In a year which has proven to hold its fair share of challenges, 2020 has at the very least provided a spectacular flood of new music to feast one’s ears upon. Much of this bounty has come from a surge of power and symphonic metal releases, twisting together the threads of speed and grandeur to mark one of the most notable years for the sister sub-genres in more than a decade. Though power metal is often referenced through the narrow lens of awesome adventures and fantasy quests, longtime titans and zealous newcomers alike have done much work to remind the scene that there is more than caricature to be found in a genre which has its roots in heavy metal. This feat was accomplished by a litany of genre flagships stepping up with new releases packed to the brim with intensity, speed, and sheer technical magnificence. Flanking these accomplishments are a wave of newcomers eager to demonstrate compositional prowess alongside refreshing vocal might.
Whether looking for something more traditional from a familiar face or an experimental and punchy debut, there is something for everyone to be found in the list below. Gathering influences from early speed metal or pure orchestral grace, the varied approaches to storytelling and capabilities of modern production are just some of the things that have made this batch of releases so strong. Be it rooted in a sci-fi escapade, a conceptual journey through time and space, or facing a dragon head-on, the tales told by these masterful power and symphonic artists have made a striking statement: these subgenres are stronger than ever before, and they’re here to stay.
Music taste is highly subjective, and the following list comes from the combined judgement of the Sonic Perspectives contributor team. A combination of artistic vision, originality, musicianship, and production quality came together to form this year’s list of favorites, as well as the staying power of the album throughout the year.
This was a year of incredible excitement and consistency in the world of power metal, a genre which has reaffirmed its footing as a relevant facet of metal with a varied roster of artists making the final cut. Below is just a short offering of our favorites, and we can only hope you enjoy reading about them as much as one can enjoy listening to them.
TOP 15 SYMPHONIC & POWER METAL ALBUMS OF 2020
15. Iron Savior – Skycrest (AFM Records)
One of Hamburg’s premier power metal exports and purveyors of all things Sci-Fi returns with a vengeance a mere one year after a powerful 2019 showing. Despite following close on the heels of their prior opus, there is little doubt that “Skycrest” rests in the upper echelons of Iron Savior‘s accomplishments and storied discography. Reaching back to the roots which defined their debut album, the lack of overt evolution is made up for in consistency throughout “Skycrest,” including many of the hallmarks which fans have come to expect from the expert storytellers and their charismatic flair. Catch our thoughts here.
14. Allen/Olzon – Worlds Apart (Frontiers Music SRL)
Russell Allen makes an attempt at recreating the Allen-Lande formula with Annette Olzon, to impressive results. “Worlds Apart” is a refreshing contrast between the two disparate world-class vocalists, and fans of either one will want to check out this spectacular collaboration. The album is well-produced throughout, leaving no chinks in the armor of strong songwriting and a steady compositional balance which allows the vocal lead to take center stage. With writing once more attributed to the skilled Magnus Karlsson (who takes yet another place higher up on this list), the amount of class and talent on this album make it an easy contender for a year-end pick. Our take on this album can be appreciated here.
13. Manticora – To Live To Kill To Live (ViciSolum Productions)
One of the millennial power metal revival’s wildcards and Danish thrashers turned progressive enthusiasts Manticora return with the second part of one of the darkest, most elaborate and aggressive conceptual endeavors ever to be associated with the sub-genre. Ordinarily a band that has taken time off from the studio for the better part of a decade will find themselves a tad off their game, but in Manticora’s peculiar case, the extended hiatus that occurred prior to this album’s predecessor was likely time spent conceptualizing the extremely vivid concept that eventually birthed this exercise in unfettered rage and majesty. There is scarcely a dull moment to be found anywhere on this album’s 63 minute duration, one which includes fleeting interludes such as the homage to Japanese folk music, adding charm and utility that serves to help expedite the album’s flow rather than fight against it. Check out our thoughts at this location.
12. Demons & Wizards – III (Century Media Records)
After a 15-year studio hiatus, one of metal’s most iconic duos has re-emerged to once more show off their unique brand of splendor. It should come as no surprise given the display of raw energy and power that typified the tour that preceded this album and closed out the 2010s, and there is no shortage of new ground covered alongside familiar tones and production which made their initial two releases so memorable. Following in their own footsteps while also striving to innovate, Demons & Wizards add another solid opus to a short but impactful discography, further solidifying both the legacy of the band and each of its respective members with the successive punches buried within “III.” Catch our thoughts on the album at this location.
11. Sacred Outcry – Damned for All Time (No Remorse Records)
What had once been only a demo comes back to life in the form of a stunning debut which is impressive in its sound and scope. Its original incarnation having first been manifest as a demo in 2003, “Damned For All Time” is a work nearly two decades in the making, and a clear demonstration of when passion and hard work pay off. This sort of album is made to order for those who like their power metal with a meatier aggression factor while still maintaining the mythical, larger than life character that the European mode shares with its older American cousin. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see the fans of lighter bands out of the Italian symphonic scene finding common ground on this one, unifying the various takes on the genre with an album that is both intense and dynamic. Our review of “Damned For All Time” can be found here.
10. Warkings – Revenge (Napalm Records)
This album is very much a fun romp in the tradition of bands like Sabaton, if you are willing to trade in urban camo and aviator sunglasses for war paint and plate armor. If happen to be in the market for quality heavy metal with a heroic medieval theme, “Revenge” is the album for you. The musicianship is absolutely solid, and the vocals are both strong and accessible to most metal audiences. There is enough variety (within the confines of the band’s unique idiom) to keep the record interesting, and it is just a good time in general. The mystery behind this band’s members is just another small piece of its overall intrigue, further building the identity of this newcomer to the genre, and giving Warkings a solid foundation upon which to build their legacy. Our full review at this location.
9. Communic – Hiding From the World (AFM Records)
Like a fine wine, some projects just take time to reach their ultimate potential, and the case of one of Norway’s more unique contributions to the metal scene proves to be no exception. One could possibly chalk up this impressive showing to the wellspring of inspiration that the tumultuous year of 2020 has been for those who seek deeper meaning in their musical pursuits, but whatever the catalyst might have been, Communic has crafted a modern metallic masterpiece here with a truckload of staying power. It’s the sort of album that manages to keep things fresh despite its relative simplicity, at least when compared to other bands that dabble in similar brands of darkness. This power trio has once more pulled out all the stops, and created an opus which is consistent with their branding while providing intensity and infectious melodies throughout. Check out our full take on the album here.
8. Unleash the Archers – Abyss (Napalm Records)
Unleash The Archers continues to grow in a saturated power metal scene, and “Abyss” stands as an album which is solid, powerful, and bombastic. The band has created another great collection of heavy anthems, drawn together by consistent production and a timeless appeal that will allow the album to live on in hearts for years to come. Vocal and instrumental strength continues to mount as the band pushes creative boundaries, pushing themselves both in musicianship and songwriting to create an album which is easy to put on repeat, and further defining themselves as a band apart with regular infusions of heavy metal influences. See how much we enjoyed this release by reading our full review here.
7. Ad Infinitum – Chapter I: Monarchy (Napalm Records)
This breakout debut album has rightfully turned heads and garnered attention from around the globe, as this Swiss act pulls from the tenets of symphonic metal for a sound that is fresh, invigorating, and highly-polished throughout. Led by frontwoman Melissa Bonny, she remains the driving force behind the momentum which carries the album from start to finish. The orchestrations are dense without being overwhelming, and the overall composition balances nuance with technicality for a full and graceful might. Careful layering allows each musician the opportunity to shine through the orchestration without dampening its majesty. Both powerful and delicate, there is no doubt that Ad Infinitum has laid the groundwork for a strong successor to “Chapter I: Monarchy” while simultaneously providing themselves a launchpad to the center of the scene.
6. Lords of Black – Alchemy of Souls (Part I) (Frontiers Music SRL)
The Lords of Black have done it again, producing a thoughtful, relevant modern metal album jam-packed with goodies for old-school metalheads, and the return of Ronnie Romero’s titanic vocals. Thoughtful layering and unrelenting intensity pull the listener forward through the album, submerging them in bass guitars and a stellar rhythm section. The production ensures that each track is heavy-hitting, showcasing the musicianship and dexterity of the entire lineup while uplifting Romero‘s vocals above the fray. Sometimes larger than life but always thoughtfully presented, each new venture leaves listeners completely immersed in the atmosphere of “Alchemy of Souls,” refusing to let them go until the album has reached its endpoint. Read our review here.
5. Delain – Apocalypse & Chill (Napalm Records)
Long known for their combination of elegance and decadence in the realm of symphonic metal, Delain continue to impress with their most recent outing “Apocalypse & Chill.” From its tantalizing hooks to its irresistible melodies, this opus combines everything that fans have long loved about the band while proving accessible to newcomers who may be curious just what the quintet has to offer. Timely with both its title and hints of an ominous atmosphere woven throughout, “Apocalypse & Chill” swings from the soft and angelic to the furious and intense, dominated by a strong vocal presence and catchy bass lines. Infectious melodies and memorable riffs are just part of the backbone which has allowed Delain to thrive and rise above yet again, holding themselves out as light in a year which desperately needs it.
4. Primal Fear – Metal Commando (Nuclear Blast Records)
Few metallic blades can hope to cut as deep as good old fashioned German steel, and the assembled veterans that make up Primal Fear continue to make that very point with yet another brilliant blend of punchy riff work, blinding speed and the occasional epic twist. With all of these seasoned veteran musicians in the throes of middle age and more than half of them past the half century mark, there are zero signs of this steel-clad freight train slowing down any time soon. The years of punishing his voice on the road since the mid-80s has seen Scheepers’ voice, like a fine wine, just getting better with age, and he couples brilliantly with the solid chops of longtime on and off Primal Fear guitarist Tom Nauman. Their chemistry persists throughout their latest opus, one which sees them defend their place as a longtime power metal flagship. Here’s our full dissection of this album.
3. Majestica – A Christmas Carol (Nuclear Blast Records)
A Christmas album may be an unusual candidate for topping year-end lists, but the grandeur and splendor of Majestica‘s approach to a timeless Christmas tale is a spectacular display of triumphant innovation and joyful composition. “A Christmas Carol” is overflowing with the familiar comforts of seasonal magic while offering listeners the warm embrace of power metal they know and love. Combined with musicianship of the highest caliber, vocals that seem to pour down from on high, and impeccable production value, Majestica offers a sophomore album with no visible weakness. The band has pushed the boundaries of their vision while playing to all of their individual strengths for a holiday album like no other, one which will hold staying power long past the holiday season. Venture into “A Christmas Carol” here.
2. Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall – We Are the Night (Frontiers Music SRL)
Magnus Karlsson returns with his third Free Fall album, bringing with him a slew of vocal juggernauts from power metal and beyond to propel the album to greatness. The bar was set high by his first two releases, but Karlsson returns undaunted, impressing once again with his strength as a songwriter and musician. Just as its predecessors, “We Are the Night” is grand and bombastic in its stylings, and swells with symphonic barrages of cinematic proportions. The writing is innovative, versatile, and effective, and every musician involved is clearly giving 100% the entire time. With a wide range of vocal abilities and Karlsson‘s driven compositions, “We Are the Night” remains dynamic and engaging throughout, and never backs down from its pursuit of spectacular showmanship, not least Karlsson himself. Get your right dosage of “We Are the Night” at this location.
1. Seven Spires – Emerald Seas (Frontiers Music SRL)
Seven Spires have truly captured the spirit of fantasy in their work, and the artists prosper from an education in music coupled with a high degree of care shown to the many sub-genres from which the album draws. Without a doubt, the cinematic “Emerald Seas” capture the human spirit in its most vulnerable state, providing a true portrait of a yearning heart and self-discovery. This album is very much an experience that bears repeating for the sake of capturing the small details the writers have embedded throughout the epic adventure. The many layers and integrated style of arrangements lead to a “blink and you miss it” immersion that is irreplaceable. Seven Spires certainly deserve rapt attention as they grow wings and take flight as shining stars in the metal sphere. Read our power metal album of the year full review here.
SYMPHONIC / POWER METAL EP OF THE YEAR
Stormhunter – Ready For Boarding (Independent)
Including three original songs and a cover of Trust’s “Antisocial,” “Ready for Boarding” is a fun power romp full of speed and passion which make for easy headbanging fun. Well-produced throughout, and packing all of the flair and passion Stormhunter has offered in their full length offerings, “Ready for Boarding” makes a fun outing for fans of heavy and power metal alike. The German group shows that they know how to craft a light-hearted adventure, and in turn produce a handful of songs which make for epic battle music, discarding notions of darkness in favor of something more electric and charismatic. Released just weeks from the year’s end, this EP is certainly a contender for celebrating the coming of the new year.
SYMPHONIC / POWER METAL LIVE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
In a year where live music was largely put on hold, livestreams and live albums have stepped up to sate the appetites of metalheads hungry for the concert experience. The following three albums are those which prove the most spectacular showcases of live music brought directly to the listener, capturing the magic intensity of a live power metal show with as much realism and production value as possible.
Visions of Atlantis – A Symphonic Journey to Remember (Napalm Records)
“A Symphonic Journey To Remember” is an audiovisual feast for longtime fans and newcomers alike, brilliant production serving as a compliment to the sheer energy Visions of Atlantis brings to the stage. Not only does this live album capture the excitement and energy of a festival, the powerful magic Visions of Atlantis has become known for is amplified to new heights by the musical prowess of Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague. The fire of dueling lead vocals and the magnificent intensity of stage lights shining down bleed through every moment of this recording, and do justice to the memory of a spectacular show of talent and passion. “A Symphonic Journey to Remember” accomplishes the task of making sure this night will never be forgotten, but preserved for years of enjoyment to come.
Hammerfall – Live! Against the World (Napalm Records)
“Live! Against the World” is a celebration of a milestone as much as it is a showcase of live capabilities, with Hammerfall embracing the 20th anniversary of their 2000 album “Renegade.” Though this album rarely appears on setlists in the usual course of performance, “Live! Against the World” boasts a setlist which balances some of the band’s earliest outings alongside their bombastic and polished recent releases. The result is a performance which demonstrates the range of talents and capabilities Hammerfall have boasted over the course of two decades, also capturing the fiery energy Hammerfall brings to a boisterous stadium show packed with a roaring crowd and pyrotechnics.
Kamelot – I Am The Empire – Live From The 013 (Napalm Records)
While power metal has always tended towards the theatrical side of the musical coin, Kamelot has shown an auspicious flair for taking the concept to its logical conclusion in a live setting, and their 3rd live outing proves to be no exception. This is one act which has long drawn crowds to their dramatic and dynamic performances, and “I Am The Empire” captures this electric and charismatic essence in all its candor. Balancing not just an impressive setlist, but a laundry list of guest appearances to round out the show, this latest live effort from Kamelot showcases what makes this band so captivating both on stage and in their studio albums. With multiple editions released, there is even the opportunity for fans to take a deep dive into the live production which made “I Am The Empire” possible. Check out our own review of this album at this location.
If you are still here, and you are curious about our picks in some other genres, make sure to check out the lists below!