Ah, the sound of Dragonforce; epic power metal echoing with triumphant harmony-ridden vocals, blazing dual guitar solos, and rapid, lightning-fast drumming, all strategically laden with artificial noises that sound like they have come out of a 16-bit Nintendo game. Ultra Beatdown, their latest effort, seems to have everything that separates these juggernauts from the rest of the power metal world.
There’s only one problem: they’ve already done this same thing three times before.After their first single, “Through the Fire and the Flames” off of their 2006 album Inhuman Rampage, was featured as an almost impossible task to complete on the video game Guitar Hero, Dragonforce started to gain more mainstream success and album sales increased. They soon began creating a larger fan base, which they somewhat lacked up until this point.
With past albums, their impact was more original, due to their immense talent and groundbreaking sound. Their emphasis on such signature elements, like intricate guitar solos and high-pitched vocals, hooked in new listeners and left them wanting more. Is there such thing as too much of a good thing? They may have held on to these methods for too long.
“Starchaaaaser!” lead singer ZP Theart wails in the opening track “Heroes of Time,” just as the song begins to get buried in the sound of guitar virtuosos Sam Totman and Herman Li’s “bleeps,” “blips” and inaudible video game soundtrack styled soloing. This is reminiscent of their sophomore effort, Sonic Firestorm.
The duo’s ability to pick up solos from each other and rip through scales show their extremely advanced playing skills, which has always been the main focus of the band. This style continued onto Inhuman Rampage, but now seems campy and overused on Ultra Beatdown.
“Reasons to Live,” the third track, does in fact stand out from their previous work, as it introduces Dragonforce to a different song structure. Powerful chugging guitar and thunderous Black Metal styled drums perk up your ears and at the first listen may raise the question: “Is this still the same band?”
For most of the other songs on Ultra Beatdown, the choruses provide an ambient and catchy foundation, and tend to drift the listener off into a land “so far away,” before bringing them back for the grand finale of a three-to-four-minute guitar solo.
The bass seems to be absent on the album, like most of their past efforts, due to the focus on more evident instruments and talents in the band, and the drums represent mediocre talent at best.
Theart shines, as he always does, proving his role as a much underrated vocalist, but not always the most creative lyricist. The family-friendly content can sometimes create a picture in your head of a fantasy land or whatever optimistically-charged story he’s singing about. Oftentimes, lyrical phrases and themes will appear in multiple songs, thus mirroring other Dragonforce albums.
Dragonforce have proven to be impeccably capable of amazing listeners with their never-slowing soloing technique and constant switch of the lead, and Ultra Beatdown is a testament to that.
Though it lacks originality (he album often sounds like one very long, continuous song), fans and new listeners alike may still enjoy it.