Reaching Into Infinity by DragonforceRelease date: May 19, 2017
I can remember exactly what I was doing when I discovered that power metal does in fact rule. I was travelling towards Tokyo in a van equipped with enormous house speakers blasting out Manowar’s Anthology. The windows were down, the sun was setting, the lights of our destination were twinkling in the distance and I was drinking beer. I may have even been stripped to the waist. Given that we were listening to Manowar, I probably was.
It fit the moment perfectly. And the joy (or hilarity) it gave to the passengers was further evidence that this much-maligned branch of metal deserves to have its broadsword glint in the sun. What’s not to like? It is fast, cheerful sounding, crowd-pleasing and damn catchy. It is with the intention to broadcast a call to the global metal family, imploring people to listen to more of that sub-genre known as “power” that I review DragonForce’s latest offering.
Since this is Dragonforce’s seventh album, it is worth going back over what we have come to expect from the band’s previous six:
- Songs about fire – usually playing with it.
- Dizzyingly rapid guitar solos that seem to require 12 fingers per hand to carry off.
- Rousing choruses.
- A blindingly glossy production sheen.
- Blistering pace.
- Keyboards that invoke images of fairies, dragons (obvs) and magic kingdoms.
- Sugar-sweet tunes, some complete with “woah-woahs” or “ooh-aahs”, sticky enough to get glued in your ears for weeks.
All these elements are present and correct in the new album, you’ll be pleased to hear. In fact some of them are absolutely necessary; they form the basis for power metal.
But it is not completely the case of “more of the same” from the band. There are not quite as many quasi-classical zillion-notes-a-second guitar solos as we have become used to, for a start. And – gasp – they even slow down in some passages. Also, get this: one song, ‘The Edge of the World’ breaches the 10-minute barrier for the first time in their metacular career and in the midst of it the vocalist, Mark Hudson, gets a chance to show off a death growl or two. ‘The Edge of the World’ provides the strongest evidence that, as bassist (and chief songwriter for this album) Frédéric Leclercq says, the band “wanted to bring even more diversity into our music”. It begins in familiar enough territory, with an acoustic intro leading into a mid-tempo power ballad, but then riffs and a martial beat take over and Hudson’s voice takes on a guttural growl. It’ll be interesting to see what fans make of it, but the aggression gives a welcome extra texture. Hudson gets to show some more aggressive style on ‘WAR!’, in which he barks angrily over some thrash-style riffing, before the familiar melodic pleasantness returns for the chorus.
But fear not. This is still instantly recognisable as a DragonForce album. The lyrics are cheesier than a fat man’s pizza and as vague as a horoscope. Indeed, if they were printed in fancy font over seascapes they could serve as motivational posters for psychotherapists’ offices. Like this from ‘Curse of Darkness’: “Ride on your wave, this is your curse of darkness. Ride through the night and one day you’ll be free.” Or this from Astral Empire, which enables the listener to imagine their own hassles as a raging storm: “Fly far away through the raging storm, to the end with the rise of the sun… Break the chains now this war shall be won.”
But fans will say this sort of pep-talk lyricism makes DragonForce what it is: people listen to it because it is escapism. If they started speaking about real-world problems, they would cease to be DragonForce. They come close to social commentary on ‘Midnight Madness’ with a mention of “mass starvation in every nation”, but the song is hauled back into the realms of fantasy with the beyond triumphant chorus, which invites the listener to “Fly tonight towards the angels, see our stars shine brightly in the sky”.
Speaking of triumphant, ‘Judgement Day’ is a fist-pumping monster that starts with an ambient intro more akin to one of those club chillout albums, then unleashes a frantic electronically assisted barrage that brings to mind Babymetal, the Japanese outfit DragonForce collaborated with in 2015. It goes without saying that with lyrics including “We are the masters of the universe” that it is another winner.
Many will get to this far in the review and think that this album sounds ghastly. Let them think that – it’s their loss. All they can do is slink off and listen to some wannabe church-burners growl about the parched apocalypse. But whoever lets DragonForce into their lives cannot help to have their spirits lifted. The worst that could happen is they hurt themselves when raising their arms in an exultant cheer, safe in the knowledge that power metal does indeed rule. Which, if you’d have been in that van with me, you would already know.