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Power metal is a style of heavy metal music combining characteristics of traditional metal with speed metal, often within symphonic context. The term refers to two different but related styles: the first pioneered and largely practiced in North America with a harder sound similar to speed metal, and a later more widespread and popular style based in Europe (especially Germanymarker, Italymarker, Scandinavia), Brazilmarker and Japanmarker (early Visual Kei bands) with a lighter, more melodic sound and frequent use of keyboards.

Musical characteristics

Power metal is today associated with fast tempo and melodic harmonies, the sound tempered by characteristics of speed metal, power metal's musical forerunner.

Vocals

Power metal is highly focused on the vocalist, with "clean" vocals being much more prevalent than the growling vocals often associated with death metal and black metal. Following in the tradition of Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford and other heavy metal vocalists, power metal vocals are often in a high register. The majority of the genre's vocalists sing in the tenor range, capable of hitting very high notes, like Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius, Michele Luppi of Vision Divine, Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween) or Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear. There are however many exceptions such as Pyramaze / Iced Earth frontman Matt Barlow, Falconer frontman Mathias Blad, and Sabaton frontman Joakim Broden; they sing in either baritone or bass range, though in certain songs like Creator Failure, Barlow hits very high notes reminiscent of Rob Halford.

Power metal vocalists Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius, Andi Deris of Helloween, Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray, Hansi K├╝rsch of Blind Guardian, ZP Theart of DragonForce, Jens Carlsson of Persuader / Savage Circus , Matt Smith of Theocracy and Lord Tim of LORD record multi-layered vocals reminiscent of Queen, creating a choral effect. Some singers within other heavy metal genres also have high registered voices similar to singers of power metal bands. For example Joey Belladonna, formerly of American thrash metal band Anthrax, had a voice that was often high-pitched. As a result, high registered singing is not restricted to power metal bands even though the style is typical within the genre.

Lyrical themes

Power metal's lyrical themes, though as varied as metal itself, typically focus on fantasy and mythology (eg., Rhapsody of Fire, DragonForce, Dragonland, Blind Guardian, Falconer, Domine, Virgin Steele), camaraderie and hope (eg. Stratovarius, Helloween, Gamma Ray, HammerFall, Lost Horizon, DragonForce, Highland Glory), personal struggles and emotions (eg. Sonata Arctica, Primal Fear, Nightwish), war and death (eg. Manowar, Sabaton, Iced Earth, Firewind) or combinations of the listed themes. Many typical metal themes such as anti-religion and politics are comparatively rare but not unheard of.

Instrumentation

Power metal guitarists and bassists generally play rapid streams of notes, but change chords comparatively slowly, with a harmonic tempo of once per measure or slower. Fast and demanding guitar solos, however, are almost guaranteed. The slow changing of chords are significant in defining power metal just as the fast rapid chord changes often define traditional thrash metal. Power metal often makes use of Major chord progressions as well as circle progressions. Some of the most influential and imitated power metal guitarists are Kai Hansen of Gamma Ray, Michael Weikath of Helloween and Timo Tolkki of Stratovarius.

A number of power metal drummers generally play with double bass pedals or two bass drums, utilizing them to play a constant stream of sixteenth notes with snare drum accents on the beat. This style is fairly common in power metal as in other heavy metal subgenres, though it is by no means universal. Power metal though has become the most prevalent in the use of this technique. The style was perfected by drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg of Helloween, setting a blueprint for many other drummers to follow. Some drummers however do not use this technique and use a more thrash metal style of drumming with rapid bursts of double bass that involve three to six beats with the double kick. Iced Earth and Blind Guardian both have had drummers who have used this style of drumming as opposed to the more common style. Even more uncommon is the use of the blast beat in the genre. The American band Cellador and British band Dragonforce are two good examples of power metal bands that utilize blast beats in many of their songs.

Power metal bands often incorporate keyboards into their musical arrangements, something popularized by Jens Johansson of Stratovarius, though their usage varies from subtle accents to a full-blown melody line. Some symphonic power metal bands such as Rhapsody of Fire, Fairyland and Nightwish have also been known to record with more symphonic elements, and as such, they utilize a full orchestra to fill the role of a keyboardist plays in other power metal bands.

Types of power metal

American power metal

This branch of power metal emerged in 1980s United States as an offshoot of thrash metal and heavy metal. It is usually fast, heavy, and aggressive, with a distinct epic 'fighting' feel. With the focus on vocals and riffs, the music is very similar to its influences but coined the term 'power metal' and was vital in inspiring the later melodic metal movement.

European power metal

Originating from New Wave of British Heavy Metal, European branch of power metal emerged in 1980s with Germanymarker's Helloween and Finlandmarker's Stratovarius in the 1990s, with a strong focus on melody and uplifting, positive themes. Helloween mixed fast palm muted speed metal riffs with high-pitched clean vocals and guitar. The album Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1 was an album that made a staple for the birth of power metal. Stratovarius further developed this melodic direction by making heavy use of keyboards and neo-classical guitar solo duels which are now prevalent in almost all power metal. This genre branched and spread over Europe and into most of power metal's subgenres, incorporating further influences from classical and folk music and reinforcing the high fantasy imagery as well as sometimes developing a more emotional, romantic edge. The style has become one of the largest metal subgenres and its popularity is far from waning. The United States also has its share of European style power metal bands, an example of which is Kamelot. It should be noted that some other power metal bands put less emphasis on speed.

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