A Date With Destiny: Heavy Metal Ballads - Part One

Anybody that knows me knows that I love a ballad. And they also know that you wouldn’t have to ask me twice to write an article about my favourite ones. What’s that, nobody asked me? Well I better just do it anyway in case they do. From Bonnie Tyler when I was a kid to Michael Kiske in my teens they’ve always struck a special chord with me, and I’ve often wondered why so many brilliant ballads from the world of Heavy Metal go largely unnoticed and untalked about. Perhaps the Hell’s Angels image that so many Metal fans work so hard to portray would be undone if they admitted to enjoying a falsetto or two? Don’t worry though guys - Pantera made a few ballads, too. So here I am on a one man crusade to tell the world about the wonders of Heavy Metal ballads, the joy they can bring, and why we should be celebrating them. Over the next few months I’ll be highlighting three personal favourites at a time from across the board - from the cliched peaks of Power Metal to the unheard depths of Thrash - and hopefully converting a few ballad phobes along the way. For love! For glory! For destiny!

Edguy - Roses to No One
Now you can’t start talking about ballads - or Power Metal in general for that matter - without at some stage bringing up Tobias Sammet. The modern day Heavy Metal Opera concept wouldn’t exist without him, something for which I am eternally grateful, but back in 1995 that was still just a dream. This was Edguy, the band with which Sammet has both built his legacy and paved the way for his next with, and that’s what brings me to ‘Roses to No One’. Although on the surface it doesn’t quite stand up to some of the epic ballads of the future with Avantasia, every bit of the foundation is laid down here. The thumping drums leading up to a chanting chorus, the swiftly plucked acoustic guitar between verses, the uncontrollable urge to point your chin up to the sky, it’s all there. Hell if you hadn’t heard it before and I told you that it was a Japan only bonus track from The Scarecrow you’d be hard pressed to disagree with me.

Doing what every great ballad should, it makes you feel, and hard. Before you know it you’re on the tenth playthrough in an hour and your fist is in the air as you belt out the last remaining threads of a fading chorus. The track is over but the legacy was only just beginning. With Avantasia Tobias would gift us many, many more spectacular ballads in his quest to bring his Metal Opera to the people. More about those in future issues of this feature. ‘Roses to No One’ in the meantime stands as the substantial foundation for a whole movement in years to come that is still seeing itself into full fruition today. More importantly it remains a go to ballad any day of the week, and that’s why it makes my list.

Testament - Return to Serenity
Did somebody mention “Thrash” and “ballad” in the same sentence? You bet your sweet cheeks they did, and courtesy of Chuck Billy and co. nonetheless. Taken from their segway into a lighter, more traditional sound in 1992’s The Ritual, ‘Return to Serenity’ starts as heavy as any other Testament track before slowing right down and moving into a blissful verse of soft vocals against a backdrop of fading riffs that chime on the wind. The drums are almost absent and yet remain prevalent throughout, bringing a delicate yet solid foundation to the whole track. And although things kick up a notch in the chorus, the subtle theme remains. When I first heard this song I wasn’t familiar with Testament’s albums around that time period and I was convinced that it mustn't have been Chuck Billy on vocals to the point where I just accepted that as truth and moved on. In reality his performance on ‘Return to Serenity’ just shows how much depth there is in his ability and it goes some way to explaining why he’s one of biggest names in Thrash. He isn’t the star of the show here, however.

Taking centre stage on the track and indeed the whole album, the highlight comes from Alex Skolnick and his solo that is effortlessly both epic and serene at the same time. Taking us through technical highs and emotional lows, the whole message of the track is felt through these chords and the melodies stay with you for years to come. Above all else it’s what keeps you coming back to this track over and over. Lastly, as the solo bows out reluctantly there’s time for one more verse and chorus to tie things up nicely and bring an end to the song. An unexpected treat from the California Thrash Metal kings, ‘Return to Serenity’ has brought me great joy in the many years I’ve been listening and I know that I’ll be coming back for many to come. A ballad in every sense of the word, it more than makes my list of the greatest.

Sonata Arctica - Shamandalie
Now if you thought you were going to get to the end of this article - or indeed any written by me - without any mention of Sonata Arctica, then more fool you. With arguably more spectacular ballads contributed to the cause than anybody else, the Finns definitely own the crown. And Tony Kakko is the jewel in that crown. It’s extremely difficult to pick out any particular track to talk about first, but ‘Shamandalie’ seemed an appropriate a choice as any as it contains the three main ingredients - a piano intro, two or more acoustic guitars and Tony’s sorrowful voice sounding sorry for itself. Dealing with, you guessed it, heartbreak - the ballad of Reckoning Night has got everything. The drums stay in sync with the lead guitar as the track builds up to its first climax before crashing into the main body of the song. “I’m writing this down to ease my pain” just about sums up the poignant, sincere nature of a Sonata Arctica ballad, and the cryptic title of the track refers to the woes of the protagonist. Sham-And-A-Lie indeed.

Although the theme of the ballads do often stay in the same ballpark so to speak, every one of them is infinitely unique. They all leave a distinct footprint in your mind, and Kakko manages to convey a different emotion entirely for every one. ‘Shamandalie’ is no different, and it stays on your mind for a long time afterwards - both the melodies within and the message at hand. Ending abruptly as perhaps the romance in question, the track fades out as it first came in with taunting piano keys, leaving you ready for another play instantaneously. There are of course many, MANY other ballads from Sonata Arctica that warrant discussion, and there will be plenty of time for them all in the months to come. For now, ‘Shamandalie’ is the first to make my list.

Well that’s all for now, the end of the first in a series of articles looking at the wonderful world of Heavy Metal Ballads. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about and listening to the tracks as much as I have writing about them, and I look forward to the second edition next month. Did I include any of your favourites in the first three? If not, what did I miss? Until next time, keep fighting the good fight.

Twitter: @BandsPlayedOn


Artist - Jesters of Destiny
Title - The Sorrows That Refuse to Drown
Label - Ektro

Thirty years after Jesters of Destiny arrived, dropped Fun at the Funeral and disappeared back into the night, they’re finally back with a second full length release courtesy of Ektro Records, and whilst it could never live up to first album, the eccentricity of the band shines through once more and it’s a crazy ride from start to finish. Pick it up on April 4th!



Artist - Hammerfest IX
Date - 23rd- 26th March
Venue - Pwllheli, Wales  

One of our main highlights of the year, this month we’re off to Wales for Hammerfest, HRH’s Heavy Metal flagship. With the return of two Power Metal titans alongside a host of others, this year looks to be one of their best ever. We’ll be covering the whole festival and conducting interviews as well so lookout for the cameras!