With 40 years of headbanging history to choose from, we could fill a top 50 with unfairly overlooked and clandestinely brilliant power metal bands. Weirdly, even though the UK gave the world Queen, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and most of the genre’s foundational cornerstones, it took a long time for the British to truly embrace power metal; DragonForce didn’t debut until 2003, and since Manowar’s 1984 Spectacle of Might Tour our islands haven’t been blessed with very thorough power metal live schedules. So there are tons of killer bands you may have missed, bands who make you want to wave a magic sword just as wildly as Helloween, Sabaton or HammerFall. Here’s 10.
Among the glut of bands emerging out of the First Wave Of Swedish Heavy Metal, this Gothenburg quintet maintained an irregular, esoteric presence in the metal world since the early 80s. Many drummers, guitarists and singers have come and gone, but bassist Stefan Björnshög has doggedly guided Destiny in Steve Harris fashion through six sumptuous albums in 36 years. It’s not a prolific work rate, but each recording is invariably honed to perfection, each song a gem, with a unifying sound that’s both rugged and elegant, aggressive and progressive, their melodic nous and slashing drive as evident on 1985 debut Beyond All Sense as on-point 2016 comeback Climate Change.
Debuting as the tail-end of the NWOBHM was vanishing over the horizon, these spandex-happy London artisans nailed a form of rugged, atmospheric, rainy-day British power metal that few outside Cloven Hoof, Satan and Grim Reaper had the guts to attempt. Elixir were as fired up by mid-80s Metallica, Mercyful Fate and Queensryche as Priest and Maiden, and although ex-Maiden drummer Clive Burr joined the band for 1990’s Lethal Potion, the release was botched by a dodgy label, hastening Elixir’s premature retirement. After wisely sitting out the 90s, the original quintet reunited with a string of impressive releases, culminating in 2020’s seafaring concept epic Voyage Of The Eagle.
There was a delirious barrage of red-blooded, sword-waving power metal blaring from the USA circa 1982-85, but few could claim a debut as satisfying as Attacker’s Tolkien-tastic Battle At Helm’s Deep. The stately elegance and nuanced textures might come as a surprise from a gang of New Jersey bruisers named Attacker, but 1988’s The Second Coming was a far more direct, street-level record, both LPs engaging different singers with voices that perfectly fit the demands of the material. Like their friends Elixir, Attacker also sat out the 90s before re-emerging in the 00s with two solid albums, and two more actively brilliant ones in 2013/16.
Witnessing Domine take the stage at Wacken 2002 at 10am was a sight to behold. With frilly shirts, leather trousers and beaming smiles, the Italian swashbucklers unloosed their intricate sword and sorcery bombast to a field scattered with hungover revellers, and a few rows of hardcore devotees going crazy in the pit. Domine have been honing their dazzling Wagnerian metal since the early 80s, with almost every song on every album following the adventures of Michael Moorcock’s literary antihero Elric of Melniboné. Last year Domine announced they were demoing tracks for their first new album since 2007, advising via Facebook: “Just demos, don’t hold your breath please!”
No gimmicks here, no elves or hobbits, no grand choirs or orchestras, no complex twists in their story, this 10-legged Teutonic metal machine is simply among the world’s noblest exemplars of consistency, commitment and conviction. Across 13 albums in 24 years (a feat matched by fellow German technicians Iron Savior), Brainstorm nailed every aspect of their sound with unpretentious panache, from sensitive ballads to raging thrashers, and while Andy B Franck has some of the strongest, most versatile vocals in the business, every bandmate is a safe pair of hands. They’ve not played UK since Bloodstock 2006, but they deserve far more of our adulation than they’ve received.
Named after the Arthurian antagonist, Morgana Lefay – another Swedish band launching in 1990 – offered a Gothic twist on the genre, with more Iommi vibes than became the norm in power metal, slowing the tempo to a stately march and a crunchy stomp, constructing icy riff labyrinths like early Savatage but keeping arrangements pointed and direct. For legal reasons the band released three albums in 1999/2000 as Lefay, which are just as sumptuous and profound as ever, but beware of 1999’s eponymous LP, an experimental offering to fulfil a contractual obligation. They still tour loyal strongholds, but sadly haven’t recorded since 2007’s too-heavy Aberrations Of The Mind.
Piet Sielck has arguably done more to propagate the Teutonic power metal sound than anyone outside of Accept. He was Kai Hansen’s sparring partner in various pre-Helloween bands, co-writing songs that ended up on their early records, and in his capacity as a highly sought-after engineer and producer he helmed crucial records by Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian and Grave Digger. He finally returned to performing in 1997, founding Iron Savior (initially alongside Kai) as a vehicle for his gleaming precision chops and baroque sci-fi storytelling. In 24 years the band have released 13 astonishingly consistent, hard-hitting albums, the most recent of which, 2020’s Skycrest, is plausibly their strongest.
Originally formed in 1990 as a Swedish death metal band, this Umeå quintet’s first three demos gradually incorporated Maidenesque trad metal elements, but by their charming 1995 debut LP they had transitioned into a 100% old-school fantasy-themed melodic power metal band – at exactly the least fashionable time to do so. But their pluck and tenacity paid off, NR greasing the wheels for the success of HammerFall circa ’97. Thus affirmed, they threw down six killer records in eight years, before stumbling on the more poppy, modern sounding The 8th Sin LP. After a 10-year hiatus the battling Swedes were back in 2017, and their next move is eagerly awaited.
Twisted Tower Dire
Among the spearhead of American bands bringing back 80s-style US power metal as the millennium loomed (see fellow freak-flag wavers October 31, Slough Feg and Cauldron Born), these Virginian berserkers were arguably the hardest and most epic, releasing four masterly slabs of high-energy, sword-wielding metal. With an endearing fondness for record sleeve paintings depicting the band as knights in shining armour – and fist-banging anthems like The Dagger’s Blade, Axes & Honor and Dire Wolf confirming their compelling blend of rugged, spunky energy and gleaming, precision chops – TTD’s ambition never translated to mass appeal, their world-class USPM remaining resolutely underground.
This Guildford quintet were forged in the incredibly rarefied world of the late 90s British progressive power metal scene, alongside Balance Of Power, Seer’s Tear and no fucker else. With their flamboyant instrumental dexterity, the commanding and versatile vocals of Rogue M, and a record deal with Limb Music (home of Italian PM gods Rhapsody), ShadowKeep were making waves when the DragonForce guys were still dicking about in Demoniac. Forging a British spin on Fates Warning/Queensryche-style neoclassical power-prog, ShadowKeep sent pulses racing in 2017 by announcing their new singer: raucous dynamo James Rivera, frontman of USPM heroes Helstar since 1982. 2018’s eponymous LP was arguably their strongest yet.