The US Power Metal Thread

First Post May 26, 2021 09:51 PM

Virgin Steele - "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part Two" (1995)

I really struggled with the first couple of albums from New York's Virgin Steele & it wasn't until I came across the second installment of their "The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell" concept that I began to understand their appeal. Certainly not to the same level as most fans of melodic metal mind you but I can't deny the appeal of some of these anthems, despite the over-the-top & inherently cheesy synthesizers which perpetuate the record. By this stage Virgin Steele were rocking a sound that sat largely in the US power metal camp but borders on the European variety at times due to the strong symphonic component. But it's front man David DeFeis' vocal hooks that really grab me & help me to accept the fact that Virgin Steele are still well & truly stuck in the 1980's. Sure, the tracklisting is fairly inconsistent & is book-ended by arguably the two weakest tracks however the more lengthy & significant inclusions tend to be the most substantial from a quality point of view & are just enough to give me a generally positive feeling at the the completion of the arduous 66 minute run time. For fans of Manowar, Savatage & Jag Panzer.


P.S. Terrible album cover but it strangely represents the music that lies within pretty accurately.

June 01, 2023 11:13 PM

Metal Church - "The Dark" (1986)

I hadn't revisited Metal Church's sophomore album in many years & have found that my passion for it has "Wayne"ed a little bit since back in the day (see what I did there?). Much like their self-titled debut, you can expect a mix of classic heavy metal, speed metal & thrash metal tracks with a chunkier & more aggressive tone than the NWOBHM was generally known for which pretty much makes "The Dark" the very definition of what the US power metal scene was all about. The best comparison I can come up with is a combination of the heavy metal of early Savatage & the more classic metal inspired thrash bands like Flotsam & Jetsam & Overkill. Also like the debut, "The Dark" is a little inconsistent in it's execution with a couple of obvious fillers included in simple heavy number "Start The Fire" & unintelligent speed metal tune "Psycho". Admittedly, I don't think these dips are as bad as what we saw in the middle of the tracklisting on "Metal Church" but "The Dark" is lacking the clear highlights that it's older sibling built its reputation on which sees me positioning it slightly behind "Metal Church" overall but not by much. Both are a bit overrated in all honesty & I don't regard either as being essential. David Wayne's vocals are a big improvement on his previous effort here though. I really enjoy his blend of soaring Rob Halford classic metal & Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth snarl. The guitar solos of Kurdt Vanderhoof & Craig Wells are the highlight of the record for me though as they absolutely slay. Overall, I'd suggest that "The Dark" is worth a listen if you enjoy the chunkier end of heavy metal but don't expect it to rock your world as much as some would have you believe.


June 22, 2023 03:28 PM

I consider Metal Church's first 3 to be among the best USPM albums I've heard so far.  I also classify the first 3 as speed metal, but they fell out of the speed sound after that.

August 24, 2023 11:27 PM

Helstar - "A Distant Thunder" (1988)

Despite holding some mixed opinions on a few of their later releases, I wasn’t terribly impressed with my only significant experience with Houston-based US power metal outfit Helstar’s much talked about 1980’s releases to tell you the truth. It came during my research for the Metal Academy podcast many years ago with Helstar’s 1984 “Burning Star” debut album leaving me cold thanks in no small part to the inadequacies of the vocal & lead guitar performances. You could easily identify the early links to power metal in Helstar’s chunky American heavy metal sound though & I was well aware of just how widely celebrated the band’s late 80’s work was so I always intended on investigating it at some point. Perhaps not as late as has ended up being the case though.

Helstar’s highly regarded third album “A Distant Thunder” sees them returning with a very different lineup to the one I’d heard on “Burning Star”. Front man James Rivera (Destiny’s End/Malice/Vicious Rumors/Seven Witches) is still there although he’s strangely changed his name from Bill Lionel since the debut which would seem to be a good move as his skills have significantly improved since then with none of the pitchiness that plagued that record being evident here. Guitarist Larry Barragan is also back, only this time with a new partner in crime in the little-known Andre Corbin who has replaced original axeman Tom Rogers. The duo seem much more capable too with the theoretical gaps that saw Barragan & Corbin blindly wandering out of key no longer causing an issue here. And finally, the entire rhythm section of Paul Medina & Hector Pavon have been replaced with bassist Jerry Abarca & Frank Ferreira so it really is a very different Helstar from the one that disappointed me many years ago & it certainly sounds it too.

The inconsistencies that marred the song-writing on “Burning Star” have been replaced with a very consistent & blemish-free tracklisting on “A Distant Thunder” & I can honestly say that I enjoyed the whole album to some extent. Helstar’s sound had well & truly embraced the US power metal sound by this stage with the guitar tone possessing a chunkiness that you’ll rarely find in your more traditional heavy metal. The soaring & theatrical vocal delivery is also more in line with power metal while the riffs often verge on speed/thrash metal. In fact, I’d describe the closing Scorpions cover version “He’s A Woman, She’s A Man” as a genuine thrash number that wouldn’t seem out of place on one of our The Pit playlists.

While I generally enjoy all of this material & regard the album as a decent example of its type, I wouldn’t say that it sits all that comfortably with me from a stylistic point of view. The clear highlight tracks manage to get past that obstacle with proggy US power metal anthem “Scorcher” being my pick up the bunch along with the out-&-out progressive metal instrumental piece “(The) Whore of Babylon”. In fact, there’s a fair whack of progressive stuff on the album to tell you the truth with (much like the debut) the riffage possessing significantly more complexity than your average heavy/power metal band was attempting back in the late 1980’s. It’s perhaps not quite enough to warrant a dual tagging but it’s certainly worth noting nonetheless.

If you’re into the US brand of power metal in a big way then I’d suggest you give “A Distant Thunder” the once over as I’m sure you’ll rate it more highly than I do. Fellow US power metal outfits like Liege Lord, Agent Steel & Sanctuary are a good point of reference.


August 25, 2023 02:48 AM

I actually prefer this to their more popular album, Nosferatu.  It's well-produced and unpredictable, but also manages to give a power metal fan everything they could possibly want from a stylistic perspective as they go through various forms of metal that are not only related to power metal, but a couple like thrash that are only occasionally combined with it.

August 25, 2023 04:08 PM

Huh, I'm glad I looked into this because I'm with Rex in MUCH preferring this over Nosferatu. I didn't get the hype behind that release and even though it wasn't bad, it kind of put me off from diving any deeper into Helstar's discography. A Distant Thunder was overall way more interesting and kept my attention with some extremely solid US Power Metal riffing that borrows a bit from Thrash here and there. The vocal performance isn't my favorite but it fits right in the pocket of what I prefer out of the more shrieky Power Metal vocalists. Strong first impression from this one and it makes me want to check out more Helstar in the future. 


August 26, 2023 10:05 PM

I consider Metal Church's first 3 to be among the best USPM albums I've heard so far.  I also classify the first 3 as speed metal, but they fell out of the speed sound after that.

Quoted Rexorcist

It's been a long time since I listened to "Blessing in Disguise" but I'd tag the first two Metal Church albums as below:


01. Beyond the Black                Heavy Metal

02. Metal Church                       Thrash Metal

03. Merciless Onslaught          Thrash Metal

04. Gods of Wrath                     Heavy Metal

05. Hitman                                  Heavy Metal

06. In the Blood                          Heavy Metal

07. (My Favorite) Nightmare    Thrash Metal

08. Battalions                             Speed/Power Metal

09. Highway Star                        Heavy Metal


01. Ton of Bricks                         Thrash Metal

02. Start the Fire                          Heavy Metal

03. Method to Your Madness    Heavy/Speed Metal

04. Watch the Children Pray      Heavy Metal

05. Over My Dead Body              Heavy Metal

06. The Dark                                 Power/Heavy Metal

07. Psycho                                    Speed Metal

08. Line of Death                         Thrash Metal

09. Burial at Sea                          Heavy Metal

10. Western Alliance                   Speed Metal

The current Heavy Metal tag works well enough for the Metal Academy database in my opinion as Ben & I have never agreed with the US Power Metal tag as a legitimate genre. It's more of a catch-all for records that blur the boundaries of heavy, power, speed & thrash metal & these two are good examples of that. Feel free to nominate these releases for the Hall of Judgement if you think they'd be better served by a Speed Metal tag though.

August 27, 2023 02:38 PM

I got a few I'm waiting on already.  I'll do that when we've got a few less.

September 25, 2023 03:36 AM

Titan Force - "Titan Force" (1989)

Colorado Springs five-piece Titan Force are another highly regarded US power metal exponent that I was relatively unaware of until recently. I’ve been developing a bit of a taste for the more muscular, aggressive & generally epic brand of heavy metal that was coming out of America during the mid-to-late 1980’s so my ears pricked up when I heard mention of this little band &, more specifically, their 1989 self-titled debut album which is apparently regarded as something of a minor classic by aficionados of the movement. Titan Force are very much a family arrangement with the three founding members being a trio of siblings in Mario, John & Stefan Flores who had been floating around the traps since 1983. Things really didn’t start to happen for the band until 1987 with the recruitment of talented Jag Panzer & Satan’s Host front man Harry Conklin who they’d been in contact with since their early days supporting Jag Panzer. This 1989 debut full-length would be Titan Force’s first proper release & it’s a bit of a belter as well just quietly.

The self-titled album would be released on little-known German label US Metal Records who released a short string of US & Swedish heavy metal albums between 1986-90 before disappearing off the face of the earth. “Titan Force” would be the label’s only major success but I’d imagine that they would have had to wait many years to see any sort of compensation as this record seems to have been more of a slow burner than anything else & has probably only come to most people’s attention since the internet came to prominence. The album was recorded at Titan Force’s local Colorado Sound Studios in Denver & I can’t find any information on a producer so there may not have been one allocated with the house engineer simply handling the logistics of recording the band. If that was the case then the results are more than acceptable with the record offering a clear & uncluttered sound that’s no doubt assisted by Titan Force’s natural tendency to leave plenty of space.

To elaborate on that a little more, Titan Force play things pretty safe for the most part & never seem terribly rushed. Instead, they stay within themselves for the majority of the record & focus a lot more of their attention on creating simple yet tight heavy/power metal riffs that enable Conklin’s vocals the room to ensure they secure the maximum effect. This translates into a fairly low-tempo album by US power metal standards but the quality of the riffs & the theatrical eccentricities of Harry’s operatic vocals combine beautifully with some high-quality guitar solos to make for a fascinating heavy metal record that very much fits the bill for US power metal qualification.

The tracklisting is fairly consistent with just the one blemish in the dull “Blaze of Glory” which sits far too close to the European brand of power metal for my liking. The lumbering heavy metal pacing of “Master of Disguise”, the Queensryche-inspired “Lord Desire” & the wonderful album highlight “Toll of Pain” are my pick of the bunch with progressive influences seeping into a couple of tracks like “New Age Rebels”. There’s even a neoclassical guitar shred instrumental that reminds me very much of Vinnie Moore included which was a nice touch.

I’ve really enjoyed “Titan Force”, particularly the highlight tracks which have somewhat carried the album. Much like Dutch heavy metallers Picture, Titan Force seem to really know the value of the riff as not only a focal point but also as a song-writing accompaniment which was a very wise decision when you’ve got such a well-credentialled front man of Conklin (who sounds quite a bit like Queensryche singer Geoff Tate at times just quietly). If you can tolerate the classic theatrical, higher-register power metal style of vocal delivery then I’d suggest that you should definitely check “Titan Force” out, particularly if you’re a fan of US power metal bands like Heir Apparent, Hittman & Slauter Xstroyes who play in similar spaces.


Here's my updated Top Ten US Power Metal Releases of All Time list with Queensryche's debut E.P. dropping out to make way for "Titan Force":

01. Crimson Glory - "Crimson Glory" (1986)

02. Iced Earth - "Alive in Athens" (1999)

03. Manowar - "Into Glory Ride" (1983)

04. Medieval Steel - "Medieval Steel" E.P. (1984)

05. Crimson Glory - "Transcendence" (1988)

06. Queenryche - "The Warning" (1984)

07. Riot - "ThunderSteel" (1988)

08. Fates Warning - "The Spectre Within" (1985)

09. Griffin - "Flight of the Griffin" (1984)

10. Titan Force - "Titan Force" (1989)

September 26, 2023 12:46 AM