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Defend the indefensible: Modern power metal

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Text by Cosmo Lee

OK, this is just an excuse to post the album cover. It’s my favorite so-bad-it’s-good artwork from last year. Just look at it! Click it to make it really, really big. There’s a lot to take in.

Seriously, though — can anyone explain modern power metal to me? I like the ’80s stuff. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Accept — that’s good, strong music (given the right albums). But at what point did power metal become so saccharine, synthed-out, and bloody ridiculous? The only “power” it has is in making me laugh.

Admittedly, that has its value. There are worse reactions to music than laughter. And I do admire technical aspects of modern power metal. Chops are surgical, songwriting is action-packed (in the way that Jerry Bruckheimer movies are), and songs are super-hooky. Modern power metal is pop music with everything turned up.

But when I listen to it, I don’t feel what it wants to make me feel: strength, mystery, fantasy, drama. My only feeling? THIS IS SO CHEESY. Perhaps I am wired differently from power metal’s target audience: Europeans. Europeans have wonderful things like history and culture that America lacks (see “EU metal vs. US metal” here). But maybe they lead to misguided attempts to invoke them. Utopia‘s cover has both a monstrous sea creature (antiquated) and a gleaming domed city (futuristic). Americans don’t harbor such illusions.

Waterworld

That’s not necessarily a good thing. Sludge metal, an American phenomenon, is as present tense as metal gets. 99% of the time it feels like a dead end (into the bottom of a bottle) for me. That’s just as unproductive as sea creatures and domed cities. To me, anyway. There must be people who find this stuff immensely fulfilling. Why else would it be so popular?

The Chicago Reader had a great article some years ago on the influence of Tolkien on metal. It indirectly argued that metal wasn’t escapist so much as romantic. Mythical worlds of primordial evil and unironic heroism are alternate ways of contextualizing “reality.” But at some point — after several hundred million dollars, perhaps — science fiction just becomes fiction.

Hence “For You I Will Die,” a mind-boggling construction. It smashes together minimal techno sounds with Scorpions worship, then peaks with female choral vocals. In some alternate universe — Japan, probably — it’s a #1 hit. Why are the Japanese and Germans so adept at making cheese? Maybe there’s something to the name: Axxis.

For You I Will Die

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