Dragonforce release the most variable album of their career

Dragonforce  have attracted some very extreme and diverse reactions from metal fans and media over the last eleven years since the release of their debut album ‘Valley Of The Damned’ in 2003. Their die-hard fans love them for their high-speed metal and the outstanding guitar work of brothers in arms Herman Li and Sam Totman. To others they just sound like Nintendo Mario Brothers music on steroids because of the arpeggios and quick pitch-bends that are normally associated with chiptunes for video game music.

After Dragonforce’s previous singer ZP Thart left and was replaced by Marc Hudson, the last album ‘The Power Within’ marked departure from some of the trademarks of the typical Dragonforce sound. The days of 7- or 8-minute tracks were gone, the super-long solos were shortened and overall the band showed that they can put the foot on the brake and let the songs shine through. To me this felt like a much-needed style change without completely abandoning their strength. After three pretty similar albums some change was required.

Now the band has released their sixth studio album ‘Maximum Overload’, a title that certainly seems to point back to the early days of Dragonforce’s career with their supersonic speed. The album starts with ‘The Game’. The song comes with a super-fast riff, some slower (compared with typical Dragonforce speed) twin-guitar melodies and some dominant keyboards. Business as usual as it seems. But hey there is something else. Trivium’s Matt Heafy gives a guest appearance (as on some other songs on the album) and adds some unknown flavour to the Dragonforce sound – harsh vocals. Now that can be interesting for the rest of the album.

Dragonforce then follow through with ‘Tomorrow’s King’ and ‘No More’  another two fast power metal tracks that burst out into maximum speed. The guitar work on these tracks – as for the rest of the record – is outstanding as you would expect it from  a Dragonforce album. Herman Li is one of the best guitarists in power metal and this shines through again. His melodic riffs are memorable and his solo work is exceptional. Yet there is something missing for me on these tracks. It seems that Dragonforce fall back again into the habit of looking at their songs with a ‘faster, wider, higher’ attitude that is better placed in the world of sports rather than music.

However, the album can convince with more variety than on earlier releases. Tracks like ‘Three Hammers’ and ‘Symphony Of The Night’ show that Dragonforce are able to put the foot on the brake and concentrate more on song structures rather than only the athletic approach of their musicianship. These two songs are classic power metal tracks with intense keyboards, twin-axe tornadoes and whirlwind-like solos. Yet Dragonforce leave room for the songs to do their work.

Another highlights of the album is ‘Defenders’ that comes with a high-speed thrash metal riff. ‘The Sun Is Dead’ is the best song on ‘Maximum Overload’. It combines all the Dragonforce features that their fans love but it also includes a slower middle part, some 70ies hardrock-style keyboards and a bluesier solo towards the end.

Dragonforce have recorded an album that is the consequent next step in their career. It is the logical development following on from their previous release. ‘Maximum Overload’ combines classic Dragonfore material with carefully chosen new style elements. This keeps the album fresh, interesting and relevant. The album has no really disappointing tracks other than the soulless cover of the Johnny Cash classic ‘Ring Of Fire’. Traditionally covers haven’t been Dragonforce’s strength. This is just another example of that.

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