Like every other genre of music, it’s impossible to throw out a definitive date and say, “This is where power metal began,” because the development of music is so much more complex than that. However, we can attribute certain sounds and methods to certain artists and albums in history and piece together the journey from those many years of evolution. The many pieces of power metal as we know it today can be traced almost as far back as fifty years ago, beginning in the mid 1970s.
Power metal, as you probably know, is characterized mainly by it’s fast tempo, soaring vocals, melodic choruses, and uplifting feel (especially when compared to genres such as thrash and death metal). It’s iconic neoclassical (and often lengthy) guitar solos are very technically demanding and the mix is most often clean. Also common in power metal are fantasy-based lyrics and symphonic elements, which complement the epic feel of the genre.
Ronnie James Dio and Rainbow
One of the earliest examples of proto-power metal is Rainbow’s 1976 record Rising, featuring Ronnie James Dio as the lead vocalist. Ritchie Blackmore previously played in the rock band Deep Purple, but due to creative differences, he left (twice, actually) to form Rainbow.
As you can see in the example below, ‘A Light in the Black’s driving tempo, multi-minute solo section (listen to Blackmore go, that glorious son of a bitch), and overall uplifting feel make it easy to see how this would strongly influence the genre as we know it today.
In Rainbow’s following albums, the classically-influenced hard rock was built upon, and, after his departure in ’78 (after the release of the third record Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll), Dio continued to further develop this musical energy until his unfortunate and short-lived battle with stomach cancer took his life in 2010. (Rest in Peace, Dio. You are a god of metal and we owe you thanks for the head-banging, hell-raising music we love today.)
Dio’s lyrics were often based around Medieval Renaissance, science, and folk themes. His influence on the metal of the day is obvious and undisputed.
The origins of the flying, sustained vocals that are iconic of power metal are easily traceable to Rob Halford of Judas Priest. This style was more prevalent since Priest’s second album, Sad Wings of Destiny, and eventually became more standardized through their first few albums.
Additionally, K.K. Downing’s and Glenn Tipton’s dual guitar sound was heavily incorporated into the metal of the 80s.
Part Two: The Forge (80s)
The biggest period of power metal’s development began in the 80s, with bands like Iron Maiden, Manowar, Accept, and Scorpions entering the limelight.
Come back soon to discover more of the history of power metal!