Tales from the Jugular

The Keepers of the Seven Keys

By: Eric Compton & Frank Hill
Published: Friday, January 31, 2003
In the late 80's, Helloween invented a distinct brand of power metal with fast twin guitars, epic chorus', high-pitched vocals, speedy drums and inspirational lyrics on their early "Walls Of Jericho" and the "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" albums.

With today's power metal scene crowded with symphonic, progressive, and thrash reincarnations of early bands like Helloween, the scene is starting to become stale. Few bands today have the resolve and know-how to carry the genre into the next millennium and do it with a sense of dignity. Few bands have the respect and honor to hold one of the "Seven Keys". We thought it would be a great idea to look at who is carrying the torch for this genre today and who deserves to be a power metal "key holder".

Helloween are a metal mainstay, practically inventing power metal. After three eras (Hansen, Kiske, Deris) and 20+ years, the band is still active in the power metal scene. Few bands can put out great albums consistently and still keep their sound intact. Helloween have never wandered from that sound, yet every record can be looked at differently from the others. Great albums, great music, and great fans. That’s the reason Helloween's torch never fade.

Another German metal mainstay, Gamma Ray's career closely resembles Helloween. With two different voices through their career, Gamma Ray have stuck to their power metal roots. No synths or keyboards needed, just plenty of fast twin guitar, soaring vocals, breath taking leads, and an undying support for the metal underground. Kai Hansen and company have proved year after year they can still create unique music and keep up a touring pace that rivals KISS. The "hardest working" band in the business just keeps getting better.

A revolutionary force in power metal, Blind Guardian have come full circle. Starting out in 1991 with German speed metal, the band has put out some of the greatest records of the genre. Blind Guardian took the epic chorus that Queen invented and added the fast fury of Helloween, making a sound that only Blind Guardian can lay claim to. After 12 long years the band are just now reaping the rewards of a stellar career thus far.

Another great German pioneer, Running Wild are considered the Iron Maiden of Germany. For over twenty years Running Wild have been putting out great records. With their "pirate metal" themes and fast twin guitar gallops, Rock N Rolf has crafter a superior power metal sound unlike other bands of this genre. Anyone who mentions Helloween as an influence has to mention Running Wild as well. The band has been a prime force for metal and shows no sign of the white flag yet.

Probably my favorite band of the German power metal scene, Rage has had a rip-roar ride thus far. Starting out under the name of Avenger, Rage have released some of the best records to ever come out of Germany. Founded by Peavy Wagner, Rage has seen several different lineup changes, and many different "incarnations" of the band. But no matter if Rage does speed metal, thrash, orchestra, or down and dirty heavy metal, the band is truly a class act.

Gravedigger is simply incredible. Much like Rage, the band has had several different sounds throughout their career. Whether it was hard rock, commercial rock, thrash, or power metal, Grave Digger were always entertaining. With the rough vocal style of Chris Boltendahl, many say Grave Digger are the bastard child of power metal. With classic albums like "Heart Of Darkness", "The Reaper" and the epic "Tunes Of War", Grave Digger have put their mark on metal. With their newest album hitting shelves this summer, the German act shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.

Edguy will probably always be considered the new kids. Emerging with their debut record, 1997's "Kingdom Of Madness", Edguy proved they had the raw ability and talent of seasoned veterans. Rookies to the business, Edguy put AFM Records on the map, a record label that has been very influential in the success of power metal in Europe. Tobias and his merry crew have put out five solid records, carrying forth the epic Blind Guardian style and putting their own spin on it. Edguy is a band that will forever stay within the power metal universe, and with more great albums to come the band has a very bright future ahead.

Frank Hill'S PICKS
Still going strong over the years. From the early speed metal to the influential Keeper albums to the current stuff, their body of work has seen them rise and fall. All the others should takes notes on writing melody lines from them. Having a key is a given.

With the genius of Kai Hansen of Helloween they carved their own path from their elders. It's a wonder Helloween didn't die from losing Kai.

Currently, they may be the most popular band on this list. Aggressive, powerful and audacious. They have the biggest choruses of them all and aren't afraid to stretch the boundries of the genre.

Though they are moving away from the power metal sub-genre discussed in this column, they have enough songs in their catalog to give them my vote...for now.

Although they don't tread any new paths with their sound, they walk as proud and as triumphant as anybody. This band has their backs straight and their heads held high.

Just for "Titan of Our Time" they make my list. It's probably the most perfect power metal song ever.

Although I sometimes feel an emotive lack in their songs, they wear the armor of metal and fly the metal flag high.

Also Rans:
"Until Kingdom Come" is pure beauty. Death and despair never sounded so glorious and poetic. If I can hear more from them, I may just have to revise my list.

The spirited and original guitar work from their first cds gave these guys a sound that was similar yet unique within the genre.

They could be the closest to knocking one of the others off the list. A key is dangling...so close.

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