Power Metal is one of the major Metal families that can be found nowadays. Usually, that's the style every good Melodic Metal hater refers to when he needs to express his disgust of Melody. Power Metal, literally, is the new and harder wave of the 80's Heavy Metal.* (Any band mentioned in the following sentences will have its specific description later on...)
So, Power Metal, officially, was created by a mix of elements from Speed, Thrash, and Heavy Metal. The first bands who were classified as "Power" were Manowar and Helloween, in the early 80s. Afterwards, Power Metal started to split, as in 1989, Stratovarius and Blind Guardian appeared on the scene. Blind Guardian were more Thrashy than Heavy, and Stratovarius were close to Yngwie Malmsteen's Baroque Metal, with Speedier Elements.**
Then, in 1997, there was a new wave of Power Metal-infused style creation, most of those coming from the Motherland of Modern Metal, Scandinavia. 1997 saw the release of the first Children Of Bodom record. (Whoa! Before posting any commentaries on how I could even dare to classify Children Of Bodom as Power, go read my sub-style description below.)
1997 also saw the release of the first Nightwish record. Stratovarius re-established their style base. This re-establishment was represented by the release of one of their most successful records: Visions. And Rhapsody also released their first record. Talk about internal conflicts...
1999, the "Stratovarian" Metal was remodeled by their Finnish brothers, Sonata Arctica, who added a touch of coldness to Melodic Power Metal, to create what was once described as "Arctic Power Metal". The name lasted... one magazine review (but I like it)
And right now, where are we? Rhapsody launched a sixth album, Nightwish are getting bigger each day, as their good friends Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius' future lies in shadow, Blind Guardian launched one the most critically-acclaimed Metal Lives ever, and Children Of Bodom hits the charts like crazy.
Black Power Metal: This one belongs in totality to Children Of Bodom. Many elements of the Power style, drums, technicity, rhythm guitars. But Children's music also creates an atmosphere that's very related to Black Metal. Atmosphere created by Janne Warman's atmospheric keyboards, and of course Alexi's growlings.
Thrash Power Metal: Very related to Iced Earth. Many elements of the Thrash style, mostly heard through the hard guitars, and the sometimes Blast Beating drums. The Power side resides in the themes and atmosphere of the music.
Operatic Power Metal: Duh... Nightwish? In fact, Operatic Power Metal is only Melodic Power Metal with a female singer.
Symphonic Epic Power MetalorHollywood Metal: Rhapsody. It merges all the elements of Epic Power Metal, notably the story-telling and gloryfing themes, with the addition of a complete orchestra and choir set, either real or electronic.
Melodic Power Metal: This is the most famous sub-genre, popularized by Stratovarius, and then kept alive by Sonata Arctica, Thunderstone and others. The most technical sub-genre of the bunch, mixing elements of Neo-Classical Metal, like Harpsichord and Hammond Organ solos that sound like a Bach fugue or guitar solos that could make Nicola Paganini's legendary Caprice #5 look weak in substance. Anyway, this is the most technical (I think it is - personal opinion, you may think what you want) part of Power Metal.
Epic Power Metal: The last official sub-genre. Not too far from Melodic Power Metal, it has a harder side to it, and generally adds instruments like luths, flutes and mandolins to the mix. Lyrics are a big difference. While Melodic Power Metal speaks of everything, from Nostradamus' Visions to the Secret Of Girl Named Victoria***, Epic Power Metal has this sometimes annoying habit to tell the whole story of The Lord Of The Rings through one record and 5 songs. Epic Power Metal uses Sci-Fi and Fantastic literature as a major inspiration, which creates either Chefs D'Oeuvres or complete disasters.
If the article interested you in some way, here's a short list of bands you could use as starters in your listening of the style.
Children Of Bodom: Finnish Black Power quintet created in Espoo in 1995. Their name comes from Lake Bodom, where one of the most horrible Serial Killing in Finland's history happened in the 1960's.
Blind Guardian: Currently one of the biggest name on the Metal scene right now. Blind Guardian was created in Krefeld, Germany in 1985. Their critically acclaimed album Nightfall in Middle-Earth is completely inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion.
Nightwish: Another big player. Nightwish was at first meant to be an acoustic project. Afterwards, Electric Guitar and Drums were added. Thank God. Nightwish's main asset, apart from having about 30 Gold Albums in their pockets for their 5th record, Once, is their beautiful and elegant classically-trained opera singer, Tarja Turunen.
Sonata Arctica: Probably the pride of Kemi, Finland (heck, I live in Canada and I saw Kemi on my world map for the first time this year!). The Melodic quintet, once seen as the next Stratovarius, established their firm intention of staying Sonata Arctica on their 3rd record, Winterheart's Guild. Even though they don't want to be the next Metal superstars, last time I checked, their 4th record, Reckoning Night, was 2nd in the Finnish Charts...
Rhapsody: This band is truly something. Through 6 albums, they found a way to tell a tale of chivalry, dragons, swords, Good Vs Evil as elaborate as the Lord Of The Rings. These guys also created the genre known as Hollywood Metal, who recently evolved in Film Score Metal. Go figure...
Iced Earth: American quintet that's closely linked to Blind Guardian (Iced Earth + Blind Guardian = Demons & Wizards). They were quite known for their amazing singer Matthew Barlow, who resigned in 2004. Nevertheless, their new singer is Tim Owens, of Judas Priest (well, let's forget Demolition) fame. And he does an amazing job, by the way, much more his style.
Thunderstone: These guys are new to the scene, but they deserve to be mentioned. Faithful to the Melodic Power spirit, these guys are, in my opinion, the next big Melodic Power band. Their first album was quite acclaimed, and their second one was even more. Check them out, they're worth the 5 minutes you might use to visit their site.
Helloween: The German Godfathers of Power Metal. The style literally exploded when they released the "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" albums in 1984-1985. After that, it was all going down, to come back up in 1996. Today, they are probably at the same level than the Scorpions may be in the German music world.
Manowar: Talk about being "Clich". American Patriotism-infused clone of Helloween. When you think about 4 guys posing in furry strings, with warpaint and swords at the ready, that's Manowar (It ain't a joke! They really posed like that on one of their album covers)
Stratovarius: Once, they were the most important Metal band of the 2nd wave****. Platinum, months-long reign on the #1 spot, enormous shows ,you name it, they saw it. Timo Tolkki became a guitar reference, Kotipelto one of the most in-demand singers in Finland, and their keyboardist was (and still is) the best key-masher in the Metal world after Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess: Jens Johansson. Unfortunately, the band splitted in 2003 when the "Fight Of The Two Timos" came to a climax. Timo Tolkki apologized after a "Mental illness cure" in 2003. There are still hopes of a future reunion, but they are faint.
Website: Stratovarius.com (Whoa! At time of posting, the Official Website confirmed that all 5th line-up bandmembers: Timo Tolkki, Timo Kotipelto, Jens Johansson, Jari Kainulainen and Jrg Michael met in a retreat weekend on December 9th-11th 2004. The fate of Stratovarius is now under their hands, if problems were solved, which we hope, then Elements Pt.2 might not be the last Stratovarius record)
* Why isn't Heavy Metal the first style article? Dunno... I felt more like doing Power Metal at first. Anyway who cares? I'll do it anyway.
** It really gets complicated here. Whether which band is Power and which band is Speed, because both might be the same, if you ask me. I've heard Speed and Power Metal bands, and frankly, that's the same thing. Ex: Helloween is officially a Speed Metal band, but it almost created Power Metal, it's almost natural to place them here and merge both styles.
***Sonata Arctica really did a song called "Victoria's Secret". And it's an amazing song, but the title is a real joke...
**** The 1st Metal Wave (Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal) started in 1981. The 2nd Metal Wave (Power Metal, Black Metal, Death Metal) started in 1987. The 3rd Metal Wave (Redefinition of the 5 Main Families) started in 1997. The 4th (and current) Metal Wave (Death Metal merging with Punk Family of Hardcore to create MetalCore, Nu-Metal) started in 2001.
I promise... someday I'll make a Genealogical Tree for Metal Styles, it'll be easier to understand that way.
Watch out for Part 4: Heavy Metal. On your screens after Christmas.
Until then, Stay Heavy!