Review Summary: Plodding along one 80's influenced song at a time
Somehow it has been twenty years since Herman Li and Sam Totman formed the band that became Dragonforce. Mostly known for their 2006 breakthrough “Through the Fire and the Flames,” Dragonforce has had an interesting career that saw them find their niche of power metal (Valley of the Damned and Sonic Firestorm) turn into a Mach 5 power metal band (Inhumane Rampage and Ultra Beatdown), reinvigorate themselves with a new singer and returning to their roots of the first two albums, (The Power Within), and finally experimenting with thrash metal and writing nothing but mostly mid-tempo metal songs (Maximum Overload and Reaching Into Infinity). For a band that many metalheads complain about for having written the same song for their entire career, Dragonforce has become one of the more diverse power metal bands that emerged in the 2000s. How does their eighth album, appropriately named Extreme Power Metal, hold up to the rest of their discography?
Well looking at the amazing album art and diving into the first song “Highway to Oblivion,” we are sent back to the 1980s. Dragonforce’s sound has always incorporated the video game sounds of the 8 Bit era in their guitar work, and the mood of the music has always been happy and positive, but “Highway to Oblivion” cranks it up a few notches. It is a cheesier than normal pop metal sounding power metal song that sounds like 80% of the bands other songs. But….it is an infectious and catchy slab of power metal cheese.
Unfortunately this does not last the entire album or even until the next song. “Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shred Machine” is without a doubt the greatest power metal song title ever and I expected it to be utterly fantastic. Instead, it is a six and a half minute slogfest where interesting riffs occasionally appear. And therein lies the problem with Extreme Power Metal. Every song on the album has catchy riffs, good singing, average to really cool (looking at you “Razorblade Meltdown”) solos and a solid rhythm section, but most of the songs are plain boring. No greater offender is “The Last Dragonborn.” Dragonforce’s homage to Skyrim is disappointing because the guitars do absolutely nothing interesting but chug along for six minutes. It actually ruins the song because the interesting tidbits of keyboards alongside the best vocal performance of the album get drowned out in the process; the song would have worked much better as an acoustic piece. Furthermore, one of the most appealing songs on the album should not be the cover of “My Heart Will Go On,” regardless of how awesome it sounds as a power metal song.
Nevertheless there are other solid songs on the album, but they appear near the end of the album. “Strangers” is to this album what “Seasons” was to The Power Within. What does that exactly mean though? Much like “Seasons,” “Strangers” is Dragonforce going in a direction with a song that is vastly different than anything they released prior. If “Highway to Oblivion” was a glimpse of the 1980s theme that various aspects of the album represent, then “Strangers” dives unapologetically into it. The song should make a fantastic anthem as it combines the stadium rock sound of Van Halen and Journey alongside the early power metal aspects of Dio and Yngwie Malmsteen. A song I was not expecting at all became the best song on the album.
Extreme Power Metal sounds like every other album that the band has put out with Marc Hudson since he joined the band prior to The Power Within. Since that album though, each subsequent release becomes more boring and uneventful as the previous one. While songs such as “Highway to Oblivion,” “Strangers,” and “In a Skyforged Dream” are fine additions to Dragonforce’s catalogue, most of the other songs, plod along. The style of music Dragonforce plays should always be exciting and uplifting. This does not mean that they have to play fast all the time though. They released plenty of mid-tempo songs that worked, were actually good, and changed the pace of the album for the better. Overall Extreme Power Metal is one of the weakest Dragonforce albums. The band shows that they can still create good music, but for the next album they need to do more of it.