Count DragonForce as one of the most consistently exciting bands of its kind.
DragonForce didn’t invent power metal nor did it perfect the sound, but the British outfit made this frequently fast-as-a-shark genre accessible to an audience that somehow overlooked Avantasia and virtually anything from Finland twixt 1999 and 2003. That’s quite alright as the veteran act returns with an ace record filled with touches of the neoclassical, the fantastical and, of course, a sense of the over the top that can’t be beat.
The artistic success of this group largely comes down to how easily it commits to the trappings of its genre: Soaring vocals, lead guitar lines executed at a speed that’d make a Concorde pilot spit and rays of positivity shining from every possible musical orifice. That ain’t all, of course. There still has to be writing that’ll knacker your knickers and get your heart racing. Neither is in short supply here, across a collection that doesn’t offer much new but still offers something insanely good.
Power metal depends on the almighty riff and there are plenty of those to go around, particularly on the soon-to-be live favorite, “Ashes of the Dawn,” during which you’ll hear “fire” and “desire” rhymed with a complete lack of irony not heard or seen since early Yngwie Malmsteen. Try as one might, you can’t help but pretend that your foot is placed on a stage monitor while your spandex pants drip with sweat as you see/hear 10,000 smiling faces singing back at you.
Variations include the fast for the sake of fast “Astral Empire,” the impossible-to-beat ballad “Silence” (a slight nod to classic Def Leppard) and “Our Final Stand,” the late album fodder that shows the group digging deep into classic AOR territory without regret. These ultimately provide an album structure that harkens back to metal’s 1984-88 glory years–even the 11-minute epic “The Edge of the World” adheres to a formula that never quite seems like one.
How seriously are we supposed to take this? Were DragonForce an American band the group would be quick to bathe lyrics and music in a thick layer of irony, insisting that power metal is for guys who can’t commit to a more established subgenre. The truth is, there’s no reason not to believe in the power of DragonForce, nor is there any reason to question the outfit’s sincerity which remains fully intact.
If anything settles the matter it may be the Slayer-style speed skate “War!” Buoyed by meaningful choruses and verses that remind us how difficult singing and playing this music can be, it provides the perfect emotional heft to bring this bad boy collection home.
Bonus tracks, “Hatred and Revenge” and “Evil Dead” should be part of the proper album as they add an emotional depth not so much lacking but at times underplayed. The album can suffer from a bit of sameness among those less familiar with DragonForce’s eclectic tendencies and desire to conquer the world, one run of 132nd notes at a time. Still, count DragonForce as one of the most consistently exciting bands of its kind, perhaps the greatest in the ranks of contemporary power metal.