Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: DragonForce - Maximum Overload

If you haven't heard the name DragonForce by now, you've either been living under a rock or have been in a coma for at least eight years. By now their name is synonymous with Guitar Hero 3 and "Through the Fire and Flames", a track that appeared on the aforementioned video game that was taken from their 2006 studio effort, Inhuman Rampage. Sure, the United Kingdom based group had its following before then too, but their career and infamy spiraled out of control once that bridge had been crossed. Other terms are also thrown around when the name of the band comes up in conversation, such as "post production editing" and "avoid seeing them live". Whatever your opinions may be about DragonForce, one thing for certain is that they do have a set of skilled musicians within their ranks. This year has seen the release of their sixth full-length effort, Maximum Overload.

Genre: Power Metal
Release Date: August 19th, 2014
  1. The Game
  2. Tomorrow's Kings
  3. No More
  4. Three Hammers
  5. Symphony of the Night
  6. The Sun is Dead
  7. Defenders
  8. Extraction Zone
  9. City of Gold
  10. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash Cover)
Total Playtime: 49 minutes, 31 seconds




Rating: 7.0/10





If you haven't heard the name DragonForce by now, you've either been living under a rock or have been in a coma for at least eight years. By now their name is synonymous with Guitar Hero 3 and "Through the Fire and Flames", a track that appeared on the aforementioned video game that was taken from their 2006 studio effort, Inhuman Rampage. Sure, the United Kingdom based group had its following before then too, but their career and infamy spiraled out of control once that bridge had been crossed. Other terms are also thrown around when the name of the band comes up in conversation, such as "post production editing" and "avoid seeing them live". Whatever your opinions may be about DragonForce, one thing for certain is that they do have a set of skilled musicians within their ranks. This year has seen the release of their sixth full-length effort, Maximum Overload.

When taking in Maximum Overload as a whole, it's really hard to pinpoint the direction that DragonForce are trying to go. The first three tracks start the album off at the recognized blister-fest signature pace that the band are so well known for, along with absolutely too much post-production editing and layering. "The Game" makes the revisions painfully obvious with triggered bass drums that stick out and a chorus that takes on an entirely different production value from the rest of the track; like a sudden burst of bright light just happened to create a blinding sheen on that one part of the song. If you notice, the band have cut the length of their tracks down by two to three minutes each; in the case of the first three songs, five to six minutes each. Since "The Game", "Tomorrow's Kings" and "No More" are the most short lived of the material, DragonForce have attempted to cram as much technical complexity into the three and a half minute time frames as possible, and in doing so have crafted songs that are too quick paced for the amount of technicality involved. The speed here feels both mechanical and forced, though thankfully these traits taper off by the time "Three Hammers" hits.

From here on out, the content is different. The heat, speed and even the aggressiveness of the album has dissipated. The layering isn't as heavy either, and what the audience are left with is the basic, unchanging DragonForce prescription. It's good for a change of pace, where tracks like "Three Hammers" and even the Castlevania themed "Symphony of the Night" stand out prominently and aren't made up entirely of ridiculously convoluted, nimble leads, but rather some genuinely enjoyable grounding structures and solid rhythms. The problem is, the rest of Maximum Overload is like this, as if the band blew out the outlet and left listeners in the dark with unwavering mid-high tempos, some neo-classical guitar solos and redundant drumming, Though finally the band have allowed the bass guitar a place in the spotlight, "The Sun is Dead" is one of the better tracks of the latter portion of the album and features an outstanding, but brief, vocational bass solo. "Extraction Zone" is another bass heavy song, complete with all kinds of quirky video game styled keyboard effects, although the lyrics are cheesy to the point of puking.


The keyboard isn't as prominent during this album as in the previous DragonForce efforts, it takes an unfortunate backseat and is overwhelmed by the drums most of the time. There's a great organ during "Symphony of the Night" that starts off strong at the beginning, but later can barely be heard. This element may have caused the track to stand out more if it was left near the front of the mix, and that's the issue with many of the other keyboard-dependent songs such as "Extraction Zone". Though this may have been done to negate the over-complexity of the content, not everything needs to be highly technical in order to be in a DragonForce album. The synthesizers could easily be toned down to provide atmosphere during key tracks, but instead it's as if the mentality of any release by the band is of an all-or-nothing variety. It doesn't have to be excruciatingly fast, it doesn't have to be overwhelmingly complex, we already know the skill that Herman Li and Vadim Pruzhanov possess, so why is it necessary to force feed this type of material over and over again?

That leaves us with the obvious sore thumb of the album, the "Ring of Fire" Johnny Cash cover. This cover is absolutely horrific, the band have torn the original song to shreds and have left only a minor resemblance between their version and the real deal. It's awful to say the least, the charming rhythm of the original song is barely recognizable and the background is filled with nothing but your standard DragonForce drum kicks and quick palm-muted chords, while Herman Li showboats all over the front of the mix.

While Maximum Overload isn't a bad album, it's nothing different than the over-saturated, post-edited, colorful pop-like material of previous DragonForce releases. While they've learned to take it down a notch with the technical and speed aspects of their content, they haven't learned exactly how to manage a mixture of the two. Beyond the initial three tracks the material lacks substance and aggression, not to mention the lyrics that are present are hands down the cheesiest of the discography. Is it a step in the right direction? Not really, but then again it's not going in the wrong direction either. It would be good to see a future DragonForce release where they actually learn to create atmosphere instead of sticking every empty corner with some triggered bass drum kicks or have lead fights between the lead guitar and keyboard. It's doubtful that it will ever happen, but anything's possible.

Digital Download Provided by: Metal Blade Records

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