Keeper of the Seven Keys, Pt. I is the second album by German band Helloween. One of the seminal power metal albums, it helped define the sound of the genre. This album is the debut of powerhouse vocalist Michael Kiske, whose vocals soar across the album and give credibility to ideas that, in the wrong hands, could be seen as too cheesy to be taken seriously.
On the instrumental front, Helloween quickly set the bar for the level of proficiency their contemporaries would need to meet. Guitarists Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath weave in all sorts of beautiful harmonies, peaking with the onslaught of trade-off lead work in the fantastic “I’m Alive.” Markus Grosskopf manages to fit in compelling and unique basslines in and around the fantastic vocals and guitar, and Ingo Schwichtenberg firmly establishes himself as one of the power metal greats with his intense, hard-hitting, and energetic drumming. A must-listen for any fan of the genre.
Best songs: I’m Alive, A Little Time, Halloween
Black Hand Inn is the eighth album by German band Running Wild, released in 1994. Running Wild is known for creating the “pirate metal” style, generally a subset of heavy and power metal that features melodies reminiscent of pirate and shanty songs and features lyrics primarily about pirates, the sea, or other historical subjects. Black Hand Inn marks the magnum opus in what is an incredibly strong discography. The album is Running Wild distilled into the most representative elements of their sound.
Starting with a fast and melodic pirate metal song in the title track, it is then followed up with the aggressive speed metal tune “Mr. Deadhead.” Running Wild has also always had a proclivity for mid-paced hard-rockers, and the next song, “Soulless,” is the shining example of this in their discography. Following that, the album moves from strength to strength, from the atmospheric “The Phantom of Black Hand Hill,” the groove-filled “Fight the Fire of Hate,” and the burner “Powder and Iron,” to the epic of Running Wild epics, the mammoth 15-minute “Genesis (The Making and Fall of Man).”
Best songs: Black Hand Inn, Soulless, The Phantom of Black Hand Hill
Memories of a Time to Come is a best-of compilation by the German band Blind Guardian. Featuring a collection of remixed and remastered songs, the album comprises the entirety of their career from their 1987 debut Battalions of Fear up to present day. The album also features a re-recording of their 14-minute epic, “And Then There Was Silence,” this time featuring a full, real orchestra. It’s absolutely massive and perfectly conveys the huge atmosphere the song deserves.
While not a “classic” album, it features the majority of their heaviest hitters and biggest songs. The remixes, while unnecessary, help punch up some of their older songs, for example, the classics “Somewhere Far Beyond” and “Majesty.” It is a fantastic collection of songs for one of the best and most important power metal bands in history.
Best songs: Mirror Mirror, Valhalla, Somewhere Far Beyond
The Grave Digger is the tenth album by the band Grave Digger. Grave Digger was among the first power metal bands, having released their first album in 1984, but didn’t find their groove until their reunion in the early 1990s, which led to a string of classic power metal albums. The band has always generally been more rough-around-the-edges, aggressive, and straightforward than their contemporaries, both musically and vocally.
The Grave Digger, released in 2001, is no exception, but this time is infused with a dark and gothic atmosphere. The band, having consistently relied on the concept album approach for their albums, decided to go with a horror-inspired concept, especially the works of Edgar Allan Poe. This is matched with the music, which is darker than previous Grave Digger albums. Guitarist Manni Schmidt, who debuts for the band on this album, adds a bit of technical flair and melodicism that was also less emphasized in prior records.
Best songs: Son of Evil, Spirits of the Dead, Scythe of Time
No World Order is the seventh full-length album released by the band Gamma Ray. Formed by Kai Hansen after his exit from Helloween, the band quickly went on to become power metal juggernauts in their own right. No World Order is the culmination of a several-album streak of high-quality releases and is arguably their best record. The album is packed top-to-bottom with ripping classics. Not interested in fluff or epic explorations in songwriting, the album gets into the nitty-gritty quickly, preferring to stay on the hard-rocking side of the genre. The album, on the whole, has a bit of a thrash vibe, established from the opening track “Dethrone Tyranny.” This is followed up with the crushing “The Heart of the Unicorn,” which, despite its very silly title, is an incredibly aggressive and heavy song. Not to say it’s all aggression; songs like “Heaven or Hell” and “Follow Me” lie more solidly on the typical melodic power metal side of the spectrum.
Best songs: The Heart of the Unicorn, Heaven or Hell, Fire Below