The power metal genre as a whole really took off in the late 80s with help from bands such as Helloween and Gamma Ray. The '90s continued this momentum, thanks to Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, Hammerfall, and Dragonforce. Metal fans became infatuated with the speedy solos and soaring vocals, along with lyrics describing mystical creatures, magic, and vast fantasy worlds. Throughout the years, there have been a few key albums that have defined power metal and brought a growing spotlight on the genre. This is a list of 10 albums those new to power metal can listen to and get a good representation of the genre.
The album that defined Blind Guardian’s
career, this 1998 concept album was based on J.R.R Tolkien's “The Silmarillion.” While heavy on the interludes, Nightfall In Middle Earth
is a strong listen that has its twists and turns. Meant to be listened to in whole, Blind Guardian’s sixth studio album is arguably the band’s greatest work to date.
A band that is largely forgotten in the annuals of power metal history, Crimson Glory never got the recognition for helping to mold and shape the genre. Their 1988 sophomore album is one of the most underrated albums in power metal, a powerful collection of material that perfectly balances aggression and beauty. “In Dark Places” is a brooding epic, while the band had a hit single in “Lonely” and a wonderful acoustic ballad in the title track.
Before the sudden rise in popularity due to the success of “Through The Fire And Flames,” Dragonforce
was a young band with technical prowess and a knack for catchy melodies. Their 2003 debut album is proof of that, as Valley Of The Damned
brought a fresh sound that would grow increasingly stale as Dragonforce’s career went on.
When former Helloween guitarist Kai Hansen formed Gamma Ray
in 1989, nobody had any clue that the band would rise to the same prestige as Hansen’s past band. 1995’s Land Of The Free
is the quintessential Gamma Ray album; a fantastic opener (“Rebellion in Dreamland”), an anthem (title track), and a low-key ballad (“Farewell”). Hansen and company would come close several times to top Land Of The Free,
but nothing would come even close.
Most debut albums are where a band searches to find their sound, usually taking a few albums for everything to click. Hammerfall didn’t have this problem, as 1997’s Glory To The Brave
was an engaging and highly entertaining start to what would later become a long and fulfilling career. The title track was the first great masterpiece from the band, and the rest of the material is still strong after all these years.
second album in 1987 definitely avoids the dreaded sophomore curse, and in essence, helps to define what power metal would later become. The band took NWOBHM, and added melodic elements to the sound in order to sound more grandiose and lively. “Halloween” is a classic, while the ballad “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” is cheesy without being too over-the-top.
Picking the essential Iced Earth album can be quite a tall task, and while some may point towards Burnt Offerings
or The Dark Saga,
one only has to look at 2001’s Horror Show
to see the band at its finest. With Matt Barlow giving the performance of his career, Jon Schaffer cranking out memorable riffs, and the godly Richard Christy pounding away at the skins, Horror Show is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders. The epics “The Phantom Opera Ghost” and “Damien” are personal favorites, as well as the Iron Maiden
Another band that is largely ignored by the mainstream power metal fans, Primal Fear has been tolling away for over a decade, cranking out albums at an unrelenting pace (one every year or two). Their 1999 sophomore album, Jaws Of Death,
is basic, fast, and heavy; in other words, the perfect power metal soundtrack. “Final Embrace” kicks the album off with a bang, with a strong ending in the form of a rousing rendition of Rainbow’s classic “Kill The King.”
What Stratovarius accomplished with their third album, 1994's Dreamspace,
is take power metal and add a progressive touch to it. The songs were relatively short, none going above the six-minute mark, but the band packed a lot of content into that time. Not only did Timo Tolkki have a set of pipes on him, but his scorching guitar work wowed a lot of people.
Theocracy - 'Theocracy'
Compared to the rest of these bands, Theocracy is the spunky kid with a head full of ideas. Formed in 2002 by Matt Smith, he did all the instrumental and vocal work on the band’s 2003 self-titled debut album. For a one-man project, Theocracy is a hell of an album. Smith holds nothing back, with three songs past the 11-minute mark and a positive message. The guitar and keyboards intermingle and work around each other, and Smith actually has a wide range that he utilizes several times.