Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dragonforce - The Power Within


Dragonforce, remember those guys? They’re a British power metal band that was HUGE in Europe. Owing a large part of their fame to speed, one of the makers of the infamous Guitar Hero video game chose Through the Fire and Flames to be one of the songs. Just a side note, I HATE guitar hero/rock band, primarily because most of the songs that are on those games are FUCKING LEGIT! But now, those songs have been ruined by the game because when you ask someone from my generation if they like Rage Against the Machine, White Zombie, Disturbed, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, they’ll say that they just know Bulls on Parade, Black Sunshine, Stricken, and Suck my Kiss (none of which are any of those bands’ best songs). And of course, the song that everyone knew and that all Guitar Hero players spent countless hours trying to beat, Through the Fire and Flames by Dragonforce.

Once this song became heard by the millions (probably billions) of “guitar hero-ers”, Dragonforce’s WORLDWIDE fame EXPLODED. Dragonforce started touring for several years at a time here in the United States playing sold-out headlining shows and having HUGE bands as OPENING ACTS such as Sonata Arctica, GWAR, All that Remains, Turisas, Gamma Ray, and a spot on the main stage of the very first Rockstar Mayhem Festival. I have one word in response to that: DAMN!

Once the hype toned down a bit while the question of a new album rose in 2008, people started getting really critical about Dragonforce. For a lot of people my age, who were about 12-14 when Guitar Hero III came out, weren’t at all familiar with the metal genre (I was just getting into metal with the classics like Sabbath, Zeppelin, Nazareth, etc. and the more popular bands like Breaking Benjamin, Staind, Korn, Godsmack, etc.). So when they heard the lightning-speed of the entire band (not just the guitarist), it seemed like this Asian dude was the fastest guitar player of all-time. People started assuming that it was literally impossible to play the guitar that fast and that the band HAD to be speeding up the guitar recordings in the studio.

Here’s something that I realized just recently: he can’t be faking his guitar playing because there are plenty of guitarists as fast as him in bands like Rings of Saturn, Obscura, Children of Bodom, Arsis, Dying Fetus, and many others! Although I personally haven’t seen Dragonforce play on stage, I have heard from several people that did see the band that Dragonforce played their fastest songs at a slower tempo than in the recording. Ok, if this is true, maybe he did speed up his guitar in Sonic Firestorm and Inhuman Rampage. But seriously, with all the proof supporting that it’s more than possible to play as fast as him, I don’t think that he’s lazy enough to not have improved his skills enough to play that fast since then.

I apologize for my ramble about Dragonforce as a band instead of focusing on the album itself. One thing that everyone wanted was for Dragonforce to focus more on being MUSICAL SPEED instead of just PURE SPEED. But, as you can see in my review of Inhuman Rampage, Through the Fire and Flames still remains my personal favorite Dragonforce song because although it’s not their fastest song, it’s definitely their most emotional, touching, epic, and colorful song. Contrary to popular opinion, I think that Ultra Beatdown was a big step in the right direction. They focused more on keyboards and electronics than blazing guitar speed, which I think sounded really cool, especially in Heartbreak Armageddon.

After Dragonforce concluded their supporting tours for Ultra Beatdown, they turned silent (as far as I can remember). Earlier this year, I saw on Metal Injection that Dragonforce didn’t break up (which is what many assumed) and were almost done with a new album which had a different long-haired power metal freak on vocals. Here was the quote from the band that really gave me a bad first impression: “One of the songs on the new album will be our fastest song yet”. Seriously guys? You’ve come out with four albums already and SPEED is still one of your main priorities?? GODDAMNIT!! I was hoping for something more musically-focused! But then again, speed is a big part of Dragonforce’s signature sound, so no matter what, if it’s Dragonforce, there’s going to be plenty of speed. So with the assumption that speed is going to be there no matter what, I was hoping for something a little more like “This is going to be our most melodic album” or “prepare yourselves for a much darker sound”. Something like that would have been more appealing for my teenage eyes.

I decided not to listen to the promo track when they posted it on YouTube when I noticed that it wasn’t the first song off the album. I wanted to hear the songs in the order that the band wanted me to hear it.

The first song, Holding On, was going to be my first impression of the new Dragonforce album, which I had a hell of a fucking lot of hope with. I had a HUGE hunch that this was going to be Dragonforce’s best album. But here’s the thing I had to make sure to filter out: the speed. Dragonforce makes really fast music, I need to be able to listen to that and not be distracted by the insane tempos. Due to my desensitization to bombarding tempos over the years, this is going to be a lot easier for me to listen to than when I was 13 (oh, by the way, I actually HATED Dragonforce back then because I thought their guitarist was literally playing random notes). I knew speed was going to be there, but I’m looking for emotion, color, and melody. Seriously, it’s a power metal band, you have to have a lot of melody for it to sound as epic as possible.

The one-worded response that I would give to this album would be the exact same word that I said in response to Dragonforce’s explosion of fame: DAMN. I know that the original vocalist did plenty of editing to his vocals in the studio, as well as some auto-tune (although it was usually for the digital-sounding effect, which is an exception because it can put a really cool effect to the music. Right after they released the new album, my friend went to see them live in Seattle (he’s always been a diehard fan of them…and power metal in general). He said that they played everything the exact same speed as the recording, there wasn’t any auto-tune on the vocals, and that their performance was flawless. Well, since I’m NOT a diehard fan of them, I’m not just going to take his word for it; but I do believe that they are much better on stage than they were four years ago.

This is not going to be a track-by-track review (I only do those for EPs), but I will say that there are plenty of ballads and songs with NORMAL POWER METAL tempos, but the fast shit is faster than ever. One thing that everyone was looking for was a break from the speed, and this album gives that. But do you honestly think that there will ever be a Dragonforce record with the absence of incredible speed? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. But if you want a break from the speed, this album has sections of songs and even entire tracks that offer you just that. Also, the musical quality is so much better!

I thought that Ultra Beatdown was more of a work of experimentation than an attempt to focus more on musical quality. This album is musical quality, hands down. Yes, the freakish Asian dude plays those really weird computer-sounding guitar solos that he’s known for. But the melody behind all of the technical speed is a thousand times stronger than it was in the previous albums. If you want a good, fast, and melodic power metal record, The Power Within should be a consideration.

Ok, what’s the new vocalist like? He has one of the strongest voices that I’ve ever heard in the power metal genre. This guy with razor-straight blond hair sounds quite similar to the previous singer, but with a much crisper voice that has more power, a larger pitch range, and more emotion. Is there really anything else I need to say to imply that this guy has really improved Dragonforce’s overall sound?

Compared to Dragonforce’s entire discography, this is amazing. This is a true high-quality power metal record that all power metal fans should have a copy of. Yes, it has the signature Dragonforce technicality and speed that everyone knows, but the musical wall behind all of the insanity is stronger and more solid than ever before. Think of it like this: the wall behind Sonic Firestorm was made out of really strong oak wood; the wall behind The Power Within is made out of titanium. Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: I would score The Power Within with a 16/20, which is a VERY high score considering how hard it is to impress me with a power metal album!