The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Ultra Beatdown Bob Mulhouse , September 5th, 2008 14:20

Dragon farcical? Bob Mulhouse’s jaw drops in disbelief at the sheer happy-hardcoreness of Dragonforce’s new album.

Power metal as a genre is hard to take seriously. Beloved of Germans and Americans, the world’s most irony-free people, power metal revolves around fast (but not particularly extreme) guitar riffs, vocals that are at best weak copies of the Bruce Dickinson air-raid siren and lyrics about eagles flying over the mountaintop to Valhalla. None of these things would be inexcusable on their own, but power metal usually suffers from a balls-free production that is too sickly for words. There’s no aggression in power metal: it’s like thrash metal without the testes. Rubbish, by and large.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Dragonforce "exploded onto the scene"™ a few years ago. Here at last was a power metal band with something new to offer – a unique selling point which I’d never heard anywhere else in metal or its handful of subgenres. The trademark Dragonforce sound, built in the studio by guitarists and primary songwriters Herman Li and Sam Totman, is based on immense speed. No big deal, you might think if you’ve spent more years than are strictly good for you listening to extreme metal. However, when you add the insane tempo of most of the songs to their relentlessly upbeat, uplifting tone, the result is something completely new – not so much extreme metal but extremely cheerful metal. Dragonforce are metal on nitrous oxide; metal after a big hit of skunk; metal on poppers; metal on ecstasy; metal crossed with happy hardcore techno. None of those descriptors are fake or designed to impress you – they are what Dragonforce really sound like, and furthermore what Li and Totman admit that they sound like.

Four albums in, Dragonforce know what they do best and have stuck to it. Ultra Beatdown starts as all their albums do: with a blast of wailing guitars, fists-aloft keyboards and jittery, warp-speed guitar riffs that make you laugh and look around you, assuming it’s an elaborate joke. There are eight tracks here, mostly ranging from fast to ridiculously fast, although there’s a big old ballad at the end called 'The Warrior Inside'. Standout songs, if you need some, are 'The Fire Still Burns' and 'A Flame For Freedom', but it’s all epic, silly, highly enjoyable and stirring stuff. Dragonforce call themselves "extreme power metal", which would be entirely accurate if you replaced the word "extreme" with "ten times better than the usual shite masquerading as". More power to ’em.