Valley of the Damned Dragonforce - Valley Of The Damned (Noise) 2003

1. Invocation Of The Apocalyptic Evil (:14)
2. Valley Of The Damned (7:12)
3. Black Fire (5:47)
4. Black Winter Night (6:30)
5. Starfire (5:53)
6. Disciples Of Babylon (7:16)
7. Revelations (6:52)
8. Evening Star (6:39)
9. Heart Of A Dragon (5:24)

Dragonforce's full length debut follows on the heels of their popular five track CD under than name Dragonheart. While Dragonforce are based out of the UK, their members are from England, Hong Kong, South Africa, France and the Ukraine. This band is made up of pretty diverse nationalities. Dragonforce are modern power metal, which is far different from the early American power metal bands like Metal Church. Rather, this is European dungeons and dragons style power metal, which is often referred to in metal circles as "flower metal". This is due to the overwhelming keyboards and the overall melodic nature of the music. However, metal fans in the know will also hear some heavy inspiration from early Helloween. I'd also say they have a ton of Manowar influence as well, not only musically but lyrically as well. Dragonforce are pretty over-the-top in everything they do, from the ultra-fast songs to the high-octane vocals of ZP Theart. Of course, Herman Li and Sam Totman's speedy guitar playing and fast licks are the centerpiece of "Valley of the Damned".

I didn't actually discover Dragonforce until "Inhuman Rampage". With that album I quickly grew bored with the samey-ness of the songs. Fast tempos can be fun, but at the same time, they can also get boring and forgettable. Somehow on "Valley of the Damned" I don't find that to be the case. This could be due to the few well placed, slower breakdowns, or the marginally more memorable songs. "Black Winter Night" is probably the catchiest song on the album. It has a good hook and a nice key change that helps build momentum in the song. It also has the trademark shred guitars that will give all the Guitar Hero champs hand cramps trying to play along. "Starfire" is a slower song that start with an acoustic guitar then kicks it into high gear mid-way. "Disciples of Babylon" adds in some jazzy parts to spice up the song.

Dragonforce's debut may very well be their best album. Die-hard fans may disagree, but I think after this album the band tended to continue to repeat themselves, whereas on this CD the band were fairly unique.

Sonic Firestorm Dragonforce - Sonic Firestorm (Noise Records) 2004

1.      My Spirit Will Go On (7:54)
2.      Fury of the Storm (6:46)
3.      Fields of Despair (5:25)
4.      Dawn Over a New World (5:13)
5.      Above the Winter Moonlight (7:31)
6.      Soldiers of the Wasteland (9:45)
7.      Prepare for War (6:15)
8.      Once in a Lifetime (7:46)

Hail! Slay the dragons! Everyone's favorite video game power metal band is back to conquer the hordes in Level 2. I know many, many people who love this band based on a song they heard on Guitar Hero. Comments like, "they're so fast and heavy" are fairly common. Indeed they are fast, but for me, the lack much substance. The riffs are all very similar and buried in mounds of keyboards, of which the melody is mostly build around. Actually, I think the keyboards have become even more prominent on this album than they were on the band's debut. Guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman are inventive soloists and is obviously a very talented guitarists. Vocalist ZP Theart is a more than competent vocalist with a high, clean voice that works well for the band's rapid-fire music.

When I heard Dragonforce for the first time, their blinding speed impressed me. However as I began to explore their catalog, I was left sort of cold. Speed is cool, but can become very monotonous and that is generally how I see Dragonforce's catalog. It's monotonous speed over substance.There is no denying that this band has talent and a ton of stamina, especially if they can pull off this blinding speed live. However, there are tons of bands that can play fast but also focus on songwriting and have variety in their tempos so that things don't get stale. What makes some of the greatest metal bands in history so great? Great songs. Memorable songwriting. Heavy riffs. A charismatic vocalist. A band like Accept has their fast songs like "Fast As a Shark" but they also have the pounding mid-paced "Restless and Wild" on the same album. Even bands that are generally fast most of the time like Exciter have a variety in tempos. Sure, they have a lot of fast songs, but they also have songs like "Pounding Metal" that are more mid-paced and offer some variety. That's not to say that Dragonforce never slow things down, but when they do it's often just a short break in a song and never really the basis of the song itself. "Prepare for War" is a good example. In the middle of the song, there is a melodic breakdown with a nice guitar lead, which lasts for about a minute before the song blasts away at breakneck speed once again.

My other qualm with the record lies in the extremely long songs. Only two of the songs clock in at less than six minutes long, and because of this the album tends to get tiring,. This is especially true since the structure of the songs is quite similar. Factor in the monotonous speed and that doesn't make for memorable songs. Songs like "Soldiers of the Wasteland" and "Once in a Lifetime" fall victim to this. "Soldiers of the Wasteland" has a bit of a celtic influence in the beginning of the song that would have been cool if it had been explored more in the nearly ten minute long song. Either way, some of the songs probably could have been shortened a bit without hurting the song, and this would likely have made the album somewhat easier to listen to.

Props to Dragonforce for being doing what they do. Their brand of flower metal obviously has a market. It's all about fantasy lyrics, fast songs and providing soundtracks for video games. I won't deny this band's talent. However, their sameness holds them back from being something that I can enjoy on a consistent basis. On the flip-side, I suppose if Dragonforce slowed things down, they would just fall into place with the over-crowded power metal scene and sound like all the others.

The song "Fury of the Storm" is featured on Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock.

Dragonforce - Inhuman Rampage (Roadrunner) 2006

1. "Through The Fire And The Flames" (7:18)
2. "Revolution Deathsquad" (7:51)
3. "Storming The Burning Fields" (5:16)
4. "Operation Ground And Pound" (7:42)
5. "Body Breakdown" (6:57)
6. "Cry For Eternity" (8:10)
7. "The Flame Of Youth" (6:39)
8. "Trail Of Broken Hearts" (5:52)

Dragonforce were all the rage in the U.S. in '06 thanks in part to the band being added to the infamous Ozzfest. Apparently the band is already quite popular in Europe. I've never been one to care about bands based on popularity, so I was in no rush to check them out. I was also less than impressed with the geeky sounding bandname. Somehow I expected themes of dungeons, dragons, witches and warlocks. However, I took the advice of those who emailed me about the band and decided to give 'em a spin. Surprisingly, Dragonforce are quite interesting and much, much better than I expected. While they would most certainly fall under the power metal category and their lyrics are the typical, fanstasy, power metal fare, they have a unique sound that moves them outside the pack. Their music is incredibly fast, yet still amazingly coherent and melodic with clean, mid-range vocals. The drums and guitars are so fast it almost sounds inhuman. I mean, my jaw hit the floor at how fast and precise some of the guitar riffs and solos were. Even the keys are used in such a way as to not take away from the overall heaviness and speed of the band. Unfortunately the band's fascination with speed makes the album sound somewhat samey throughout. The one exception would be album closer "Tail of Broken Hearts" which is a melodic ballad. However, a bit more variety in tempo throughout might have made for a more memorable listen. Despite this complaint, there is something fascinating about the Dragonforce sound that holds my attention and I can totally understand why the band have managed such a quick climb to success. I can honestly say that Dragonforce have helped to set a new standard for power metal. The band labels themselves Extreme Power Metal. Indeed!

Ultra Beatdown Dragonforce - Ultra Beatdown (Roadrunner) 2008

1. "Heroes of Our Times" (7:14)
2. "The Fire Still Burns" (7:50)
3. "Reasons to Live" (6:26)
4. "Heartbreak Armageddon" (7:41)
5. "The Last Journey Home" (8:12)
6. "A Flame for Freedom" (5:20)
7. "Inside the Winter Storm" (8:12)
8. "The Warrior Inside" (7:15)

Dragonforce are one of those buzz bands that I get a ton of emails about and seem to generate a lot of talk among the Hot Topic crowds. Thanks to their appearances on Ozzfest and on the extremely popular video game series Guitar Hero, Dragonforce has skyrocketed in popularity. There is nothing wrong with any of this in and of itself. I mean, I love some very popular bands. However, Dragonforce are now four albums into their recording career and they have created four albums that are undistinguishable from the next. "Ultra Beatdown" brings nothing new to the table whatsoever. It features the same song structures, computerized guitars, nearly mute bass, obnoxious keyboards, silly video game sounds and all the same gimmicks.

Ultra Beatdown displays the same incredibly fast playing. As with "Inhuman Rampage" the band's fascination with speed makes the album lack variety. This is also my problem with a lot of black metal. It's speed for speed's sake and nothing more. I've never been overly concerned with how fast a band is. Speed is cool, but it can sort of trap you into a corner as well. Nothing wrong with a good mid-paced riff or even a slow doomy riff, or for that matter a ballad. It's all good IMO. That's what makes bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden so great is that they balance all those things. That's not to say there aren't some slower parts peppered throughout, such as the short break in "Heartbreak Armageddon", but these are the exception, not the rule.

Those who like their trademark sound will probably find this album to their liking as well. Motorhead, AC/DC and many other bands have stuck to a distinct sound for decades, so I suppose that Dragonforce can too. I suppose the difference for me is that I find something memorable about songs from AC/DC and Motorhead, while this time around Dragonforce left me with nothing.

Oh and one final note, this has to be one of the cheesiest album titles since "Intravenous de Milo". Dragonforce either have a strange sense of humor or are some of the biggest dweebs in metal.

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