Teutonic Metal Attack. Power Metal in and from Germany

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Metal music made in Germany has become a phenomenon in the mid-1980s. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal aroused broad interest in metal in the USA and West Germany, where the two fastest growing metal communities were developing. At that time, the British metal scene was already declining. German metal bands nonetheless struggled on their home market as there was an overabundance of metal records. They also found it hard to stand up to foreign bands because from the very beginning, German fans and the music press favoured groups from overseas such as Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer. With achieving international acclaim, the Scorpions and Accept became widely accepted in Germany and inspired many German to strive for success abroad to stick out of the mass of bands. Japan has welcomed melodic German metal from the outset but the other two pivotal markets proved difficult. Americans were not waiting for German artists copying US bands, and British fans were torn between pride of their glorious NWoBHM and their fondness for a European alternative to US metal. But the British taste slowly Americanised, leaving the UK a difficult market for German metal ever since the late 1980s.

This paper analyses the challenges German power metal bands faced to get acknowledgment from inland and abroad, guided by these research questions:
- What strategies did (West) German metal bands try in the 1980s to become successful?
- How were these perceived inland and abroad?
- How appealing was the distinct German style for different metal markets?

This historical investigation is based on journalistic sources: 426 issues of the German Metal Hammer (1984-2018) and 997 issues of the British Kerrang! (1985-2006), a corpus of well over 150,000 pages that has been analysed with qualitative content analysis assisted with computer software NVivo.

The results demonstrate three strategies that bands endeavoured to assert themselves on the international metal market amongst countless bands from the UK, USA and other emergent metal scenes in the Western hemisphere.

1. The relevance of an English-native singer
From the beginning, almost every German metal band sang in English (unlike i.e. many French bands). Although English was already taught in schools in West Germany, the language skills were far from sufficient to please an English-speaking audience. Both the lyrics’ quality and the German accent were recurrent themes in the British music press, resulting in bad album reviews that put off an international listenership. Consequently, several German bands hired an English native-speaking vocalist in the hope of greater international compatibility. The paper discusses such cases, one being the German pioneer band Accept who, seeking success in the USA, dismissed their iconic singer Udo Dirkschneider in 1987. Coming generations of bands also tried hard to be accepted as an international act. Some groups (i.e. Victory, Thunderhead, Sargant Fury) did succeed for a while, but eventually all of them disbanded for their lack of support in Germany.

2. Individual German style
Power metal, a genre most strongly associated with Germany, is commonly regarded as an ‘invention’ of Helloween. The paper analyses media reactions to their genre-defining EP Walls of Jericho (1985) and their musical pinnacle Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. 1 (1987) and Pt. 2 (1988). A uniquely German and prototypically European style was proclaimed inland and abroad to be Helloween’s main appeal, and for two years Helloween were considered equals to Iron Maiden. Succeeding as an international top act, however, did not last long. The paper discusses the adverse effects of their new international orientation and what caused them to lose appeal in the Anglo-American world. Selling more than eight million records, Germany, mainland Europe, Japan and South America still remained fruitful grounds for Helloween.

3. Consistency and truthfulness to the German scene
Many German bands failed on the international market. Some realised quickly enough that it was their homeland providing grounds for success. This paper discusses Grave Digger’s attempt to compete with bands in the league of Bon Jovi and Europe, and their return to their uniquely German style of heavy metal that became hugely popular in Germany. The analysis also highlights the biography of Running Wild who have become a cult band in Germany without having had any support from the media. Their distinct ‘Germanness’ hampered success elsewhere.

This paper indicates that the German metal scene has always been somewhat special. With the plethora of home groups on the one hand and the popularity of foreign acts on the other hand, German bands were torn between making music for their home crowd and satisfying the Anglo-American tastes, if only for gaining acceptance in their own country. Few attempts to imitate American or British groups went well; it neither pleased Anglo-American nor German metalheads. As history indicates, success in Germany rather depends on bands keeping true to their German heritage and fans. Although never having caused a major stir abroad, acts like Grave Digger and Running Wild enjoy successful careers of over thirty years because they can rely on the loyalty of their German fans.
Period17 Jun 201920 Jun 2019
Event titleLocating Heavy Metal Music and Culture: 4th ISMMS Biennial International Conference
Event typeConference
Conference number4
LocationNantes, FranceShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational