Review Summary: Not reinventing the wheel, but certainly reinventing their reputation.
In a way, I've felt a little bad for Dragonforce in recent years. Sure, they should have to earn their status in the music world like any other band. But when the band were thrust into the spotlight with their 2006 tune "Through the Fire and Flames" and how it became synonymous with Guitar Hero, polarization within the metal community became the ultimate result. Some called their music fun and infectious, and many others would decide that the band is composed of a bunch of hacks with abominable levels of guitar "wankery." Unfortunately, the latter was usually the more prominent opinion among metalheads when overly long-winded albums like Inhuman Rampage and Ultra Beatdown (gotta love those creative titles) hit the stores. Here's why I feel bad about all this: ever since ZP Theart's departure and new singer Marc Hudson's arrival, it seems as though Dragonforce have been trying their best to prove themselves as more than just a group of shredders who got commercially lucky. Fortunately, while The Power Within was a very admirable effort to alleviate the band's past inconsistencies, Maximum Overload goes even further and feels like a fresh new chapter in the band's work.
Now, don't get me wrong, the core sound of Maximum Overload is still based on the old Dragonforce we all know and love (and hate). The choruses still have plenty of cheese, the anthemic "stand your ground and face the world" vibe is still incredibly frequent, and the group's trademark speed continues on. In fact, speaking of speed, opener "The Game" is actually the band's fastest song to date and takes numerous cues from classic thrash metal. Having Trivium's Matt Heafy performing growls to add to the intensity always helps too, that's for sure. But, after listening to numerous tracks on the album, you might notice something pretty interesting going on... some of those song lengths are even shorter than on The Power Within! It seems like the band are getting even more committed to streamlining their sound when judging by this fact, although the balance between conciseness and ambition is what really stands out. More progressive elements are prevalent throughout, like the tempo changes and operatic midsection in "Three Hammers" or the beautiful neoclassical keyboard introduction to "Symphony of the Night" (which I'm hoping is a Castlevania reference, by the way). However, the way everything is presented is very cohesive and digestible compared to previous albums, definitely aided by those shorter song lengths and more focused song structures. There aren't any four-minute solos or ridiculously drawn-out intros here, thankfully.
That's not to say everything
is streamlined though, and the band still have a tendency to lose their way because of overbearing soloing or tedious instrumental portions. It seems as though Marc Hudson has a knack for bringing the band together when he's delivering his solid vocal performances, but things get a little inconsistent once he's off the mic. Certain little annoyances start to stand out, such as the slightly unnecessary soft segment before "The Sun is Dead" climactic harmonized solo or that bizarre Incubus-esque funky middle section of "Extraction Zone." But more than this stuff, the problem lies in the fact that "Dragonforce syndrome" still exists; as in, when everything starts to run together. One can only take so many melodic death metal-influenced harmonized guitar lines and fast thrashy drum fills before things get old, and this is definitely Maximum Overload's biggest issue. Some of the band's past repetition rears its ugly head here, primarily toward the end of the album, and the Inhuman Rampage memories come back to the listener. However, on a very positive note, the Johnny Cash "Ring of Fire" cover that closes the album is FANTASTIC. It's hard to believe that a country song could translate to power/thrash metal so well like this, but it did... major props to the band for that.
And on that note, Dragonforce should just be applauded for this album in general. That 3.7 on the top of the page may not look like much, but it means quite a lot for a band who have been so mercilessly ridiculed throughout their notorious history. While it sounds as though the band are still working on perfecting their recent power/thrash/prog formula that started being established with The Power Within, everything's beginning to be pieced together quite nicely. And above these things, Maximum Overload is just a ton of fun to pop in and play at any time. It's cheesy, yeah, but what did you expect from Dragonforce signature sound and vibe? In the end, this is the band's best record since Valley of the Damned... and considering that came out over 10 years ago, that's saying something.