Whenever a conversation in Real Life ™ turns to music, it eventually comes out that my preferred genre is that of “metal”. People have one of two reactions: “oh, that makes sense”, and “what the heck? I didn’t expect that”.
The latter one usually comes from people who have some knowledge of the genre and so realize that, given my personality, it is inevitable I would end up listening to bands like Rhapsody of Fire, Blind Guardian, and Stratovarius.
But for those who aren’t so familiar, here’s a basic run-through of the bands I listen to and why it makes perfect sense for me to do so. (Note: This post may sound condescending; I’ve been told that whenever I talk about this I tend to give that impression. I apologize in advance.)
(ignore the video in these links, the audio’s all I care about right now. Youtube’s a good place to get links to songs for free.)
Rhapsody of Fire – These guys are a power metal band from Italy. True, Italy isn’t Scandinavian, and these guys don’t sing about vikings. But they do sing about epics of sword and spear, mainly epics of their own creation. They’re often a bit clichéd in their stories, but that’s not really a problem for me. Plus, these guys have a lot of classical music influence in their work, and they’re a lot of fun to listen to simply for the instrumentation. They describe their music as “movie score metal”, which I think is pretty accurate. Incidentally, Christopher Lee (the guy who played Saruman) appears on several of their albums, doing voiceovers. (I linked to their song “Silent Dream”, which is probably my favorite song overall from any of these groups.)
Blind Guardian – A German power metal band. I prefer their later work, when their songs slowed down, became intelligible, and they released an entire album about Lord of the Rings. They take a lot of historical influence, which of course I would like, and have songs about King Arthur, Pontius Pilate, and more. (the link is to “Maiden and the Minstrel Knight”, which is about the story of Tristan and Isolde.)
Stratovarius – Here’s the first of three Finnish bands on this list. They’re pure power metal, with song titles like “Fight!!!”. They’re also a lot of fun to listen to, and their lyrics are catchy for this type of music. “Gotta be the GYP-sy… the Gypsy in MEee”. (This song, “Land of Ice and Snow”, is very not typical for them. Most of their songs are much faster-paced and more violent sounding.)
TYR – A guy named Erik (“with a K”) from school put me on these guys. They’re Faroese, which means essentially Scandinavian, and they make Viking metal. They sing a lot in their native tongue, which supposedly sounds a lot like Old Norse, and, unlike a lot of Viking metal bands, they don’t do death grunts. It should be obvious that I would like music like this. (“Regin Smithur” is the only TYR song I could find on youtube, but it’s not my favorite. That would probably be either “Dreams” or “Alive”.)
Sonata Arctica – Another Finnish band. These guys started out doing less fantasy-inspired stuff, and some of that is pretty good too (I like “Shy”), but now they’re very similar to Stratovarius, and my comments about that group apply to this one too. These guys don’t seem to have a great grasp of the English language, and have a lot of strange turns of phrase in their songs. (“Kingdom for a Heart” is pretty standard power metal, though of course sung with a strong Finnish accent.)
Dark Moor – These guys are from Spain, I think. They and Kamelot are very similar, in my opinion, and are both close to the later Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius, but without the Finnish accents. Straight-up power metal, essentially, with a lot of historical influence and a lot of generic “go fight kill the enemy have courage” songs. (“Before the Duel” is of the latter variety, I think.)
Kamelot – These guys sound very similar to Dark Moor, though their lyrics are less often historically based, and they have a great liking of the concepts of immortality and fate. (“Karma” is about a king who realizes he is about to die and will have to pay for what he has done.)
Therion – These guys are Swedish, and they play symphonic metal, which essentially means there is a lot of classical music influence. Their songs are much slower paced and even trance-inducing, and their lyrics deal with all sorts of mythologies, Sumerian, Greek, Aztec. My listening to these guys probably makes the least sense of any of these groups. (“The Dreams of Swedenborg” is about… well, I’m not really sure, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.)
Nightwish – The third and final Finnish group, Nightwish was also first introduced to me by Erik. They have a female lead singer, which makes them different from all of the above groups, and they’re best classified as symphonic metal, though I’ve also seen them called operatic metal and gothic metal. They sing occasionally about Lord of the Rings, which is the main reason I like them. (“The Carpenter” is from what I can gather about Jesus Christ, though I’m not sure what message it is supposed to send. Probably an anti-Christian one.)
Leaves’ Eyes – The female singer is from Norway, the rest of the band is from Germany. Their albums are, like many in this realm of music, story-telling. One of their stories tells of the voyage of Leif Eriksson to the New World. All in all, they seem to me like a female-fronted version of TYR – and, since they’re female-fronted, they focus more on the emotions than on the glory of the battle. But that doesn’t mean I can’t like them. (“Farewell Proud Men” is about the wife, I think, of Leif Eriksson as the ships leave across the ocean to explore and, eventually, find the new world.)
These aren’t all the bands I listen to – I use Pandora, and will usually listen to whatever comes up – but these are the ones I thumbs-up the most. They’re not in any particular order, either. But they should give some idea of what I mean when I say “I listen to metal”, and some idea of what “metal” IS. And hopefully it doesn’t sound too condescending.