Top Ten Most Shocking Moments in the DC Animated Universe

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There’s no question that Marvel Comics rules the big screen, pumping out one blockbuster after another. But when it comes to the small screen, it’s their “Distinguished Competition” who owns that territory.

It all began with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. Gone were the unoriginal plots, bland characters, and juvenile atmosphere of the DC superhero cartoons of the 1960s and 1970s. This was done as a dramatic series that just happened to be animated. The writing was mature and smart, and the characters had distinct personalities, along with the typical human strengths and flaws. The series even won four Emmy Awards during its run. Batman spawned other animated shows by DC, including Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, which maintained that mature storytelling and character development. The company also released a slew of direct to DVD original movies, many of which were geared toward a more adult audience.

With the Superfriends cartoons of the 1970s, nothing stood out in those stories, save for the lack of imagination and the fact all the heroes were goody-goody good guys who never did any wrong. Not so with the DC TV shows and movies from 1992 on. The heroes and heroines made mistakes, let their emotions get the better of them, and had to live with the consequences of their actions. That led to some shocking moments in these shows and movies. But which ones are the most shocking? Which ones had fans stare at their TVs, mouths agape, asking themselves, “Did that really happen?”

We’re about to find out. Here are my picks for the Top Ten Most Shocking Moments in the DC Animated Universe.

Do I even need to warn you that the following contains spoilers?

#10: JOKER THROWS HARLEY QUINN OUT A WINDOW

Romeo and Juliet. Han Solo and Princess Leia. Captain Sheridan and Ambassador Delenn. These are some of the greatest fictional love stories ever.

Then you have the Joker and Harley Quinn.

Created just for the Batman series, Harley became one of its most popular characters, with her doey-eyed devotion to her “Mr. J.” She even brought out a softer side to the Joker at times, though it wasn’t unusual to see him go from talking sweetly to Harley to screaming at her in the span of three seconds.

In The New Batman Adventures episode “Mad Love,” Harley captures Batman and has him dangling over a tank filled with piranha, hoping to impress the Joker. Instead, when he shows up, he slaps Harley and blows his stack, claiming he has to be the one to kill Batman. Nothing we haven’t seen him do before to his significant other.

Then he does something fans hadn’t seen before. In a fit of rage, the Joker shoves Harley out a third story window, sending her crashing onto a stack of crates below.

Yeah, the Joker’s a psycho nutjob, but . . . damn! I mean, that was Harley he did that to.

Maybe even more shocking was Harley’s reaction. Lying in the wreckage of the crates, bleeding and half-conscious, she mutters to herself, “My fault.”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC5v5dLMW2A

#9: DARKSEID KILLS DESAAD

Desaad has been Darkseid’s chief torturer and all-around right hand man for decades (His first appearance in 1971 in Forever People). Fans are accustomed to seeing him at the side of the cruel ruler of Apokolips. As with all villains, Desaad has had his fair share of screw ups. Despite those failures, Darkseid never kicked him completely to the curb.

That changed in the Justice League episode “Twilight.” Darkseid launches an operation against New Genesis as part of his quest to secure the Anti-Life Equation. The New Gods, however, blast Darkseid’s fleet to pieces, then take their reprisal one step further. They send the debris through a boom tube and drop it on Darkseid’s capital city.

While Darkseid overlooks the devastation, Desaad comments that searching for the Anti-Life Equation is a, “Fool’s errand.”

Most fans probably expected a tongue-lashing from Darkseid, or sending Desaad to the slave pits for a month or two so, “You can think about what you did.” Imagine the double-take they did when he blasted his most loyal servant to atoms with his Omega Beams. Just like that. An established character, gone. Normally, something like that would happen toward the end of an episode. But Desaad got vaporized five minutes into “Twilight.”

The scene was also a great depiction of Darkseid’s cruelty and absence of any amount of respect for life. After dispatching Desaad, he says, “No one questions me, Desaad. No one.” Then he goes back to watching the repair efforts to his city, not showing an ounce of remorse over killing one of his top henchmen.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=811Ql5o2IiE

#8: SINESTRO KILLS A CRAP-TON OF GREEN LANTERNS

This is from the movie Green Lantern: First Flight, which featured Law & Order: SVU star Chris Meloni voicing Hal Jordan/Green Lantern.

A newly-recruited Lantern, Jordan is whisked away to Oa to be trained by Sinestro. To no one’s shock, Sinestro turns bad, claims the yellow power ring, and attacks Oa. That, however, leads to this shocking moment.

Sinestro uses the yellow battery that powers his ring to destroy the green battery. Without their power source, none of the Green Lantern rings work. Sinestro finds himself standing in front of a rain of power rings. Hundreds of power rings! All from Green Lanterns who were in space when the green battery was destroyed. Fans had to wrap their minds around the fact hundreds of Lanterns were snuffed out in the blink of an eye.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=s50rhzt4dCE

#7: ROBIN FIGHTS THE TEEN TITANS

I’m going to admit, Teen Titans never held much appeal to me. The few episodes I did watch were too silly and over the top for me. Still, the show did pull off a shocker in the Season One finale.

The villainous Slade infects Robin’s teammates with a nanovirus and gives the Boy Wonder an impossible choice. Serve him or watch Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy and Raven die.

While performing a break-in on Slade’s behalf, Robin runs up against the Titans. So how does he warn them about Slade’s plans?

He doesn’t. Robin starts fighting the shocked Titans, with Slade ordering him to, “Fight to win.”

Which is exactly what Robin does.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ7bLFbQ5jI

#6: SUPERMAN SERVES DARKSEID

How can this be? The Man of Steel working for one of his greatest enemies? Fans were wondering that when the episode “Legacy” opened with a powerful, dark-suited figure subjugating  a planet. Following the conquest, this being appears before Darkseid, removes his helmet, and reveals he’s . . .

Superman? WTF?

It wasn’t a robot or a clone. The actual Superman was helping Darkseid expand his empire. It turns out Darkseid’s forces kidnapped him and brainwashed him into believing he was raised on Apokolips. Still, seeing one of DC’s greatest heroes fighting for one of its most malevolent villains came as a hell of a shocker for fans.

Superman did recover from his brainwashing, and gave Darkseid one hell of a beat down. Still, Superman’s actions in “Legacy” had several repercussions during the run of Justice League.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Hdf0bg0gMU

#5: WONDER WOMAN DECAPITATES AQUAMAN’S WIFE

You’d think, with a title like Justice League: War, it would be the bloodiest, most violent animated movie ever released by DC.

Nope. Not even close. That distinction goes to Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox.

The Flash goes back in time to prevent his mother from being murdered, and he’s successful. That’s good, right? Sadly, it’s not. His actions cause temporal ripples that FUBAR the whole timeline. Bruce Wayne is murdered as a boy, his father becomes Batman, and his mother becomes the Joker. Kal-El is powerless and imprisoned by the government. The Amazons and Atlanteans are at war. Europe lies in ruin. Heck, you could make a Top Ten Most Shocking Moments list from this movie alone.

Even with all the insane changes to the timeline, none of them comes close to the jaw-dropping death of Mera.

In a flashback sequence, Aquaman and Wonder Woman meet to negotiate a truce between their respective nations. These negotiations happen to include a tryst between the two, which Mera witnesses from the shadows. She confronts Wonder Woman about it, and the two fight.

In the next scene, we see Wonder Woman putting on Mera’s crown, then holding up her severed head. This is something you’d normally see in an R-rated horror movie, not an animated feature. But it is certainly the one scene that sticks out in the minds of everyone who’s seen this movie.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jq-A18JHPNo

#4: LEX LUTHOR IS BRAINIAC 

Lex Luthor and Brainiac are, without a doubt, two of Superman’s most intelligent foes. Now imagine them combining their powers and intellect . . . literally.

In the culmination of the Cadmus story arc for Season Two of Justice League Unlimited, we see some changes in Lex Luthor. Somehow, he’s gained superhuman strength, which he uses to beat the living crap out of the Question when the faceless hero tries to kill him to prevent a possible future where the Justice League rule Earth. Fans were scratching their heads, wondering how a middle-aged billionaire could be that strong.

Maybe he hit the gym every day. Maybe it was steroids.

Nope. When confronted by the original Justice League members, Luthor is just about to make a defiant speech when he’s interrupted . . . by metal prongs and tentacles popping out of his body. That’s when fans learn one of the biggest plot twists ever for JLU. Brainiac fused part of his being with Luthor. While completely out of the blue, it is explained that Brainiac injected part of himself into Luthor during their first encounter in Superman: The Animated Series, and was just waiting for the right time to reveal himself. And what a shocking reveal it was for characters and fans alike.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYVS01MI2ZE

#3: DARKSEID KILLS DAN TURPIN 

It’s the third time Darkseid makes this list. While this villain has racked up a very, very high body count, perhaps none of his kills made characters and fans gasp more than this one.

Dan Turpin was a gruff, no-nonsense detective with the Metropolis Police Department. Through much of Superman: The Animated Series, he had a deep distrust of the Man of Steel. But as the series progressed, his opinion of Superman softened, and he even developed a friendship with him.

In “Apokolips . . . Now!,” Darkseid invades Metropolis. In the process, he pounds Superman senseless and straps him to the front of a massive tank to try and convince the masses even their greatest hero can’t save them.

Turpin, however, is not convinced. He rallies the police and the citizens of Metropolis to rise up against Darkseid. Superman eventually frees himself to help turn the tide in favor of humanity. It’s at this point Darkseid decides to get the hell outta Dodge, with Turpin taunting him as he’s walking into a boom tube.

At the last second, Darkseid turns and fires his Omega Beams at Superman. But the beams whip around him and blast Turpin to dust.

What follows is probably one of the most emotional scenes in DC animated history. With Darkseid escaping back to Apokolips, Superman just loses it, crying out in rage and sorrow while pounding an alien tank into scrap.

Turpin’s funeral is very touching, and pays great respect to someone who was really a supporting character. His tombstone reads, “Daniel Turpin: Earth’s Greatest Hero.” Superman paid a simple tribute to the fallen cop by saying, “In the end, the world really didn’t need a Superman . . . just a brave one.”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0pcChyV6o4

#2: HAWKGIRL BETRAYS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE 

Superheroes fight on the side of right, of justice. Their methods may vary, but at the end of the day, they always know which side of the fence they’re on.

Except Hawkgirl.

A minor character in the comics, who was limited to a couple of appearances in Superfriends in the 1970s, Hawkgirl became a key member of the Justice League during the animated series. She was tough, her character was given depth, and she was even involved in a well-developed relationship with Green Lantern. Her alien origins didn’t cause anyone to be suspicious of her, not when the League had two other aliens (Superman and Martian Manhunter), and a human who got his powers from aliens (Green Lantern).

But when the Thanagarians came to Earth, everything we knew about Hawkgirl went out the window. The winged aliens revealed that Hawkgirl (a.k.a. Shayera Hol) was actually one of their advanced scouts, feeding them information about Earth. Naturally, this revelation blew away her teammates, and fans, who had no inkling this was coming.

Things got worse for Hawkgirl. At first, the Thanagarians came off as wanting to help Earth fight an alien menace. It turned out they were the ones who were the menace. They took over the Earth, forcing the Justice League to go on the run. Hawkgirl, meanwhile, spent most of the episode trying to figure out where her loyalties lay. Even though she did turn on her own race to help liberate Earth, many of the League members could not forgive her deception. She leaves the team, ends her relationship with Green Lantern, and spends a good chunk of Justice League Unlimited as an outcast, trying to figure out her place in the world. Even when she does come back to the League, many members, including Wonder Woman, don’t trust her at all.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D74Ev4cFmo

#1: TIM DRAKE IS THE JOKER 

In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, 35 years have passed since the Joker’s death. So why the hell is the Clown Prince of Crime back in Gotham? That’s what Terry McGinnis, the Batman of the future, is trying to find out.

What he discovered blew everyone’s mind.

The audience learns through flashbacks that the third Robin, Tim Drake, was kidnapped by the Joker, who tortured and brainwashed him into trying to kill Batman. At the last second, Robin turns around and actually kills the Joker. There are two versions of this scene in the movie. In the edited version, Robin shoves Joker into some hanging wires, electrocuting him. In the un-cut version, Robin shoots Joker in the heart with his BANG! spear gun. What follows is a scene you’re transfixed at. Robin, standing over the Joker’s corpse, laughing hysterically while tears stream down his cheeks.

And that’s not even the most shocking part of this movie.

McGinnis/Batman discovers that the now middle-aged Tim Drake has been implanted with a device that contains the Joker’s consciousness and DNA. When activated, the former Robin actually turns into the Joker! McGinnis winds up destroying the device and saving Tim, but holy crap, I don’t even want to imagine what his therapy bills were like after all this.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDkvZLRgtAY

John J. Rust is sports director for a radio station in Arizona, as well as a published author. His books include the sci-fi thrillers “Dark Wings” and “Sea Raptor” and the sports-themed novels “Arizona’s All-Time Baseball Team” and “The Best Phillies Team Ever,” all of which are available on Amazon.

Twenty Bands That Deserve More Attention in the USA

Question: What’s lacking most in the mainstream music scene?
Answer: Talent.
It appears gone are the days when you needed a good voice or be an exceptional guitarist or drummer to be successful in the music world. In far too many cases, the rulers of the mainstream American music scene care only about a look, an image. If he or she can’t sing, no problem. Autotunes can fix that. Who needs a band when you can program beats into a computer? As for meaningful lyrics, forget about it. Originality and creativity take time. The music industry can’t wait for that. They have to keep these pop stars and rappers in the limelight every minute of every day. That means new songs have to keep getting churned out.  It doesn’t matter if they all sound basically the same, if the lyrics are pure nonsense.  The way pop and rap are marketed in America, one would think they are the only kind of music out there.

Not true!

There are other kinds of music today than that featuring uninspired beats, computer aided singers and performers that put on elaborate dance routines to deflect attention from the fact they have no voice.  Great music is being produced outside the borders of the U.S.  From the 1960s through the 1980s, being a band or singer outside North America was not an impediment to success in the U.S.  The British invasion of the 1960s proved that.  So did the flood of new wave, rock and metal from the U.K., continental Europe and Australia in the 1980s.  So why the sudden xenophobic attitude in the American music industry today?  Could it be many of these bands are hard rock and heavy metal, traditionally the red-headed step children of mainstream music?

Whatever the case, if you’re looking for amazing singers and musicians, and songs that have deep meaning, here are 20 bands to give a listen to, and who deserve way more attention in the United States.

#20 – EnkElination: Their first album has yet to be released, but they have been making their way around YouTube and the club scene in England.  Fronted by Elina Siirala, a classically trained opera singer from Finland, her haunting voice blends well with the traditional hard metal guitars and drums of her bandmates.  Some of their songs can be best described as headbanging ballads, beautiful yet forceful.  2014 looks to be the year EnkElination takes the symphonic metal world by storm.

Listen to “Lullaby”

Other songs: “Never Ending,” “Higher Ground,” “Sleeping Sun” (Cover of song by Nightwish)

#19 – Triosphere: She rocks the bass and she belts out songs with a powerful voice.  She’s Ida Haukland, and she fronts the Norwegian metal band Triosphere.  Their songs range in style from steady, driving beats to all-out hard.  With two albums already under their belt, and having toured with some of metal’s biggest names, Triosphere is a rising force in the European music scene.

Listen to “Marionette”

Other songs: “The Road Less Traveled,” “Onwards,” “Driven,” “The Death of Jane Doe”  

#18 – Amorphis: They can move to a ballad sound to a hard edge sound in the same song.  With a dark storytelling style to their songs, Amorphis has become a huge success in their native Finland.  Singer Tomi Joutsen, who joined the band in 2005, has an ominous and foreboding voice that is a natural fit to this band’s style.

Listen to “Silver Bride”

Other songs: “House of Sleep,” “Silent Waters,” “The Wanderer,” “Sky is Mine”

#17 – Visions of Atlantis: When have you ever heard a mainstream American pop singer or rapper say, “My musical style is based on the mythical continent of Atlantis?”  I think it’s safe to say never.  But this Austrian group did just that, and has put out five studio albums since 2000.  Using a male/female singing duo and a powerful symphonic/rock sound, they have produced dozens of songs that range from heavy to beautiful ballads.  Some songs even combine those elements and do so masterfully.  All this despite the fact they have gone through five female singers and three male singers.  VOA’s first female singer, Nicole Bogner, sadly passed away in 2012 at the age of 27.

Listen to “Seven Seas”

Other songs: “Lost,” “Lemuria,” “The Back of Beyond,” “Twist of Fate”

#16 – Tristania: Death metal can be beautiful.  That’s a statement you probably never expected to see.  But this Norwegian group pulled it off by blending some of the darkest elements of metal with a classical music sound and topping it off with the siren voice of Vibeke Stene and the harsh vocals of various male members of the band.  It’s not unusual for Tristiania to produce epic songs with seven or eight minute run times.  While Stene left the band in 2007 and was replaced by Italian singer Mariangela Demurtas, Tristania is still as strong, as dark and as wondrous as ever.

Listen to “Angina”

Other songs: “Aphelion,” “A Sequel of Decay,” “Year of the Rat,” “Darkest White”

#15 – Sirenia: Just like VOA, this Norwegian band has had continued success despite several changes at lead singer.  By combining elements of gothic, death and power metal,  a symphonic quality and choirs, Sirenia has put out six albums since 2002, each one more different and unique than the last.  Currently fronting Sirenia is Ailyn, a Spanish singer who had been a contestant on Spain’s version of “X Factor.”  She has spent the last couple of years refining her voice to give it a harder quality better suited for metal, as demonstrated on the band’s latest release, “Perils of the Deep Blue.”

Listen to “Seven Widows Weep”

Other songs: “The Other Side,” “The Path to Decay,” “My Mind’s Eye,” “The End of it All”

#14 – Therion: More than just a band, this Swedish-based group of men and women is an experience.  Originally starting out as a death metal band in 1987 under the name Blitzkrieg, Therion went through a musical metamorphosis in the 1990s.  Added to the familiar metal sound were female singers with operatic voices, choirs and orchestral sounds.  They don’t just make songs.  They make epic productions, both on their albums and in their live stage shows.

Listen to “To Mega Therion”

Other songs: “Son of the Sun,” “The Falling Stone,” “Son of the Staves of Time,” “The Wine of Aluqah”

#13 – Voyager: They officially call themselves a progressive metal band, and that is evident when  listening to their music.  This Australian group has taken elements of metal and 80s new wave and successfully merged them into a unique musical style.  It’s hard, it’s dynamic, it’s emotional, and Daniel Estrin’s vocals are perfect for this incredible blend of music.  If other exports from Down Under like Men at Work and Midnight Oil could hit it big in the U.S. in the 1980s, there’s no reason Voyager can’t follow in their footsteps in the 21st Century.

Listen to “The Pensive Disarray”

Other songs: “She Takes Me (Into the Morning Light),” “Iron Dream,” “The Meaning of I,” “Lost”

#12 – Leaves Eyes: Call them the ultimate beauty and the beast duo of the symphonic metal world.  For the beast part there’s Alexander Krull with his waist-long hair and brutal vocals.  The beauty comes from Liv Kristine, with an angelic voice to match her lovely looks.  Together, they have the ability to produce various styles of songs, from moving ballads to hard, edgy numbers to a mixture of the two.  Neither were neophytes to the music business before Leaves Eyes.  Krull fronted Atrocity, while Kristine sang for Theatre of Tragedy.  They combined their talent in 2003 to form a band that has put out five studio albums to date.  They also took their beauty and the beast theme to its ultimate conclusion as Krull and Kristine are husband and wife.

Listen to “My Destiny”

Other songs: “Elegy,” “Norwegian Lovesong,” “Hell to the Heavens,” “New Found Land”

#11 – Eluveitie: Chances are if a singer went to the head of some record company in America and told them they wanted to perform with instruments like uilleann pipes, mandolas and a hurdy gurdy, they’d be laughed out of the building.  The Swiss, however, don’t seem to have a problem with that.  Thus was born Eluveitie.  With these medieval instruments, more familiar rock instruments like guitars and drums, clean female vocals and harsh male vocals, they’ve produced five albums with songs that are heavy on folk with a coating of metal, and songs that are heavy on metal with a coating of folk.  Most of their songs are sung in English, with a few sung in Gaulish, a language now considered extinct.  With such a diversity of talent and instruments, Eluveitie should keep putting out original and exciting music for many, many years.

Listen to “Inis Mona”

Other songs: “Omnos,” “Slania’s Song,” “Thousandfold,” “Havoc”

#10 – Alestorm: Metal doesn’t have to be all about anger and darkness and serious issues.  Sometimes you just gotta have fun and party.  That’s what Alestorm is all about.  Partying like pirates, especially since all their songs are pirate themed.  No ballads here.  No throwing in orchestras or choirs.  Listening to their songs is like listening to a loud, unapologetic, raucous party you want to be a part of and don’t want to end.

Listen to “Keelhauled”

Other songs: “The Sunk’ Norwegian,” “Nancy the Tavern Wench,” “Shipwrecked,” “Death Throes of the Terror Squid”

#9 – Xandria: You have two styles you can choose from with this German band.  There’s the light, Gothic style they had with Lisa Middelhauve as lead singer, then there’s the harder, operatic quality with Manuela Kraller as frontwoman.  Either way, you can’t go wrong.  Both styles are awesome in their own, unique ways.  Xandria’s style might even change again, as Kraller left the band last year and was replaced by Dutch singer Dianne van Giersbergen.  Whatever the case, rest assured they will continue to produce powerful, stirring songs for the foreseeable future.

Listen to “Ravenheart”

Other songs: “Save My Life,” “Sisters of the Light,” “Forevermore,” “Valentine”

#8 – Kamelot: This is an American metal band that is an underground success in their country of origin, but found a huge following in Europe.  They have a straight up powerful approach to their songs to go along with the forceful, soul-stirring vocals of Norwegian-born Roy Khan.  At least, they had Khan until 2011, when he left the band due to burn out.  But his spot was taken by Swede Tommy Karevik, whose own voice is not all that dissimilar from Khan’s, making Kamelot stronger than ever.  The band also has a propensity to bring in other prominent European metal singers for some of their songs.  In fact, Karevik had been a guest singer for Kamelot before becoming their lead singer.

Listen to “Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)”

Other songs: “The Haunting,” “March of Mephisto,” “Forever,” “Ghost Opera”

#7 – Arkona: Russian and Slavic folklore, traditional Russian musical instruments and modern metal combine to give this band its unique sound.  It doesn’t even matter that every song they do is in Russian.  The passion and power in the voice of lead singer “Masha Scream” is enough to captivate any listener and give them a feel for the epic stories of Mother Russia’s past.  Masha is also one of a handful of female singers who can make a smooth transition between clean vocals and death growling.  You may ask, “How can a band that doesn’t sing in English be a success in the U.S.?”  Anyone remember Richie Valens and “La Bamba?”  Or Nena and her “99 Luftballons?”

Listen to “Slavsia Rus”

Other songs: “Liki Bessmertnykh Bogov,” “Goi Rode Goi,” “Nevidal,” “Stenka na Stenka”

#6 – Arch Enemy: Do you feel “The Man” is trying to control you?  Do you feel the world is full of conformists who want you to conform?  Are you just pissed off at the way the world is?  This is the band for you.  This Swedish group is about as hardcore as you can get.  When blond Germanic frontwoman Angela Gossow unleashes her furious, growling vocals that remind some of Linda Blair from “The Exorcist,” you don’t know whether to be attracted to her or terrified of her.  Maybe a combination of the two.  Either way, you’re enthralled by how brutal this woman sounds while singing about rising up against all that’s wrong in the world.  Throw in some harsh, yet and the same time amazing, guitar licks, and there are only two words to properly describe Arch Enemy.  “Kick Ass!”

Listen to “Yesterday is Dead and Gone”

Other songs: “Revolution Begins,” “Taking Back My Soul,” “My Apocalypse,” “We Will Rise”

#5 – Iced Earth: Even the most die-hard non-headbangers know the names Metallica and Iron Maiden.  Iced Earth has been around nearly as long, having formed in 1985, and rock just as hard.  Yet somehow, the mainstream recognition achieved by those two bands in the U.S. has escaped Iced Earth in their native country.  Still, after all these years and despite a revolving door of members, including six different lead singers, one of which was Tim “Ripper” Owens, the man who replaced Rob Halford when he left Judas Priest, Iced Earth has developed a large and loyal following and continues their heavy, powerful, in your face style of music, which has covered themes and issues such as religion, personal tragedy, war – including a 30-minute epic about the Battle of Gettysburg – mythology and horror films.

Listen to: “10,000 Strong”

Other songs: “Melancholy,” “Watching Over Me,” “Declaration Day,” “I Walk Alone”

#4 – Sabaton: A general knowledge of history is sorely lacking among many Americans.  That can be cured by listening to these Swedish masters of military history metal.  There is nothing subtle about this band.  They approach their songs with the fury of an artillery barrage.  Lead singer Joakim Broden’s vocals can be explosive, authoritative, epic and inspiring, all at the same time.  Much of their material is drawn from battles and incidents from the First and Second World Wars, with lyrics that paint incredible pictures of heroism, tragedy, honor and horror.  Who needs to sit through weeks of boring lectures on history at school?  Play a few Sabaton songs and you’ll be well versed in the two biggest wars of the 20th Century.

Listen to “Screaming Eagles”

Other songs: “A Coat of Arms,” “Primo Victoria,” “The Final Solution,” “The Price of a Mile”

#3 – Epica: Like their name suggests, this Dutch symphonic metal band is Epic!  Led by the operatic vocals of their stunningly beautiful lead singer Simone Simons, Epica has put out five albums with songs that range from hard and heavy to wondrous and melodic.  The occasional death grunts from guitarist and band founder Mark Jansen and the use of choirs add another dimension to Epica’s incredible music.  They draw inspiration for the songs from a variety of sources, including religion, science, philosophy and world events.  Listen to Simone’s lovely voice just once and you will be memorized.

Listen to: “Unleashed”

Other songs: “Never Enough,” “Sensorium,” “Sancta Terra,” “Chasing the Dragon”

#2 – Within Temptation: Combine a woman with an incredible vocal range, great guitar playing, the sound of an orchestra and a willingness to veer off the symphonic metal path and explore other rock and metal genres, and you have one of The Netherlands most successful bands.  Formed in 1996, Within Temptation has put out five albums, with their sixth due out very soon.  In that time, their style continued to evolve, as they have produced songs with an epic, symphonic quality to a more 80s style hard rock.  Whatever style they choose, they make it work, because they are that damn good!  How can they not be when lead singer Sharon den Adel was named Loudwire’s Rock Goddess of the Year in 2011?

Listen to: “The Truth Beneath the Rose”

Other songs: “Mother Earth,” “Faster,” “Angels,” “The Hand of Sorrow”

#1 – Nightwish: Finally, we come to the band many consider the originators of symphonic metal.  Very rarely do the stars align so that a group of exceptional musicians and a phenomenal lead singer come together to form a band.  That was the case with Led Zeppelin.  It was also the case with Nightwish.  Powered by the imagination of keyboardist and composer Tuomas Holopainen, the songs of Nightwish are influenced by such diverse elements as film scores, fantasy novels, even Disney.  Combine that with the awe-inspiring soprano vocals of Tarja Turunen, and you have one of the most unique sounding bands in the world.  If classic composers like Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Antonin Dvorak had access to electric guitars and keyboards, and used a female opera singer, their songs may have sounded like Nightwish.  Unfortunately, Tarja was fired from the band in 2005, but has gone on to a very successful solo career.  She was replaced by Anette Olzon.  While she had more a hard rock voice, did not possess the vocal range of Tarja and caused a sharp divide among fans, she held her own on two exceptional Nightwish albums before she was let go in 2012 in the middle of the band’s Imaginaerum tour.  Replacing her was Dutch singer Floor Jansen, who previously fronted After Forever.  Floor possesses a dynamic range from powerful to operatic that fits in perfectly with the musical style of Nightwish and should ensure them even more success in the years to come, and hopefully a larger following in the USA.

Listen to “Nemo”

Other songs: “Storytime,” “Ghost Love Score,” “Ever Dream,” “Dark Chest of Wonders”

Oceansouls of America, U.S. Nightwish fan club.  www.nightwish-osa.ezweb123.com

John J. Rust is a fan of heavy metal and many other musical genres.  Professionally, he works as a radio sports reporter and play-by-play announcer, a freelance copywriter and has published the sci-fi book “Dark Wings,” the sports-themed book “The Best Phillies Team Ever” and several sci-fi short stories.