Album of the Week 29-2015: DragonForce – Sonic Firestorm

Guilty pleasures come in all shapes in sizes. However, I don’t feel particularly guilty about enjoying artists like ABBA or DragonForce. Sure, the latter may have an abundance of Metal clichés in their songs, but they seem to be very tongue-in-cheeky about it. Also, their brand of warp speed, highly melodic Power Metal has something irresistible. It’s the tempos that get your blood pumping, the choruses that force you to sing along or at least smile, all combined with virtuosic musicianship. So virtuosic that it’s often on the verge of being too much, but ‘Sonic Firestorm’ still manages to stand proudly on the line between flashy musicianship and good songwriting.

In a way, ‘Sonic Firestorm’ is DragonForce’s most accomplished record when it comes to their “Extreme Power Metal” style. Due to the introduction of blastbeats courtesy of former Bal-Sagoth drummer Dave Mackintosh’s debut, the extremities are here for the first time. Also, the tempos seem to be just a tad higher than on their fantastic debut ‘Valley Of The Damned’. While the band would take it too far on its follow-up ‘Inhuman Rampage’, this sophomore record has a handful of expertly written Power Metal tunes. They’re just a bit faster and longer than you may be used to.

So quite a lot of Metal purists dislike the band and I don’t really see why. Case in point: opening track ‘My Spirit Will Go On’ contains all the elements of a good Power Metal track. It builds up very nicely towards several climaxes, has a triumphant chorus with a very pleasant melody and a bunch of amazing guitar leads. Sure, these leads may be a bit too flashy, but there’s still always a good melody somewhere in it. Also, I’m quite fond of the “twin blasts”, as the band calls them.

From there, the band follows a similar formula throughout much of the album, sometimes more upbeat (‘Once In A Lifetime’, ‘Fury Of The Storm’, which has probably the largest number of blastbeats here, but also the most catchy chorus), sometimes a bit darker (‘Fields Of Despair’), sometimes a little progressive (the amazing middle section of ‘Prepare For War’) and there’s even a half-decent ballad (‘Dawn Over A New World’). The ultimate highlight, however, is the ten minute masterpiece ‘Soldiers Of The Wasteland’, which brings together all of the band’s elements. Sam Totman and Herman Li riff and solo as if their lives depend on it, ZP Theart has been given a number of amazing vocal lines (including that chorus: oh my god!) and the build-up leaves absolutely nothing to be desired. Easily the best song in DragonForce history.

Without any doubt, ‘Sonic Firestorm’ is the most “DragonForce” record in the band’s catalog. Personally, I’m slightly more partial to ‘Valley Of The Damned’, because I had been in love with the band’s demo for a while when it came out, but if I had to show someone what this band is all about in terms of both style and quality, this is the one to go for. And sure, their brand of Power Metal may be a bit extreme and cliché-ridden, but remember: no one in the industry does it like this. The album did give some new impulse to a genre that was somewhat stuck. Also, ‘Soldiers Of The Wasteland’ has more Power Metal than some albums in the genre!

Recommended tracks: ‘Soldiers Of The Wasteland’, ‘My Spirit Will Go On’, ‘Fields Of Despair’

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