Jump, Carry On, or Both: 2014’s Best Power Metal

Last week on Twitter I asked to no one in particular, if a publication is going to put out a “Best Metal of the Year” list, why do they all focus primarily on the extreme metal side? Hey, I like Dark Descent, Gilead, and Nuclear War Now as much as anyone else, but there’s a lot more to heavy metal than death metal, black metal, and grindcore. What’s so great about Decibel is that the mission statement is crystal clear from the get-go: it’s always the “Top 40 Extreme Albums”. Non-extreme metal fans don’t exactly have a reason to complain about Decibel, as opposed to a list that claims to offer an authoritative view of the entire metal genre but whose vision is only limited to bands that play underground shows in Brooklyn.
Power metal always takes it on the chin, especially in America. “Because it sucks,” is always the retort by the cooler-than-thou, which is fine. When you write one friggin’ positive review of a Fairyland album you’re forever branded as a power metal sympathizer, but to be honest I’m as picky about power metal as anyone. When it sucks, it sucks harder than any other metal subgenre, but that’s power metal: it’s all or nothing. As someone who has a genuine interest in finding great new metal music regardless of subgenre, I’ve actually had a handful of very good power metal albums come my way over the past year, and because I have nothing better to do today, I thought I’d share five titles that are well worth hearing. And sorry, Sabaton, Edguy, and Unisonic, you’re all great, but you just missed the cut.

Freedom Call, Beyond (SPV):
I love this band. How can you not love a band that implores folks to have a “happy metal party”? Freedom Call is all about joy, and they don’t hide that fact one bit. See them live, and they’ll put a big, dumb smile on your face. Their latest album is yet another strong piece of work, loaded with plenty of double-time speed lifted from Helloween, but better, more explosive hooks than Helloween has come up with in the last quarter century. “Raise your hands, hail for everyone, jump and carry on,” sings Chris Bay at one point. I have no idea what you mean by that, bud, but sure, count me in. 

Grave Digger, Return of the Reaper (Napalm):
Funny how one week after writers wet themselves (justifiably) over the new Judas Priest album, few if any bothered to pay attention to another veteran band putting out their best new music in eons. German geezers Grave Digger have been churning out crap for years, but their 17th full-length, for some crazy reason, sounds fiery and inspired, gravelly-voiced mainstay Chris Boltendahl carrying on about being “hell bent for wengeance” and whatnot. I counted these guys out years ago, but they came through with a real fist-banger. Just try not to be offended by the album cover’s clear rip-off of Dissection’s The Somberlain.

Iron Savior, Rise of the Hero (AFM):
Iron Savior’s eighth album was another very pleasant surprise. As usual it offers up a good combination of robust classic metal and power metal sing-alongs, but these songs are a blast. Singer Piet Sielck is in commanding form on such barnstormers as “Last Hero” and “Revenge of the Bride”, and the band even makes an idea as ludicrous as covering Mando Diao’s dance-punk “Dance With Somebody” miraculously work. There’s plenty of muscle on this album, but the music isn’t afraid to move, too.

Primal Fear, Delivering the Black (Frontiers):
Ralf Scheepers and his band returned with a tenth album that, like Grave Digger, feels a lot more assertive and fun than anything they’d done in the past decade. As usual the guys have the whole 1984 sound down, nailing that Priest/early Queensrÿche thing down impeccably, but the songs all hold up extremely well, especially “King For a Day”, “Rebel Faction” and the hilariously titled “Inseminoid”, Scheepers continuing to hit the high notes like no other.

Riot V, Unleash the Fire (Steamhammer):
What a feel-good story this is. After founding guitarist Mark Reale died in 2012 it would’ve been totally understandable of Riot called it quits, but the surviving members took on a couple of new faces, respectfully renamed the band Riot V, and came through with arguably the best power metal album of the year, hearkening back to the speed metal glory of the 1988 classic Thundersteel, yet forging a new identity with new singer Todd Michael Hall. That this album succeeds so mightily was a huge surprise, but from the songwriting to the return of Johnny the Seal on the cover, Riot V gets it all right.