Tuesday 9 April 2024

DragonForce - Warp Speed Warriors (2024)

Country: UK
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Mar 2024
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I reviewed DragonForce's eighth studio album, Extreme Power Metal, with reservations because I'd worried about whether they'd turned into a caricature of themselves, especially with a name like Extreme Power Metal. While that album seemed to start out that way, they did win me over during the opening track and I found myself enjoying most of it, at least up until the Celine Dion cover that seemed entirely unnecessary. So, I don't have quite as many reservations coming into this, their ninth album, though I have to still wonder if they've finally fallen prey to their gimmick. Well, they're still thinking about doing that but they're mostly not quite there yet.

This time, I was on board with the opening track, Astro Warrior Anthem, from the very outset, because it's a strong power metal song played at DragonForce speed with themes and melodies hurtling every which way and tasking us with focusing on them. It's obviously one of the best songs on the album and it makes a lot of sense to kick off with it. After a few listens, I wouldn't hesitate to call it my favourite, though I have a fondness for Space Marine Corp too, which has a subdued pace compared to most of these songs. Somehow the chants, which could easily have gone so far past cheesy to be ridiculous, work for me. Why, I'm not sure, but they do. DragonForce do anthems and this is a real earworm of an anthem. All together now: "No time to rest till we kill all the scum!"

There's another earworm right after it too in Doomsday Party, which is a heavy disco number that reminds a lot of Boney M wrapped up in power metal clothing. Once again, I like this one a lot but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that it really ought to be notably too cheesy to be taken seriously. Then again, Boney M are an old school guilty pleasure band for me, not only because I grew up on the cassette my parents kept in the car of The Magic of Boney M when I was a kid. And so there's a lot here that I like, even if perhaps I shouldn't.

Where the cheese starts to become a little much is Power of the Triforce, which I presume is about the Legend of Zelda videogame franchise. I'm OK with this one, which is otherwise a strong power metal song, but I did find myself rolling my eyes a little at where the lyrics went and how seriously Marc Hudson delivers them. And what was too much is Kingdom of Steel, which has a name like an AI-created Manowar song but feels like a heavied up Disney movie anthem. It has the slowest pace of anything here and it features a woah woah backing vocal that I could swear has been lifted off the Moana soundtrack. Sure, it's catchy, but its overblown orchestration is emphatically not for me.

The rest of the album inevitably falls in between the best stuff and the worst stuff. Songs like The Killer Queen and Pixel Prison are decent enough, not as memorable as Astro Warrior Anthem but not as cheesy as Space Marine Corp. They wrap up the album in the way we expect from this band and nobody buying it with full knowledge of what DragonForce do are going to be disappointed by them. Where that though comes into play isn't just a lesser song like Kingdom of Steel but a truly definitive one like Burning Heart.

And I have to end my review with that, because it's almost the stereotypical DragonForce song, so much so that it's less an actual piece of music and more of a challenge for the band to outdo what they so famously did on Through the Fire and Flames. The whole point of this song is to do more, a challenge indeed for a band who are a mandatory selection for new YouTube reactors who have no real idea what metal is. The only power metal song that comes up more often in that realm is the live version of The Bard's Song and Valhalla by Blind Guardian, for completely different reasons.

I honestly can't imagine a more DragonForce song than Burning Heart. It isn't merely those rapid fire melodies that were so effective on Astro Warrior Anthem. It isn't just that famous double act of Herman Li and Sam Totman "performing guitar histrionics", a term that has to be included here because "playing guitar" just doesn't cut it. It isn't only the telling fact that Gee Anzalone is able to steal some of their thunder by delivering a truly ambitious drum pace, especially early on. It's that Burning Heart is every note possible shoehorned into a breath under six minutes. It's a world record breaking attempt of a song and, to me at least, it's too much. And I'm a speed metal fan.

Take what you will from that. Some people will lose their minds to Burning Heart. I'll look past it to Astro Warrior Anthem, an insane DragonForce track that's also a damn good song and, even if I'm unable to fully express why, Space Marine Corp, which is a rollicking good time. Which camp are you in?

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