Sunday, 7 September 2014

DragonForce's 'Maximum Overload' - Album Review

DragonForce are one of those bands that have always divided opinion. On the one hand, there are those who love their overblown, break-neck speed version of power metal; whereas there are plenty of other people who find them boring, generic, and futile. I place myself firmly in the former camp and have enjoyed listening to DragonForce's music for years. It is fun, never takes itself too seriously, and is hugely catchy - all of which are good things in my book. Critics of the band have always pointed out that their songs are too long and all sound the same which, to a certain extent, are fair criticisms. Early material did tend to be a bit on the long side with lots of time dedicated to indulgent instrumental passages that focused on guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman's furious fretwork. Granted this could get annoying sometimes, but it was a trademark of the band's sound and it is nice to see a band put a lot of effort into guitar solos in a time when they are not as popular as they once were. I criticism I always had of the band was the production on their albums. They were always hugely claustrophobic with too much going on at a time to really enjoy the individual moments of skill. It was just like a wall of noise that sometimes proved tiring to listen to. Thankfully, all of these things were changed on the band's last album: 2012's The Power Within - which was also their first album with frontman Marc Hudson. The songs were much more concise, and the production was much clearer. All the band's trademark sounds were still present, but it just seemed more polished and it was a lot easier on the ear. While the band have better individual songs on older albums, I find myself returning to The Power Within more than any other DragonForce for those reasons alone. Maximum Overdrive, the band's new album released last month, follows on from the 'new' sound forged on The Power Within but improves it even more. Hudson, now fully settled into his new role, really lets rip and sounds fantastic; while the rest of the band fire on all cylinders to create an excellent metal record. Overall it seems heavier too, with more discernible riffs throughout as apposed to the metal soundscapes of before. It is also the band's last album with long-time drummer Dave Mackintosh who left the band after recording was complete. He has since been replaced by Italian drummer Gee Anzalone (Kill Ritual).

The Game gets the album off to a melodic start with a nice chunky guitar riff and a trademark DragonForce chorus that soars with plenty of high notes. Matt Heafy (Trivium) adds some occasional harsh vocals to this song (and a couple of others on this album) and it just adds to the overall heaviness of the song. Sections with blast beat drumming also add to this vibe, and the nice thick guitar tone used adds a certain edge. This pure DragonForce, just shorter and easier to digest, and is sure to impress many a metalhead. Tomorrow's Kings opens with a lead guitar melody that harks right back to the band's early days, yet the song still retains that concise arrangement that the band works to now. The over the top speeds return though, and this song speeds along without ever really stopping to catch it's breath. The chorus is the best example of this, and how Hudson manages to get all the words out so clearly really is impress. This is like one of the band's early classics cut down to a length that is under four minutes. Shredding solos are interspersed with Vadim Pruzhanov's fluid keyboard runs, yet it is over in no time and leaves you wondering what quite happened! No More follows and it is probably my favourite song on the album. The opening riff is more traditional metal than anything the band have done before, but the huge lead guitars soon kick in to bring it back to a more familiar sound. The chorus is ridiculously strong though, and the pre-chorus that makes good use of gang vocals gives the song a more anthemic traditional metal feel. It all fits together nicely and will have you singing along in no time! Three Hammers sounds like the sequel to Cry Thunder, the lead single from the band's last album. It has a similar structure and the same strident, fist-pumping rhythm. Hudson hits some ridiculous high notes during this song. He really is making the DragonForce microphone is own now! Towards the middle of the song however, some really thrashy riffing takes over and Hudson duels with bassist Frédéric Leclercq's harsh vocals before a huge solo section sees Li and Totman trade flashy lead lines. Symphony of the Night opens with some keyboard lines before the metal takes over as you would expect. This song has an old-school DragonForce vibe to it, and the chorus vocal melodies are certainly like something previous frontman ZP Theart might have come up with. It slows right down in the middle however, and some swirling keyboards, delicate clean guitar passages and sorrowful leads help to create a great atmosphere.

The Sun is Dead opens with a very Iron Maiden-esque dual guitar lead, but this does not really set the tone for the rest of the song as it goes through many different sections in a relative short space of time. The choruses are slower and more epic, whereas the bouncy main riff and the high-energy pre-chorus are in stark contrast to that. It is almost like a mini progressive metal epic scaled down into a more accessible power metal rhomp. Defenders has been available online for quite a while now, allowing people to get a taste for the upcoming album. The gang vocals from No More return and once again Hudson uses his big range to hit some excellent high notes. However, it is a bit like DragonForce by numbers and does pale a little in comparison to the songs that have already come on this album. It lacks a certain spark that they have and feels a little more generic. Extraction Zone is better however. It has one of the album's best choruses and the video game noises that were scattered throughout the band's early material make cameo appearances here too. I really like how the song drops out in the middle and makes way for a rather spacey, chilled out moment with delicate piano in the background and some almost Trent Reznor-ish electronic beats. However, normality is soon returned with some almost bluesy guitar soloing that slowly speeds up and becomes more DragonForce-ish over time. City of Gold is another really solid slab of melodic power metal that is in character with the rest of the album's material. Hudson even manages to inject a good dose of emotion into his chorus delivery, as it seems to have more feeling than the pure melody of the rest of the album. The heavier vibe appears again midway through the song with some of the more traditional metal riffing shining through. Again this song is not as good as some of the earlier numbers on this album, but the chorus is strong and it is enjoyable to listen to. The album ends with a cover of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire (!) which sounds surprisingly good. I was worried that it would sound terrible, but they have arranged it well and it does not come off sounding too trite. There are songs I think would be better choices for them to cover, but this is more a triumph than it should have been. It is an oddity, but mark it down as enjoyable if a little throwaway! Overall, Maximum Overload is a really good album by the most controversial power metal band out there. Fans who have been turned off by them in the past should definitely give this album a go, it might surprise you!

The album was released on 18th August 2014 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional video for The Game.

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