Review Summary: Ultra Beatdown is the reason this type of music should not take itself too seriously.
Let me clarify by saying that yes, the instrumentation on this album is fantastic. The notes are all blazing fast, and realistically, only the greatest shredders would be able to pull off most of the acrobatics on display here. However, Dragonforce’s greatest strength is also its greatest of innumerable weaknesses.
To begin, I’m just curious who thought naming an album Ultra Beatdown was a legitimately good idea. Such a title essentially forces anybody to admit that what it is they are about to listen should not, under any circumstances, be taken seriously. Although I do have to admit that for someone who has never heard Dragonforce before, the sort of music you would expect to hear with such a title is exactly what you get. You know, assuming the band name didn’t already give that away.
That sound that has been so perfectly foreshadowed essentially sounds the result of several college frat boys gathered together in a room, two of whom are decided it would be fun to masturbate with guitar strings, while another watches, shrieking gratingly about his fantasy exploits, with a bassist sitting morosely in the corner doing absolutely nothing, watching his friends sit around and enjoy themselves in their divergent ways.
Of course, this hour long masturbating session is showered with praise by anyone who discovered the band through Guitar Hero 3, or, as it is commonly called, the entire fan base. Anybody who claims to be able to listen to Through the Fire and Flames endlessly on repeat has an instant classic in Ultra Beatdown, considering it is that very same song, reprised eight different times. I feel it is here I must admit that, while I have never been able to take Herman Li, Sam Totman, and the other basically non-essential band members used to support those two’s vision of endless guitar wank, seriously, I did enjoy Through the Fire and Flames, because it doesn’t sound as if the band was taking themselves too seriously, either. All that has changed here, however.
Perhaps the praise bestowed upon guitar flurries so fast that one note is indecipherable from the next has gone to their collective heads. I’m not entirely sure of the reason, but the tongue-in-cheek pretension that made Inhuman Rampage and Valley of the Damned at least an occasionally entertaining, if not incredibly rewarding listen, has been replaced by honest pretension. I can’t escape the feeling that Dragonforce thinks that this glorified atonal mass that essentially sounds like the soundtrack of an old 8-bit game with higher production values, is serious music. I enjoy a good wholesome game of Frogger as much as the next guy, but not even teenagers nostalgic for a time period they never lived in would be interested in listening to those endless electronic bleeps and bloops for a full hour, unless I feel the artist involved is doing this as some well intentioned prank. Although, I guess I must be wrong in such a generalization, because this band has made a career of taking the soundtracks from old 80s games, hopping the tempos up on some ecstasy, and then shredding them within a wood chipper, Fargo style.
Finally, the lyrics are absolutely awful. I understand, the words to a song are by far the least important aspect, and there have been an impossibly many bands who write awful lyrics that I whole-heartedly adore. However, when these fantasy lyrics arrive, it is Ultra Beatdown’s final nail in the coffin. I have nothing against fantasy lyricism, I’ll say that right off the bat. I consider Nightfall in Middle Earth, from the fabulous Blind Guardian to be a staple of the power metal genre. But needless to say, there is a fairly sizable gap between Tolkien themed lore, and the meaningless doodles of a fifth grader who should be paying greater attention to his phonics teacher. As is likely obvious, this band tends towards the latter. I only mention this because after the malicious attack of a pair of musically disinclined chainsaws, the lyrics are the last refuge in which it is possible to find perhaps some small redeeming value. Unfortunately, no such luck.
In conclusion, I understand many people who have never been instructed in anything even resembling musical theory may enjoy this, and I respect them and their opinions. So, to sate their desires until yet another Dragonforce release, I would like to take this opportunity to announce the distribution of my new album: a series of tracks involving high powered automatic drills boring through the skulls of assorted small, furry animals.