiske levels?  Done.  Sweeping orchestral intros?  Check out the John Williams rip-off that opens “Thundersword.”  It oughta be a crime, but it’s so fun and infectious you can’t help but fall into it.  Musicianship is – as expected – top notch, and those Kiske comparisons are apt in the vocal department, not only for the tone and range but for the way singer Alessandro Conti (of Lione/Conti and Trick or Treat) constructs his vocal melody lines over the music. His first trip with Twilight Force, he brings a different majestic quality to the songs than previous vocalist Christian Eriksson (now of NorthTale, who also has a pretty good album out this year).  Dawn of the Dragonstar is a blast from start to finish, well worth a listen if you want to hear the cliche of power metal fire on all cylinders and work.

vandor - in the land of vandor

The debut album from Sweden’s Vandor does everything I want a power metal album to do: it’s aggressive, boasts a great, up front production, and hits those choruses with everything they’ve got.  Something like “Warrior in Time” is a nigh perfect encapsulation of Vandor’s sound on In the Land of Vandor.  The combination of stellar production and strong writing really come together on the mid-point epic “Uncover the Earth” which opens with a metal as $#@! Iron Maiden riff before transitioning into something more sinister and prog-oriented.  Synths whiz by, dynamics change and you have one of the best songs this year regardless of genre.

You’ll probably notice (and maybe complain) there are a couple heavy hitters missing from the post.  I’ll assume you’re already familiar enough with Sabaton and whatever incarnation of Rhapsody we’re calling the latest Trill/Lione collaboration.  And while those albums are perfectly fine, I wanted to take a moment to shine the spotlight on a few lesser known bands and albums worth your time¹.  So if you’ve been hurting for that flagon of power metal, do yourself a favor and give these records a chance.  Your beard will be fuller, your ale will be strong, and the metal will shine.

Until next time, keep it heavy.

– Chris


¹ Except for that Hammerfall. They’re huge, but Dominion is one of their strongest efforts in a while, so I wanted to give that some space.

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