traditional metal festival, Frost and Fire. Coinciding with the announcement of next June’s Irish installment of the fest Frost and Fireland, we sat down with festival founder, Night Demon frontman and Cirith Ungol bassist Jarvis Leatherby to talk about the festival’s history, as well as what he has in the works for next year.
This article is the first in a trilogy of guides chronicling the United States power metal (USPM) scene. This first section focuses on defining the sound and providing listening essentials. It also includes excerpts from interviews with Mike Sabatini of Attacker and Howie Bentley of Cauldron Born.
Twisted Tower Dire are a band with a very special place in the annals of US power metal. They formed in 1995 and released a majority of their material in the early 2000s. This was a time in which the majority of bands were shying away from more traditional styles of heavy metal, but Twisted Tower Dire were one of the few exceptions. They’re a band known for their fast paced, dual guitars and heavy use of singalong choruses. Before they really established this iconic style of catchy, but riff-centric power metal, they released a couple of unique demos that are unlike the rest of their discography.
It’s difficult to innovate and sound unique in the world of traditional heavy metal. This is especially true in the very small, niche genre of epic doom metal, which was both established and perfected in one fell swoop with Candlemass’s Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. While Heaven Wept are a band that managed to do exactly this.
Prodigy/Oracle were a progressive power metal band from Florida – given a description like that, Crimson Glory and Savatage immediately come to mind and indeed Prodigy fit in nicely with those two. Unfortunately for the band, they were a day late and a dollar short and by the time they released their only offering, As Darkness Reigns, interest in the style had long since waned and they were relegated to relative obscurity. Luckily for die-hard fans, the internet gives us a fantastic avenue to appreciate and share bands that didn’t quite make it in their own time.
By the late 80s, Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin was already a seasoned veteran vocalist with a varied resume. He had already sung on Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction; a rough around the edges US Power Metal classic that needs no introduction. Shortly afterwards, he ventured into more occult dwellings with Satan Host’s Metal from Hell – an album that was equal parts Jag Panzer and Venom. Not one to be limited by choice, Tyrant joined Titan Force in 1987 in what proved to be a near 180 from his previous musical ventures. Titan Force represented the more melodic and progressive side of the US Power Metal spectrum, one which placed emphasis on non-linear songwriting but more importantly – strong vocal harmonies.
Musically, Borrowed Time broadly falls into the “epic metal” spectrum – there are obvious odes to heavy metal like the bands from early the NWOBHM (Iron Maiden, Angel Witch), but also Manilla Road and Brocas Helm. What would separate Borrowed Time from other similar acts is the strong emphasis of melody and purposefully lo-fi production in the mix.
Wino brought a sense of despair that feels more working class-adjacent than anything else. The kind where you work a shitty job that barely pays enough to live on and not enough to meaningfully save up for anything. You get drunk night in and night out on shitty cheap beer (and if you’re lucky, maybe some whiskey) to numb the sense of smoldering rage deep down in the pit of your stomach. There’s a sense of passive-aggressive, languid hopelessness around the Wino albums.
In the ancient days of 1986 a mysterious band known as Lords of the Crimson Alliance would release a single album and then vanish into the night. With members boasting names such as Zan Zan, Far Cry, Cutterjon, and Grom, this 4 piece unleashed a totally unique and otherworldly slab of US power metal that would stand the test of time as one of the best releases in the genre.
Midwestern US underground metal legends, influenced a ton of bands in trad and even a little outside of it – albeit in more modern times than in their own era – you know the drill by now.