Sound — 7
Before I played guitar, I played "Guitar Hero" (you probably knew this was coming). Like many, I was introduced to DragonForce by the last song in the video game, "Through the Fire and Flames." Aside from being the game's most notorious song, on a personal level, it was the first time I heard shredding that did not sound like bees buzzing and the first time I heard fast metal that did not involve ugly growling. While I have now come to appreciate death and thrash metal, the DragonForce revelation (that I could actually enjoy speed metal) was a defining moment in my early life as a music connoisseur.
Now, years later, tempered by the experience of many more albums and genres as well as by my acquisition of a musician's ear, I can view DragonForce much more critically than I possibly could have back when I sat in awe watching the "Through the Fire and Flames" music video. And after having listened to their new album front to back, twice, I must say, unfortunately, that there is not a song that approaches "Through the Fire and Flames" in terms of melody, skill (from what I can tell), arrangement, or vibe.
Now that I have addressed what I consider the elephant in the room that accompanies any DragonForce album (at least for the layman), I can elaborate further on the quality of this album. For those DragonForce fans who rolled their eyes when they saw "Guitar Hero" in the first sentence, I am sure that this album will not disappoint them. To cover the general DragonForce bases, Herman Li and Sam Totman are still the blazing speed guitar duo that they have always been. Marc Hudson turns in an above average performance on his second album with the band as does drummer Dave Mackintosh, on, conversely, his final album with the band.
While it would be easy enough to mark this album as just another DragonForce release that only fans will appreciate, there is more substance to be found. Let me preface by saying that it actually surprises me how consistent DragonForce sounds from album to album, considering how hard their music is to play and, I would think, to write. However, this album does have a couple of treasures that could initially escape someone attempting to speed through the album. For example, I think that "Ring of Fire," the band's cover of a Johnny Cash tune, is one of the best songs on the album. The bridge of "No More" is definitely worth listening to a couple of times as well. In fact, that bridge is probably the best headbanger moment on the album.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it is interesting to note that none of the songs exceed the seven-minute mark. It appears that DragonForce is taking a more minimalist approach (if that is even possible for them) with this album in terms of song structure. Though I imagine that some will label DragonForce as sellouts for this, their more concise songs play right into the lap of vocalist Marc Hudson; his ability to belt out breathtaking choruses is, in my opinion, unmatched by former vocalist ZP Theart. Theart is probably the better storyteller, but that's an argument for another day (or the comments).
Lyrics — 8
To anyone that believes Marc Hudson was not completely comfortable on "The Power Within," he certainly is here. Marc's voice and style is actually so comparable to that of ZP Theart, it is likely that many passing fans of DragonForce may not realize that there even was a changeup last album. The only criticism I have of Hudson is that his voice, when stretched to its limits in the upper registers, can sound whiny and, for lack of a better word, wimpy.
Nevertheless, Hudson constructs mesmerizing choruses with such strong verses that my previous criticism is insignificant in comparison. As always, DragonForce's lyrics sound like a band named, well, DragonForce. Knights fighting and swords clashing are always expected and the lyrics do not deviate from these themes for the majority of the album.
Here is a sampling of them from "Three Hammers":
"Lost long ago through the ages of time
Once ruled immortal the gardens of lies
Wandering together they stood side by side
Storm winds from darkness the world in decline
Clutch for the hammers to reclaim the throne
Three brought together by warriors unknown
United to vanquish all hell from the earth
Conquering glory, the kingdom's rebirth."
Overall Impression — 7
For the most part, this album is the standard power metal fare we have come to expect from DragonForce. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see the band experiment with new song structures and types of melodies (even if many parts in "Extraction Zone" are taken directly from "Through the Fire and Flames"). The simplistic nature of the Johnny Cash song almost limits DragonForce in what they can do and it is surprisingly satisfactory because of this. It could be my classic rock side talking here, but I think that DragonForce could possibly be much better if they limited themselves in melody to the type in "Ring of Fire."
It appears with the shorter songs, DragonForce is attempting to refine their sound. While, overall, they have not changed much from what most people expect, it will be interesting to watch for their next album to see if they continue further down this minimalist path.
In the meantime, this album will keep you company. If it doesn't, try learning to play it.