From Iceland — Your Friendly Neighbourhood Power Paladin: Iceland's Power Metal Band Is Here To Have Fun

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Power Paladin: Iceland’s Power Metal Band Is Here To Have Fun

Published May 7, 2021

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Character class: Paladin (c. 8th century AD)

A sect of knights in Emperor Charlemagne’s court. Crusaders, who nobly and valiantly protected the empire from heathens and other non-Christian folk. Warriors of God and chivalric healers who rode through the empire fighting for good and healing people through prayer and bandages. Best compared to the Knights of the Round Table.

Character class: Paladin (c. 20th-21st century AD)

A staple species in digital and tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft. Clerical warriors who usually have a proclivity for white magic or healing spells. The poster children for lawful good, (but relatively violent in their quest for it).

Character class: Power Paladin (c. 2021 AD Iceland)

A power metal band. Local cult favourites. Best known for their unexpected Spider-Man themed debut hit “Kraven the Hunter”—which spent more than a month on top of the X-ið Dominos Chart—as well as their live gigs that often involve sword fighting, costumes, and glam rock-style choreography. Debut album forthcoming and highly anticipated.

Now, it’s here that one could spin some sort of grandiose Charlemagne-level metaphor to say that it’s clear that the Paladin is the perfect character for our Power Paladin to be named after. To do this, one could perhaps claim that the sextet are warriors fighting against the otherwise dreary and sombre Icelandic music scene with a staunch moral code of wackiness and fantasy. One could say their healing powers are rooted in escapism. One could even say they are spreading the gospel of a niche genre in a country in which it’s never been accepted.

Or one could just say the band is here to have fun and, man, isn’t it cool to be named after a knight?

Onward, great knights

“With great power comes great metal,” singer Atli Guðlaugsson says formally when asked to distil down the magic of Power Paladin. The seriousness in his statement—a Spider-man reference for anyone who didn’t get that—immediately causes the rest of the band members to burst into hearty laughter, which Atli returns, his former visage dropped in favour of a warm smile. “No, that’s what we’re printing on the back of the ‘Kraven the Hunter’ shirts though,” he grins.

The band was formed in 2017 on Atli’s volition, when he essentially reached out to anyone he knew that he thought might possibly be interested in being in a power metal band. There’s not a big power metal community in Iceland, so it ended up being a rather small group—most of them already close friends. That said, for all current members it was a rare opportunity, garnering an immediate and enthusiastic yes.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Power Metal: Level I

For those unacquainted with metal genres, power metal is known for its clean vocals, bombastic arrangements, rapid guitar work and fantastical themes. But a description like that doesn’t really cut it. The main defining feature of power metal is the feeling it evokes in listeners. Power metal is cheesy, unabashedly so. It’s uplifting and fun, music you’re supposed to pump your fist and smile to. At all times, power metal strives to be as epic as possible in as visceral a way as it can—and then it adds a key change at the end, just for good measure. Lyrics speak of quests to join your brothers-in-arms to find—who knows?—a dwarven broadsword to defeat an evil wizard who lives far over the misty mountains. Then there’s a two-minute guitar solo, a children’s choir and, afterwards, the whole fellowship gets drunk on a keg of elven mead. It’s the music of people who’d probably enjoy playing games with a Paladin character.

“Epicness,” drummer Einar Karl ‘Kalli’ Júlíusson says simply, when asked what attracted him to the genre.

“It’s the Eurovision of metal,” keyboardist Bjarni Egill Ögmundsson chimes in. Guitarist Bjarni Þór Jóhannsson smirks. “You know that’s actually a sub-genre of power metal,” he corrects his bandmate. The two are no doubt the jokers of the group—constantly one-upping the others in ridiculousness, like a power metal Bert and Ernie. “It’s the biggest of music,” Bjarni Egill continues. “You can basically get away with everything. Add ten choirs and everyone’s like, you know, we can definitely make room for one more!’”

Photo by Art Bicnick

Niche music

But despite power metal being one of the most popular metal genres in Europe, it’s the above qualities that have always made the genre somewhat on the outs in Iceland, where metal tastes have usually swayed towards harsher and uglier types. In fact, there’s no hyperbole in saying that Power Paladin is the only power metal band in Iceland. They are, quite literally, on a raid of their own.

“Heavy metal is small man’s music. It’s outsider music.”

“The black metal, death metal and extreme metal scenes have always dominated here. So nobody expected there to be a power metal band,” Atli explains. Moreover, they never expected there to be such a beloved one. Ingi Þórisson, guitarist, nods. “We’re a genre that nobody listens to. We play niche music,” Ingi laughs.

“Power metal has always been rooted in European metal festivals—it’s made for big stages and arenas, so in a small scene like Iceland, music lends itself to opposition. Maybe with the weather too, that led towards harsh music,” Atli continues. “But heavy metal has always been about that. It’s small man’s music. It’s outsider music. So you always want to go against the grain and then music goes in waves. What’s the current wave and how can you be the opposite of that?”

He pauses to mull it over; is the nicheness of power metal due to more than just run-of-the-mill nonconformity? “Power metal is so specific as well,” he answers. “It’s not just heavy metal pound-your-fists-in-the-air music, which is easy listening as far as metal goes, it’s also so rooted in nerd-ism and shit like that,” he laughs. Hence their hit song about a formidable Spider-Man villain. “Power metal is not that user-friendly. It might [musically] sound user-friendly but at least before nerd culture became [more mainstream], like 10 years ago, power metal was not seen as cool at all.”

This causes another round of laughter from the group, who, without a doubt, definitely seem baffled by their now-cool label.

Photo by Art Bicnick

The Kraven-lore

Power Paladin was, from the beginning, a passion project for the group. Playing a rather obscure genre in the already obscure Icelandic metal community, the band never even thought that people they weren’t friends with would come to their shows—much less that they’d be topping Icelandic charts and sharing live television billing with acts like BRÍET and Bubbi Morthens, which they just did on the Hlustendaverðlaunin 2021. And now they’re booked for Iceland Airwaves in November, too.

“That was the first time that it really dawned on us—wow people actually like us,” Bjarni Þór laughs, when asked about the TV gig. “We had no clue.”

Despite being active locally for years, the band only entered mainstream Icelandic culture in 2020 after dropping their aforementioned first single “Kraven the Hunter” in early December.

“I’m a huge Spider-Man fan so I wanted to do something weird with that, but still keep it fantasy,” Atli says, prefacing his explanation of the Kraven-lore. “So it’s a story about Spider-Man travelling through dimensions to go into a medieval world where there’s another Spider-Man who has been transformed into a Spider-Monster.” It’s at this point that Kraven the Hunter, the world’s greatest big game hunter and Spider-Man’s sworn enemy, arrives. “He’s hunting the Spider-Monster down, but when the original Spider-Man shows up, Kraven mistakes him for the monster and starts hunting him.” Cue the epic battle, betrayal, and bridge.

Musically, the track is about as power metal as it gets. A roaring, soaring sing-along chorus drives the anthem, revolving around the lyrics, “Hunted by the enemy tonight!” with Atli’s voice flying higher than helium. There’s even a good ole’ duelling guitar solo that collapses in a dramatic acoustic interlude, courtesy of Ingi. So if this is Iceland’s first introduction to power metal—well, it’s basically a greatest hits of the genre.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Power Paladin on the radio

The band released the single with little fanfare, barely expecting it would even get radio-play in Iceland. But then, it quickly went to the top of the X-ið charts, where it remained for more than a month. It seems Kraven had hit a target, (though hopefully not the one on Spider-Man), and to call the band shocked by the reception would be an understatement.

“It’s the goofiness of the whole song. It’s power metal. We sing it in English. We just never thought people in Iceland would like it.”

“The last thing I thought would happen is that we would get to number one,” Bjarni Egill relays fiercely. “I thought, maybe if we were super lucky, we would maybe scrape the bottom of the list. And then we’d say, ‘All right! Time to move on!’ But then week one, we’re top. Wow, we did not see that coming.”

“And four weeks later, we were still one,” Bjarni Þór interjects, and you can’t help but feel in your gut how genuinely humble and grateful all of them are for the reception. “We’d never expect people would love a song that is based on a villain in Spider-Man.”

Atli smiles brightly, though you can tell there’s still a part of him that remains in disbelief. “It’s the goofiness of the whole song. It’s power metal. We sing it in English. We just never thought people in Iceland would like it,” he grins.

“Well there’s never been music made like this in Iceland,” Bjarni Egill points out. And it’s true—Power Paladin is, without exaggeration, the only one. They’re in unexplored territory here, having just released the first Icelandic power metal single and being on the cusp of dropping the first Icelandic power metal album. That said, Bjarni’s quick to note that this isn’t because the band is completely revolutionary—it’s more circumstantial luck. “What we’re doing, it’s been done abroad a lot, but not here,” he continues. “So this might be something completely new to people.”

“It’s just the wackiness of it all,” Atli responds. “Us being named Power Paladin. The song being about a villain from Spider-man. And now it’s on the radio.”

Photo by Art Bicnick

Welcome to Power Paladin’s world 626

Internationally, the song reached another target audience—to even goofier and wackier results.

“There was a comment on Reddit by some guy who was obviously a huge Spider-Man fan,” Bjarni Þór laughs. “It just said… ‘They got the canon wrong,’” he says in a mock-pseudointellectual voice with the exact deadpan intonation you’d expect of a guy who corrects power metal bands on Reddit. It’s hilarious, and at this, the band loses it, despite probably having heard that punchline hundreds of times before.

But apparently, getting “well actually”-ied by some know-it-all on the internet was a formative experience for the group—or maybe just a validating one—and they seem even more jazzed by this achievement than any chart position. And don’t worry; they’ve got an explanation for said commenter’s confusion.

“‘Kraven the Hunter’ is based on the multiverse, which is a huge thing in the comics. See, in comic books, different dimensions have numbers assigned to them,” Atli explains. “Ours is 626, which doesn’t exist in the comic books.”

“So it’s technically canon,” Bjarni concludes. Silly commenter.

Power Paladin

Photo by Art Bicnick

A license for fun

But when asked why they think their song got such a reaction in Iceland, the boys pipe down. They don’t really have an answer. For them, they’re just a group of power metal fans that make fun traditional power metal songs—the fact that it’s caught on with both the metal community and the mainstream rock crowd was surprising. A shocking turn in a quest they would have happily continued on alone.

Atli attributes people’s connection to Power Paladin to the contrast they offer. “The mood shifts when we’re playing with other bands that maybe play a lot of minor chords,” he explains. “We’re giddy and upbeat. Maybe it’s refreshing.”

For Kalli, Power Paladin gives people a needed opportunity to relax, creating a space where they can revel in their nerdiness unselfconsciously. “It probably takes them back to that time where they can enjoy the simpler stuff. Enjoy nostalgia, without all the worries about being super [hardcore or cool] or whatever,” he reveals.

“With great power comes great metal.”

But it’s Bjarni Egill that manages to put it in the fewest words: “You have a license to smile,” he says of their work and power metal in general. And that’s the truth—you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone not having a blast at a Power Paladin show.

Because if heavy metal is, as Atli said previously, driven by opposition, Power Paladin is the absolute antagonist to everything that’s happened over the past year and a half. In contrast to our world, which in the late-pandemic haze now seems so dark and untethered, Power Paladin is uplifting and hopeful. Their multiverse, full of ships, stars and a Spider-Monster, is simple—there’s an evil emperor queen and a chosen one to defeat them. Their music is playtime, a sharp escape from the gritty and sad vibes that have so dominated not only mainstream art, but the news, too. It’s no wonder that a disheartened public has found such a beacon in their wholesome music.

In fact, Power Paladin’s recent show at Gaukurinn was one of the first to happen after gathering restrictions were lifted and it was here that this contrast was seen in high definition. It was just fun, with a diverse crowd of fans who showed up early to guarantee one of the coveted 50 spots. And when the intro started—an orchestral version of the Spiderman theme song, mind you—people were unabashedly happy, pumping their fists and indulging in some epic escapism together as Atli waved a sword around (safely) and the band engaged in some machine-gun guitar choreography. Not only could audience members finally sit with their friends and watch live music again, but they got to do that while singing about entering a magical forbidden forest. It was like restarting and finding yourself suddenly at level 70.

Because perhaps coming out of this pandemic, a license to smile is just what we needed. Perhaps people just want to have fun.

Perhaps Power Paladin will soon be the standard.

The hatred harpsichord

They will continue the fun, they promise, vowing that everything the band started on Kraven will be continued on their upcoming debut album, which should be out any day now.

“It’s all carefully written down. You just have to listen to the album to understand,” Ingi urges—sarcastically—when asked if there is any overarching lore in the album, as is so common with power metal bands. “Yes, it will all connect,” Bjarni Egill smirks. “I mean the Lord of the Rings took three books! So in the three albums…” Ingi adds, trailing off as a chorus of snickers from the group swallow the conversation.

They do though explain that while “Kraven the Hunter” is the greatest hits version of a power metal single, the album will fulfill all the other tropes of the genre and more. There’s a keyboard intro that lasts minutes, a choir section featuring more vocal tracks than they’d like to admit, and even a harpsichord solo, which was apparently a rather divisive decision.

As he recalls making “Ride The Distant Storm,” Bjarni Egill can hardly hold back the laughter. “Atli was like, ‘A harpsichord solo would be a really good idea here!’ and then Ingi was like, ‘Hell no, it’s not. Let me show you why it’s a bad idea. So Ingi wrote it and was like ‘Oh my god! This is amazing!’”

Paladin seem to love this story. “Yes, we have a harpsichord written out of pure spite,” Ingi admits. “A hatred-harpsichord solo,” Bjarni Egill declares.

Power Paladin

Power Paladin. Photo by Art Bicnick

Your friendly neighbourhood Power Paladin

But ignoring any hatred-filled keys, the boys of Power Paladin are already happy, just grateful for all the opportunities and support they’ve been given. As they constantly reiterate—they never expected any of this.

“Our dream has always been to just publish an album, something that we love and get it printed, mostly for ourselves. That’s all that ever mattered,” Atli says. “And really, that was the starting position. And then extras from that would be to play some fun gigs in Iceland, some of the other festivals—that’d be super awesome.”

“And a heavy metal cruise,” Bjarni Egill jumps in. “Yes, our first goal with the band was always to get famous enough so that we just get to play on the heavy metal cruises and nothing else,” Bjarni Þór piles on. Once again—the jokers.

“We’ll see what the future holds and just be your friendly neighbourhood Paladin,” Atli smiles, taking us back to the Spiderman references. “As long as we are having fun.”

Power Paladin

Photo by Art Bicnick

Check out Power Paladin on all streaming platforms and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

The photo is taken at the Viking Hotel Fjörukráin in Hafnarfjörður, who we cannot thank enough. Props were supplied by the one-and-only Nexus, your stop for anything nerdy in Reykjavík. Hopefully one day they will outfit our office.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

You can also check out our shop, loaded with books, apparel and other cool merch, that you can buy and have delivered right to your door.

Also you can get regular news from Iceland—including the latest notifications on eruptions, as soon as they happen—by signing up to our newsletter.

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!