I’m familiar with Bloodbound already, but this time the album title piqued my interest even further. Regular readers will know I’m partial to a bit of dragon imagery within the realms of Power Metal. Yes, dragons can be a bit of a bind at a dinner party (though they excel at barbecues!), they’re not half bad in Listerine adverts of yore, but seemingly perfect for flexing their wings and looking angry on a Power Metal album cover. It’s clearly the way of things…

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the 30 second opener for “War Of Dragons” is called ‘A New Era Begins’. Initially this sounds like being the case as the first track proper ‘Battle In The Sky’ is a galloping gazelle of a track, with kick drums pounding, running bass-lines, neo-classical keys/guitars pushed to the fore and a memorable chorus – we’re off to a flyer! After the Hammerfall-esque leanings of previous album “Stormborn”, my hopes of a renewed vigour were high and though the next track ‘Tears Of A Dragonheart’ drops the pace a little, it ups the symphonic side somewhat, giving proceedings a classic Rhapsody Of Fire vibe.

The whole dragon thing seems to be working for Bloodbound. I know I joke about dragons and power metal, and it’s not just a matter of sticking ‘dragon’ in your name and playing quickly (I’m looking at you Dragonforce!), but that whole fantasy realms and lyrical freedom just seems to free some power metal bands up – the same as singing about mythical battles works for others. And it really is uncanny how often a band increases the tempo when there’s a dragon introduced somewhere. It’s like there’s one sat at the back of the recording studio looking impatient or threatening. Maybe clutching a note saying “Play quicker or I’ll incinerate the drum kit…then the bassist.”

Back to the album though, and the title track quickens things up once more (do I smell smoke…?). All the best parts of the band’s previous release are still there, they just seem to be being played with more urgency and energy (yes, definitely smoke…), but also a lightness of attitude, a more carefree delivery – as highlighted on tracks like ‘Silver Wings’ with it’s hint of folkiness. Fear not traditionalists though, Sabaton fans should enjoy ‘Stand and Fight’ and Hammerfallers likewise to ‘Starfall’ or ‘Fallen Heroes’ (the latter of which also reminds me of Thunderstone), but I’m personally enjoying more those tracks where the band are pushing into other areas. ‘King Of Swords’ combines Gamma Ray or Iron Savior at their quickest with a Freedom Call type chorus and a really catchy Falconer style middle section.

There’s lightning guitar-work throughout, like on ‘Guardian’s At Heaven’s Gate’ where the band leave Dragonforce in their wake by blending outright speed with an epic, dynamic chorus. ‘Symphony Santa’ is a worrying title, but luckily isn’t really a power metal Christmas track as I feared. No sleigh-bells are audible, instead it touches nicely on that classic Rhapsody vibe again (very Luca Turilli in the guitar playing), with another great urgent tempo and memorable symphonic chorus. So I can hardly blame the band for utterly hamming up the whole dragon thing with the little-too-Dragonforce-for-comfort closing track ‘Dragons Are Forever (not just for Christmas)’ (OK, I added the not for Christmas bit…but it IS the track after ‘Symphony Santa’…).

This really does sound like a band utterly enjoying themselves, it was something I didn’t really pick up on as much from their previous releases and to me they sound much improved because of it. They will lose some traditional power metal fans but no doubt gain some new ones, but an important factor has to be how natural this album feels. It really feels like they are having fun and I do feel that power metal benefits from that kind of attitude and delivery. And dragons obviously.

(8/10 Andy Barker)