(earMUSIC (Europe), Metal Blade Records (North America))
Luke 'Loki' Milne
Guitar Hero fans rejoice! Dragonforce are back with their sixth studio album, 'Maximum Overload', due for release from August 15th.
The upcoming release marks the second studio album with vocalist Marc Hudson and the final appearance of drummer Dave Mackintosh, and also features guitar work from Trivium's Matt Heafy. Guitarist Herman Li is reported to have described the album as being inspired by "the constant bombardment of information we are subjected to during our daily lives". It stands at just under 50 minutes of content.
Opening with the ever-so-slightly annoyingly titled 'The Game' (if you've ever played it, you just lost), Maximum Overload instantly transports the listener back into the fantasy world of DragonForce, set to the soundtrack of blistering guitar riffs, thunderous drum fills and epic, air-punch-inspiring choruses.
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It's a familiar formula for the band that will welcome returning fans with open arms and draw newcomers in with an exciting and engaging amount of energy. One can almost feel the traces of adrenaline dripping from the ears; the high-octane sounds typical of DragonForce's earlier works are undoubtedly present and atmospheric, to say the very least.
'Maximum Overload' pulls out of the garage at hyper-speed, serving to bring the band hurtling back into the spotlight with a powerful sting some two years on from their previous studio release 'The Power Within'.
The album has been penned predominantly by guitarist Sam Totman in conjunction with bassist Frédéric Leclercq, a self-confessed fan of the thrash and prog genres. While the album unashamedly treads familiar musical ground for DragonForce, the decision to include Leclercq in the album's writing heralds the introduction of some new and interesting elements to the traditional DragonForce sound.
Branching out from the standard affair of previous releases from the band, there are traces of Leclercq's influence laced throughout the album's material. While they may be hard to spot initially, this shift in style becomes undeniably present at exactly four tracks in.
The fantasy-inspired lyrical tale 'Three Hammers' presents a turning point for the album as a whole, which (as promised) begins to display changing elements weaving through the typical Dragonforce flurry of impressive guitar solos and hyper-speed tempos. It's a valiant attempt to shake things up a bit, and particular highlights occur in the chuggy guitar riffs introduced quite obviously in 'Defenders' and hints of progressive development most notable in tracks like 'Symphony Of Night'.
Mixed with the band's own blend of well-known sounds and styles, these additional flickers of genre-hopping moments create a new and intriguing edge throughout the rest of the album that is pleasing to the ear, for sure... though we'll touch on this more a little later.
Hudson's vocals remain impressive throughout, reaching some awe-inspiring high-end ranges that fit well with the genre and certainly raised an eyebrow or two of interest while I was listening, and as a whole it's a well-polished product that displays some excellent examples of musicianship from each of the band's members.
Although Heafy may only appear in a small portion of the album in addition to the band's official members, fans of his work within Trivium will pick up on his sound throughout each of the three tracks, and it's certainly a welcome inclusion to the mix, adding yet another layer of interest and style to the album.
'Maximum Overload' presents a respectable and overall positive release of "energiser-bunny" power Metal from DragonForce, and there are plenty of memorable and thoroughly enjoyable sections of music throughout, especially within tracks like 'Three Hammers' and 'Extraction Zone' which (in a very obvious change of pace) features a very slick and funky electronic mid-section.
Considering the last DragonForce album I picked up as a commercial listener was 'Inhuman Rampage' back in 2007, which from memory seemed to have a single speed (bloody fast!), 'Maximum Overload' paints a more colourful and varied picture of Dragonforce, at least from my own perspective.
I find that this upcoming release demonstrates a higher level of versatility from Dragonforce that I have not seen before, even if it may be commonplace for more faithful followers than I.
It must be said that even with this higher diversity of seasoning and influences, some may yet find (as I did) that parts of 'Maximum Overload''s melodic movement proves a little clinical, perhaps even predictable. Don't get me wrong, the added turns in the road offer a minor diversion of content, but it's not too long before you find yourself walking familiar ground through some of the album's tracks. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, and works well to lower the barrier for listeners to familiarise themselves with the music and step comfortably back into the world presented by Dragonforce.
It's not too far removed from the work we've seen in previous releases, but there's still enough unexpected twists, turns and nods in various different directions throughout to maintain interest within each individual track and keep the album from sounding too one-dimensional.
I'm not too sure about the album's final track, a "Dragonised" take on a 50s classic, 'Ring Of Fire' by Johnny Cash. It's a bold take on the original, displaying a great level of creativity by transforming the track into the band's own imagining, and it definitely has some punch to it.
It seems as though DragonForce haven't lost their sense of humour, which is great to see, but sadly as something of a Cash fan I couldn't help but shake my head and laugh a little in a slight state of confusion and disbelief. Don't get me wrong, it's a great cover if you want to hear 'Ring Of Fire' played at ridiculous speeds but I would stab a guess and say that you'd be in the minority if you did... it's certainly never crossed my mind before.
It seemed an odd way to close the album from my perspective even if it did bring a smile to my face, as I think I'd have preferred to hear a more relevant, fitting and personalised end to the album.
To be honest, 'Maximum Overload' is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it is a fairly sturdy release from DragonForce that is worth picking up if you're a seasoned fan, the addition of new flavours to the mix may cater to new followers that might otherwise have leaned towards something else.
As a fan of slightly heavier and more aggressive flavours of Metal I was certainly pleased with the diversity displayed throughout the albums material, though I will admit that I was ultimately left wishing for a little more of Leclercq's influences to shine through in the album's material.
Even with the album's break-neck speed and ferocity, infused with an array of influences and shifts in style (which most definitely add an interesting layer to the familiar sounds I remember from several years ago) I found 'Maximum Overload' unmistakeable as a traditional DragonForce album that, although aspiring to explore new territory, doesn't dare to be too adventurous or stray too far from the norm.
This is something which may be seen as a positive or a negative comment depending on which side of the fence you sit. Overall, 'Maximum Overload' is a strong and well-rounded album presenting some high-speed highlights that ooze with DragonForce's trademark sound and style, yet simultaneously teasing with the scent of something a little more flexible and aggressive.
It's proven to be quite addictive thus far and I'm more than happy to have my musical tastebuds tickled by it, but the allure given by the slightly heavier aspects of the album has me ultimately reaching for something with a little darker and heavier tone than is offered here.