Power metal is a form of metal that embraces grandiose and as the name suggests, the feeling of power that it gives the listener. It encapsulates these feelings through operatic style vocals, drawn out power chords on the guitars and/or keyboards and surreal soundscapes that are often created through use of keyboards, synthesizers or many layers of guitar or vocal tracks (if not both). Heavy metal as a genre relies on a spectacle only reproducible with sophisticated technological power (Walser, R., 2013), but due to the aforementioned traits, power metal is perhaps the most reliant on technological capabilities.
A common way to approach a guitar tone for power metal is to have a smooth distorted tone, using effects pedals such as tube screamers to enhance the high frequencies. Many power metal bands also utilise classic celtic instruments or strings to add to their epic nature, such as this flute solo from German band Helloween in the place of a guitar solo. The following is one of the most exaggerated, and as such, cheesy varieties of power metal.
Most power metal songs also have very happy, catchy melodies that people can sing along to regardless of whether there are lyrics to that section or not. This brings the sentiment of unity and belonging to the music that many power metal fans love (Kupiainen, M., 2013). Power metal songs also often have lyrical themes surrounding either European folklore, fantasy, or science fiction. Ronnie James Dio says of his lyrics that at an early age, he read all about dragons, knights and damsels in distress, and that he wanted to recreate those images in his head for his listeners (Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S., 2011). It is therefore easy to see how some people claim that traditional metal songs like Kill The King were the prototypical power metal songs.
The sense of grandeur that power metal brings can be dated back to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, with bands such as Iron Maiden pioneering the operatic vocal style. Mixed with guitar solos and over-the-top drumming, these bands focused on creating power and tension with their instruments (Kajanova, Y., 2014). They also combined this with exaggerated stage performances in the form of Bruce Dickinson running and jumping all over the stage and like Ronnie James Dio of Rainbow, utilising over-the-top hand gestures.
One of many examples of this can be seen in the start of their Flight 666 DVD. Dickinson says on his philosophy of being a frontman that it is his intention to find the guy at the back of a festival, and go “YOU, yeah you!” and to make him go [excitedly] “ME?!” (Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S., 2005). This ideology has served as a messenger of the larger-than-life experience from traditional metal, through the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and finally reaching the over-the-top subgenre that is power metal. It creates the sense that power metal is not just a musical form, but an experience to behold and a community to be embraced.
Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S. (Producers/Directors). (2005). Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey [Film]. Montreal, Canada: Seville Pictures
Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S. (Directors/Producers). (2009). Iron Maiden: Flight 666 [Motion Picture]. London, UK: Arts Alliance & Media
Dunn, S. & McFadyen, S. (Writers/Directors). (2011). Metal Evolution [Television series episode]. In Dunn, S. (Creator), Power Metal. Toronto, Canada: Tricon Films & Media
Kajanova, Y. (2014). Frau Minne und die Liebenden: On the History of Rock Music. Brussels, Belgium: Peter Lang Publishing
Kupiainen, M. (Producer). (2013). Nemesis Days [DVD] Hamburg, Germany: earMusic
Walser, R. (2013). Music Culture: Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press