I have been accused of being boring and touchy because I dislike parody heavy metal bands. Whenever a band like Steel Panther or The Darkness shows up, I get defensive. “Metal is alive and well,” I argue, and honestly, there are bands that are putting out great power metal and hard rock that gets ignored by mainstream press outlets that rave over parody bands and they sell lots of records.1 I also tend to get annoyed by comedy lyrics; for the most part those songs are funny once or twice, but after a while they just stop being funny and they become uninteresting because, well, that’s the point. Put this together, and a parody band seems like it should have a lot of strikes against it here at Angry Metal Guy. Not only are Steel Druhm and I firmly anti-fun,2 but I’m defensive about metal because I don’t want real, talented metal bands getting short shrift next to bands who are just making fun of the sound.
But when that parody band is knocking out epic power metal tracks in the stylings of [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire]? I’m all in. “Why?” one may ask, but I can only assume that’s only people who have never bothered to actually listen to Euro Power at all. Between “swords” (held aloft for one reason or another) with audible Ws, “iron” pronounced “eye-ron,” and all the missing prepositions (“I look you and I blink my eye…“), you can sometimes get lost in the fact that the music you’re listening to sports a variety of Dark Lords, unicorn tears and armies of elves which are always warring through various “AVALAAAAAAANCHES” and cosmic portals. You’d be forgiven if you thought that epic power metal was basically populated by a lot of pent up D-grade fantasy fan fiction authors and geeks who can’t get published. This leads to a certain cognitive dissonance for me, though, because these bands produce music that I absolutely adore and I frequently go on power metal binges, bathing in the hockey rock choruses while lathering myself in chocolate spread and ridiculous guitar work I will never reproduce. But when combined with cringe-worthy texts sung with utter conviction and operatic passion, there’s something inherently comical about this whole subgenre. As a native speaker of English, I cannot escape it.3
Enter Gloryhammer, Scotland’s own purveyors of high-quality cheddar (35%, aged for 18 months!). While this is pure speculation, I assume that this band was started a bit like this: “Man, I love power metal and it would be absolutely amazing to play in a band that sounds like [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire],” to which his mate responded, “yeah, but that shit is so cheesy man. Like how can we possibly write about goblin kings and ‘eee-ma-reld swohrds’ and take ourselves seriously?” This is the point where light bulbs appeared over their heads, and Gloryhammer was born. Why take yourself seriously when you’re writing this kind of music? No, instead, just gently rib the scene by writing exactly the same kind of lyrics they do—just, y’know, based in Scotland. Because let’s face it, epic power metal is easy to ape. It’s formulaic, but—as I’ve said previously—the formula allows for so much variation, that you can knock out albums that follow exactly the same format over and over and over and over and over again, and yet each one can be as entertaining as the last, because of the built-in degrees of freedom. Virtuosity, baroque and Viennese classical influences; these things allow purveyors of power metal to write amazingly varied music within a well-understood structure.
Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards follows that structure almost to the letter. When the narrator kicks in to start the record off “In the distant future of 1992, war has returned to the galaxy” and the orchestral introduction knocked out the album’s themes with surprising compositional skill I knew I was in for a wild ride. Like the very best the genre has to offer, that wild ride takes off with a healthy hat tip to The Omen and the only 5 Latin words that guys who write power metal know: “sanctus,” “dominus,” “infernus” and “ad astra.” As is the way,4 machine gun double bass kicks lay the ground for “Rise of the Chaos Wizards'” epic chorus, gallop driven verses and (oh yes) a built-for-Eurovision key change. Alestorm‘s very own Christopher Bowes fills the sound out with his epic keyboards, while
vocalist Voice-Modulated Star Nucleus Thomas Winkler’s raspy cleans evoke the best vocalists of the German thrash/power tradition with his Swiss accent, perfect range and delivery.
After such an explosive opening, one might have suspected that the band had fired their highest powered lasers; but with Low-Orbit Ion Swoh-rds held High, Gloryhammer knocks out one ridiculous, awesome, and ridiculously awesome song after another. “Goblin King of the Darkstorm Galaxy” has an infectious chorus that I’ve been whistling for two weeks, while “Victorious Eagle Warfare” shows off Winkler’s range and power at its absolute best. These songs are laced with ridiculous licks, catchy counter-melodies and harmonies; the bridge between the chorus and the verses in “Victorious Eagle Warfare” is brilliant and the introduction to “Questlords of Inverness, Ride to the Galactic Fortress!” is gripping—balancing Sabaton-like oomph and an old school chug with cool and unexpected arpeggios. Taking it a step further, these tracks show off a band who understands the value of hooks and is obviously able to play with the Euro-power formula that we all love/hate. Every song on here is genuinely well-composed and well within the boundaries of what you hear on a new Stratovarius record—except with a self-distance of which no one could ever accuse Timo Kotipelto.
It’s this self-distance that makes Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards such a marvel. As usual when listening to music of this genre, I’m laughing at the lyrics. It’s just that on Space 1992, I’m laughing at the lyrics because they’re cheeky, not because no one bothered to double check Tony Kakko’s lyrics before he went into the studio. While I don’t have official lyric sheets, the snippets of the lyrics on here rank among the best I’ve heard on a power metal album. Winkler’s accented wail knocks out gems like “Fly… [orchestral hit] on gigantic dragons made out of steeeeel!” (“Heroes (of Dundee)”), or when choirs sing “Unicorn, show me the way to the way. Lead me to the ultimate fortress. Unicorn, reveal the truth of the ancient crystal galaxy!” (“Questlords of Inverness, Ride to the Galactic Fortress!”). Possibly my favorite lyrics on the record come on the album’s obligatory end-of-the-record-epic-with-narrations “Apocalypse 1992,” where Winkler sings—with conviction—about “The rage! The cosmic rage of Astral Dwarves of Aberdeen!” Or, back at the always giving Galactic Well of Unicorn Jokes: “Like tears of a unicorn lost in the rain…” There are, literally, 9 songs of this stuff and hit (“Legend of the astral hammer!”) after hit (“In the dwarven caverns beneath the mighty citadel of Dundee…”), I giggle like an Angry Metal School Girl.
Maybe it’s best to not call this record so much “parody,” though, as a love letter to the Euro Power scene. The beauty of this stuff is that even if it were serious and the guys from Gloryhammer were writing about Angus McFife XIII with straight faces, they would still have produced one of the best power metal albums I’ve heard in 2015. What stands out about Space 1992 are the compositions, choruses, the orchestrations, and the way
guitarist Dark Matter String Manipulation Interface Paul Templing, drummer Percussive Phi-Quason Battery Ben Turk and bassist Trans-dimensional Subsonic Cluster James Cartwright all do their parts. The music on here is well-played, and while Templing isn’t Luca Turilli on the fretboard, few are. The lyrics being genuinely funny is just the (very tasty) astral icing on the unicorn cake. Space 1992 is excellent because it delivers great tracks and gives you a reason to “ironically” listen to the music you already listen to un-ironically in your closet. Now you can break this out at parties and sing along and everyone will think that you learned all the songs as a party trick, not because you’ve been dreaming about a pilgrimage to Inverness to find the Questlords of legend.
- Honestly, I think there’s some of this in the scene’s hatred for so-called “hipster” bands, too. Why should metal dudes give these bands with no “cred” any love when they’re aping the sound of longtime and hard-working bands who will never get any attention. ↩
- One more reason Happy Metal Guy had to (redacted). ↩
- I suspect there’s something very restful about not having English as your native language when listening to power metal—like when I listen to J-Pop or watch Alizée wiggle her hips to utterly harmless, shitty pop music—you basically don’t even know how bad it really is. ↩
- It is known. ↩