Within the myriad subgenres of heavy metal, there's long been a clear and meticulously defined hierarchy of coolness. At the top lie the various permutations of extreme metal like black metal, death metal, doom metal, and grindcore—the more underground, the better. At the bottom, beginner metal bands like Pantera and Sepultura mark their patch-jacketed acolytes apart as either newbies, or never-evolved basics. It doesn't matter that to the outside world, MGLA and Kreator sound exactly the same.
It's important to note this, because across all genres and all styles of metal, nothing is considered less cool than power metal.
For those not in the know, power metal albums sound like a Broadway musical with distorted guitars. Think preternaturally high vocals, more bombast than an Olympic opening ceremony, guitar solos that would make Yngwie Malmsteen blush, and you're halfway there. Originating in 1980s-era Western Europe, the genre is consistently looked down upon by most members of the metal subculture, and fiercely revered by a loyal contingent, who remain unwavering in their devotion to the soaring vocal passage.
The genre peaked in the early 2000s with a string of classic releases from the likes of Sonata Arctica, Blind Guardian, and Rhapsody. Soon after, power metal's high water mark met with an undignified demise thanks to a glut of also-rans—unoriginal copycats who tasked themselves with producing the same tired derivative releases for most of the last decade, thereby diluting the market and running the style into the ground. Over the last few years, however, there have been signs of a resurgence of the genre, as the millennial children of the classic power metal years hit their 30s and focussed their energies on bringing back this much maligned style.
Sweden's Twilight Force are one such band, and they certainly don't care an ounce about being perceived as cool. The six-piece outfit quickly gained recognition for its over-the-top stage show—which involves wearing prosthetic elf ears, wielding swords, and deliberating long narratives between songs—but Twilight Force boasts far more substance behind their imagery than many may realize. Chief songwriters Blackwald and Lynd are classically trained, and draw their main influence from Hollywood composers like John Williams. It's a background that gives their latest album, Heroes of Might and Magic, an extremely distinctive sound, placing orchestration at the forefront of the mix and delivering a sense of scale and heroics that the band have described as "adventure metal"—so I called up Blackwald to talk about it.
Noisey: I'm interested in this idea of "adventure metal." What does this term mean to you, and how does it distinguish you from traditional power metal?
Blackwald: Well, we tried to define what we were actually doing. The first album was maybe not traditional power metal, but definitely symphonic metal, and I know Rhapsody even tried to coin the term 'epic symphonic Hollywood metal' or something with their second album. Everyone tries to coin their own subgenres apparently these days! We felt like, especially with this second album, there is something new or something fresh, at least from our perspective, to this soundscape that we're creating. I mean, the orchestral tonal language is different. People say it's Disney metal, and I mean, that's a compliment to us… Who doesn't love a Disney soundtrack! We wanted to create the feeling that you're sitting on a dragon and flying across epic mountains, and what better way to describe it than having the music be an adventure, so it just kind of came naturally to call it adventure metal.
Let's talk about the stage show. This is the area where people potentially struggle. You're all wearing costumes on stage and waving swords around. Are you worried that by having the stage show element, that you might be turning off people that don't get it
Yeah, I totally get what you're saying, and it's a fair and good point. I mean, on the other hand, it was our intention also from the beginning to have this whole sort of package, because we didn't want to stand on stage in jeans and a jacket. I mean, when I grew up, I watched the first Rhapsody shows on DVD, and they had this whole thing with their medieval clothes and their castle and they had a guy playing flute and I totally fell in love with that. I mean, just take KISS or, Iron Maiden with Eddie— it's a whole package.
With Rhapsody of Fire, their turning point when they came and ditched all the visual elements from their shows, and just went back to wearing "normal clothes" on stage. A part of the concept and visual aspect died with that, in my opinion. For me, it's been really important—if you want to bring this concept to life with the characters and backstory, you need to bring that to the stage.
People might get turned off, but I haven't actually heard that many complaints. I think most people think it's a fun thing and makes it more enjoyable, so it's really important for us. If it's a turn-off for some people and they judge us before they hear the music, then I'm ready to accept that loss.
I can totally respect that and maybe even relate to it in a way, but on the other hand, hopefully that's a minority that has that feeling towards it. For us, it's just a lot of fun, it connects the story and the characters and the lore, and it's much more enjoyable for the audience to experience something extra on stage. The next album, we just need to hatch that dragon egg, and we'll have a dragonling on stage!
It's interesting because if you look across other genres of metal, any black metal band for example will be wearing corpse paint and spikes…
It's quite a chore to take it on and it's really sweaty, but I think it pays off in the end! I mean emotionally it's a pretty important part, at least for me and I believe the others too, so we're going to stick to our guns—stick to our swords!
Let's talk about the new album. I wasn't expecting how much of a step up it would be in terms of sound from the first record. What the first record does really well is to totally capture that early 2000s classic power metal sound, but then on this new album, it sounds like you found your own sound. It is very distinctive, particularly the orchestration and the cinematic feel to it.
I mean, [on] the first album, we wanted to recreate more or less that early 2000s power metal sound that we loved when we were younger. We felt like, OK, now we've done this, what would we like to bring to the table in terms of our own visions and our own musical references that we are carrying around, [to] expand on the whole idea and try to bring something fresh to the genre? There are a lot of bands that use orchestrations but more of a classical baroque tonal language, and we wanted to bring our own references. We're classically trained, Lynd and I, but we grew up loving the 90s Hollywood soundtracks of John Williams and John Cole, and so we tried to fuse that in a way with the power metal that we loved. We ourselves are very happy with the result.
You've released the album on Nuclear Blast, but Twilight Force aren't the sort of band I'd associate with that label.
It might not be the first band you think about on Nuclear Blast, but on the other hand, they do have Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica, and bands like that, so it's not too far-fetched! But we just hit it off, and it felt like a really good match and everything went smoothly, and we had really good support from them.
In terms of what it means to the whole whole adventure metal concept, does the deal enable you to take that a step further in terms of what the production looks like?
Well, yeah— the concept for us, and the lore and the characters and everything surrounding it, is a really integral part of what we're doing, and we can always expand on that. So far, we've only just touched the fantasy world that we're trying to create, and we want to build something that from goes hand-in-hand with the music. I want to make it something that can permeate the music, and then be a little bit more than something that's just like a little side story. We're trying to just interweave it with the characters. We might find someone to write a novel or make a video game, or I don't know, a movie trilogy, maybe? Peter Jackson might be interested!
I think he's free at the moment
But you know what I'm getting at is, it would be so much fun to create a whole thing that actually connects together, and makes the music live and breath a little bit more than just the album's kind of way.
Thanks Blackwald. Any final words?
May the power of the dragon guide you all. Together we will conquer and unite!
John Muskett is chasing dragons on Twitter.