Can we turn down the house lights? All right, raise up your phones. . . Gen X and older, you can raise your lighters. It’s time to bring it down a notch and play some Power Ballads.
They became requisites for artists of all Metal sub-genres for awhile, from Glam/Hair/Pop to NWOBHM, traditional, and Thrash. Everybody was doing it. They’re still a part of the landscape today, of course, but man, there was a time when every time you turned on your stereo, some joker was emoting over a couple of tinkly chords.
Depending on who you talk to, ballads are either interludes of poignance, beauty, and emotional depth – – quiet palate cleansers on albums full of loud songs – – or they’re wimpy betrayals of what TRVE Metal is all about. The majority of the ballads that got major radio play were cynical, faux-sincere pap, crafted with the artists’ sole intent of getting into your wallet, your panties, or both. In MTV’s Aqua Net era, Pop Metal bands flirted with mainstream acceptance until they became the mainstream – – and Ballads were their opening seductive lines. For some acts, this was the tried-and-true shortcut to success. Sure, those spotlight-seekers had plenty of rockers too, but there’s no denying that their soft songs consistently out-charted the hard ones.
Most often, though, I think that songwriters of Heavy, aggressive music created ballads because they wanted to stretch out and try composing and playing different things, different styles, different moods, different tempos. You can only rollerskate an oval around the rink so many times; eventually you need to try different moves and new directions.
Rock Balladry goes back as long as there’s been Rock n’ Roll music, so the definition of a Power Ballad can be a bit broad and nebulous. We’d be here all day if we wanted to include AOR artists like Journey, the Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Styx, etc., and we’d be here all month if we included those Lite FM hosers from the 70s and 80s. Never mind the crooners that preceded them. For our purposes, we’ll stick to Metal, and we’ll define a Power Ballad thus:
“A Heavy Metal song with a predominantly slower tempo and lower intensity, featuring clean or low-distortion tones on the instruments and voices.”
- Pianos or synths are fine, but not required.
- Your guitars can be acoustic or clean electric; either will work.
- Ballads are often about love (joyous or heartbroken), but they don’t necessarily need to be.
- Likewise, ballads are often bathed in somber minor keys, but this is just a commonality, not a requirement.
- Can an instrumental be a ballad? Sure, but these are rare. See Steve Vai’s “For the Love of God” or the numerous great ones from Joe Satriani, including “Always With Me, Always With You.”**
- Finally, do the emotions have to be deep for a song to qualify as a ballad? Like, totally.
Going with these parameters, here are some songs that are NOT Metal Power Ballads:
- Slayer – South of Heaven
- AC/DC – Hell’s Bells
- Overkill – Electro-Violence***
- Anthrax – Gung-Ho
- Testament – The Ballad – – Wait, what? In spite of the name, I don’t think it qualifies. Those drums kick in at 3:49 and this song takes off like John Wick’s Mustang. Should you get your nose broken in the moshpit to a ballad? Same logic for Flotsam and Jetsam’s excellent “Escape From Within” and Suicidal Tendencies’ “How Will I Laugh Tomorrow?” However you classify them, all three of these songs are brilliant.
For better or worse, Power Ballads are as integral to the Metal world as denim, drop-D, and double-bass. These songs tend to bring the emotional heft. They tend to be more introspective. They get you to pause your head-banging and your adrenaline surge to reflect and tune your own emotions to the mood of the music. Usually, when you hear people talking about songs that saved their lives or got them through dark times, they’re referring to ballads.
I will push back on the meathead notion that ballads are just cheap trinkets “for poseurs and chicks.” At a time when Opeth were still considered a Death Metal band, they released the “Damnation” album, which consisted entirely of ballads. Tony Iommi, known as the sludge-tuned Godfather of Darkness and Doom, has written some of the most beautiful pieces ever recorded. I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about “She’s Gone” from Black Sabbath‘s “Technical Ecstasy” album. And for all of their machismo, Manowar’s “Heart of Steel” is pretty goddamn soul-stirring.
What follows is an incomplete list of the great, terrible, and highly impactful Power Ballads from across Metal history. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which. Browse, peruse, and add to your playlists. Some of these songs will choke you with saccharin, but there are also selections here with the power to kick you right in the feels. Honestly.
- Stryper – Honestly
- Scorpions – Still Loving You, Holiday
- Death Angel – A Room With a View
- Metallica – Fade to Black, Nothing Else Matters, The Unforgiven
- Manowar – Heart of Steel
- AC/DC – Ride On
- Dio – This is Your Life
- Spinal Tap – Lick My Love Pump****
- Led Zeppelin – The Rain Song, Thank You*****
- Overkill – The Years of Decay
- Queensryche – The Lady Wore Black, I Will Remember, Silent Lucidity, Forest
- Krokus – Screaming in the Night
- White Lion – Road to Valhalla, When the Children Cry
- Helloween – A Tale That Wasn’t Right, Forever and One, Light in the Sky, Like Everybody Else, Your Turn
- Laaz Rockit – The Omen
- Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne – Close My Eyes Forever
- Black Sabbath – She’s Gone, Changes, Planet Caravan, No Stranger to Love, Born Again
- Opeth – Windowpane, Harvest, Burden, Faith in Others, Hope Leaves, Death Whispered a Lullaby
- Ghost – He Is, Life Eternal
- Nuclear Assault – The Plague
- Steve Vai –For the Love of God
- Joe Satriani – Rubina, Always With Me, Always With You, The Forgotten, Part 2, All Alone, Cryin’, (You’re) My World
- Gary Moore – Always Gonna Love You, Still Got the Blues, The Messiah Will Come
- Anthrax – N.F.B. (Dallabnikufesin)
- Zakk Wylde – I Thank You Child
- Saigon Kick – Love is on the Way
- Whitesnake – Is This Love?
- Great White – Save Your Love
- Extreme – More Than Words
- Kiss – Beth, Reason to Live, i Finally Found My Way, Every Time I Look At You, I Still Love You
- Warrant – I Saw Red
- Aerosmith – Crying, What it Takes, I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing
- Rush – Closer to the Heart
- Judas Priest – When the Night Comes Down, Out in the Cold, Beyond the Realms of Death
- Tesla – Love Song
- Motley Crue – Home Sweet Home, Without You
- Guns n’ Roses – Don’t Cry, Used to Love Her(???), Patience
- Skid Row – I Remember You
- Kix – Don’t Close Your Eyes
- Bon Jovi – Wanted Dead or Alive, Never Say Goodbye
- Poison – Every Rose Has It’s Thorn (sic)
- TNT – Eddie******, Without Your Love
- Cinderella – Nobody’s Fool, Don’t Know What You Got Til It’s Gone
- Testament – Return to Serenity, The Legacy
- Europe – Carrie
- Iron Maiden – Strange World, Prodigal Son
- Def Leppard – Love Bites, Bringin’ on the Heartbreak
- Ozzy Osbourne – Mama I’m Coming Home, Goodbye to Romance, So Tired
- Megadeth – A Tout Le Monde
- Dokken – Alone Again*******
Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel (set to release in early 2023) as a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. and also as co-host of the popular (sporadic these days) Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s made a few guest appearances as a panelist on The Metal Voice. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.
* I’m a writer, not an artist, dammit! At least it’s from a human, not an AI. . .
*** Those 3 seconds from 2:27 to 2:30 after the solo are lovely.
**** D minor is truly the saddest key.
****** Who’d have thought that TNT would have the most disturbing song on this list?