Ever since the mid 80s, Italy has had one of the most prolific and unique power metal scenes out there, It’s not like your typical European power metal scene that followed the lead of “Helloween” nor your traditional heavy American scene that followed “Jag Panzer”, Italian songwriting was often classical or progressive with accented high-pitched vocals and a focus on speed, the headbanging experience is accompanied by the need to sing along the catchy chorus and a feel that you’re role-playing in some fantasy land due to the absence of any lyrics about society and politics and the presence of out of this world ideas and storytelling.
The Italian power scene exploded in the mid 90s but the real start was the late 80s. One of the most remarkable releases of that era and probably the whole scene was “Adramelch”’s debut album “Irae Melanox”. Originating in Milan in October 1988, Irae Melanox was an incredible album with stunning dual guitar work and bass harmonies, a medieval gripping atmosphere and impossible time signatures that will make you think you’re listening to a metal version of a King Crimson album, a true underrated gem lost in time but hopefully will get more recognition with the release of a 2-CD Deluxe Edition later this year.
Other Italian pioneers of the 80s era had different approaches to the scene, Death SS had Doom and Speed on their side, Bulldozer were raw, extreme and Venom-inspired and Dark Quarterer were considered the founders of epic progressive. Although the scene went to different places back then they all had the awesome atmospheric Italian touch.
In the early 90s the scene was pretty shaken up, and it wasn’t just Italian power, the fall of traditional heavy metal and NWOBHM in 1990 had an effect on all genres. On one hand the vacancy gave a chance for musicians to experiment with new ideas, on the other hand these vacancies were quickly filled with extreme genres like black, pagan and death metal, making the fan base at the time likely to consider any lesser genre like power or progressive metal to be lame, boring and not badass enough like the latest Cannibal Corpse album. Things started moving along from the mid to late 90s after the debuts of bands like Athena, Eldritch, Domine and Labyrinth. One album that catches our attention in this era is “Skylark’s “Divine Gates Part I”” which had strong influences from classical music, some good ideas like including Piano and some bad one like auto-tuning the vocals, that said it’s still one of the best albums in what seems to be the weakest period in the metal genre.
By the start of the 21st century, top metal lists started getting filled with power metal bands with German pioneers like Blind Guardian, Edguy and Gamma Ray, so Italy thought it should get a piece of the action with better riffs and higher production values. The success of bands like Vision Divine, Arachnes, Arthemis, Secret Sphere and Kaledon with their Legend of the Forgotten Reign albums, as well as some bands that were Folk centric like Elvenking. However, if one band stands on top it’s definitely White Skull, with the incredible female vocals of Frederica De Boni. The “Public Glory Secret Agony” album stands strong among power metal albums; it had riffs, speed, had catchy yet not cheesy lyrics and a historical concept that focused on ancient Romans and Egyptian characters causing the name Rome to be screamed out of speakers at 11 all over the capital marking a new age for Italian power metal.
Nowadays, Italian Power is considered to be one of the top power metal scenes, maybe just 2nd to German of course, yet it is considered by others to be a complete joke, and that is in part due to the presence of a certain pretty well known band I failed to mention (probably intentionally) called Rhapsody, later called Rhapsody of Fire. Now, what can I say about Rhapsody? A friend of mine described them best by saying “Dol Epic 3alfady”; their lyrics are so cheesy you wouldn’t be able to read them out loud in front of a group of people, I mean seriously, how many times can you slay the mighty dragon with an epic sword in the same one epic album? Point takes. So there is this huge debate between their fans and haters which was unfortunately generalized to be an argument about Italian power metal as a whole. That said, Luca Turilli the lead guitarist from Rhapsody had a symphonic power side project also called “Luca Turilli” that released an incredible album called “Prophet of the Last Eclipse” which stands testament to the man’s outstanding guitar skills
In conclusion, Italian Power Metal is a unique genre with an acquired taste that will get your head banging, and have you screaming and raising the volume for a perfect metal experience.
By: Omar Essam