Dragonforce is one of those bands that you either love or loathe as the band hits us with their seventh album with new drummer Gee Anzalone showing the fans what he can do. Their last album “Maximum Overload” was a decent if unambitious album when it was released in 2014, but the same cannot be said of this new highly ambitious and exceptional release.
A sci-fi like title track intro piece starts the album with a gloomy riff and superb light solo that escalates the start of the album ready for “Ashes Of The Dawn” where you expect a hyper velocity riff to come in but fails to do so as the song opts for a more heavy metal focused riff, that dances nonchalantly initially before stamping on the gas pedal into Dragonforce tried and tested style. Marc Hudson (vocals) excels on the album, his variation in tone and ability to add charisma is key to this album. The twin fretboard gymnastics by Herman Li and Sam Totman are resolutely stamped onto the songs as is the keyboard work which add colossal amounts of atmosphere. And I can’t forget Frédéric Leclercq whose bass playing is equal to the guitar maestros and it is easy to forget that his playing ability is exceptional.
That sci-fi like style of the intro materialises again on “Judgement Day” in a sort of electrocore moment that is shattered when the song rockets into life with a double kick blast and insanely fast guitar work. Gee’s drumming ability is unquestioned as he veers from one style to another spontaneously with staggering aplomb. There is Euro power metal guise on the song’s chorus as a cracking riff break is inserted and joined by an ethnic sounding keyboard fill. Staying on safe ground “Astral Empire” is a blazing Dragonforce staple with a catchy chorus, as always, finger singeing solo work and contrasts with atmospheric “Curse Of Darkness” and dare I say a similarity to early Rhapsody material, when they were called Rhapsody. Contrasting massively with the first handful of songs is “Silence”, a ballad of sorts with acoustic guitar and vocals being backed by a mournful keyboard backdrop and showcases Marc’s rang brilliantly even though I wasn’t that keen of the song generally.
Returning to warp speed is “Midnight Madness” which gallops along in pure power metal poise until an abrupt halt in proceedings enters for the chorus section that soars majestically. The musicianship is stellar as each plays like their own showcase but none more so than the drumming and vocals as the tune finales with a double kick rampage. The calm intro to “War!” bears no resemblance to how the song finishes as a calming semi acoustic riff hints that the song is another slower ballad like tune. That notion is obliterated when a thrash like riff, yes I did say thrash, interrupts and is akin to a speed metal riff, complete with the drummer beating the crap out of the bass drums. Marc’s vocals take on a harsher tone too as the lightning guitar work blazes through the song. The chorus is pure Dragonforce, soaring tones amid an anthemic stance as the blazing lead break floors the song into speed metal territory.
“The Edge Of The World” is an 11 minute epic which in the context of the length of Dragonforce songs on previous albums is nothing new but this is quite possibly the most ambitious of the lot as the song starts beautifully with an acoustic guitar melody and subtle bass. Marc’s vocals are poignant, leading the song towards the rest of the instruments joining in. The pace is steady with a heavy metal like posture that leads nicely into a doleful guitar hook. The song’s energy and emotion are inextricably linked to the lambent drum work which delicately accentuates the guitar work and vocals. When you think there is nothing else to offer after five minutes or so an ululant guitar solo emerges which evaporates ready for the song to take on a much heavier approach as the vocals become growls and bellows with a death metal undercarriage momentarily and you wonder whether you heard it right initially. That may give some of you cause for concern but within the sonic theatrics of the song it works extremely well.
Ending the album is “Our Final Stand” which will wash away those death metal like vocals as the release returns to the tried and tested realism of Dragonforce’s formula. However the initial pressings will have two bonus tracks with one being a cover which I’ll get to shortly. “Hatred And Revenge” hints at the heavier side of the band that I’ve already mentioned as the song speeds along and hints at my reference to Rhapsody again. The cover song is one that will, again, raise a few eyebrows and is cover of “Evil Dead” by Death which was on that bands “Scream Bloody Gore” album released in 1987. It is not that much of a stretch to link the songs of Death with Dragonforce as the initial riff is cleaned up slightly but sticks to the original more or less as the guitarist add their own identity with a few guitar hooks ready for the main riff which works well. The vocals are harsh but not growled initially as the tone is heavy metal based as the growls are inserted in the chorus. The lead work is completely glorified as expected as the twin harmonies do battle and lead into a keyboard backdrop that works just about. There is no point doing a cover unless you are going to do something different with it and Dragonforce do exactly that and in some respects the cover is faster as a double kick blast is deployed.
Dragonforce return to the power metal Universe with a stunning album that sees them veer into new realms but also maintain their core base of hyper speed riffing, rioting drum work and outstanding vocals. Staggeringly good stuff.
(9/10 Martin Harris)