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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

DragonForce

Valley of the Damned

Review by Rick Damigella

DragonForce blazed metal trails in 06 with their latest album Inhuman Rampage. They did it with constant touring behind the album and earning new legions of fans for their unique faster than fast brand of metal. Seriously, if you have never listened to DragonForce a word of caution should be included on the front of their albums: “WARNING: DragonForce play melodic power metal at speeds far beyond the mere mortal’s capability to headbang. Should you decide to attempt to keep up with them, the band and record label are not responsible for any cases of whiplash, sprained necks or self-induced headbanging decapitation.” With that out of the way, let’s take a short trip back in time for a listen to their 03 release, Valley of the Damned, and what could prove to be a classic debut from a band that is single handedly rewriting the rules of heavy metal in the 21st century.

 This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Invocation of Apocalyptic Evil
Oooh! That title sounds cool! Very metal indeed! Oh wait, it is merely a very short ambient piece that segues directly into the album’s title track.
Valley of the Damned
Melodic speed metal crunch guitar blazes out of your speakers and is soon joined by a following lead riff. The speed of the drums makes one think they have two guys playing all that but no, it is the work of a single man who must get the best aerobic workout on the planet every time he gets behind the kit. With song titles like these one might be misled to believe DragonForce is another Cookie Monster vocalist-led doom band, but the one thing this band has managed to do better than anyone else I have heard is combine the force and energy of quad-kick drum driven speed metal with a vocalist who actually sings, into a progressive metal fusion of power, anthem and melody. Running over seven minutes long, the opener is also the longest song on the album and features some of the most melodic/psychotic lead guitaring you will ever hear.
Black Fire
Without a moment to catch your breath from the previous metal onslaught, the listener is thrust into another hyper-speed metal explosion of drums, guitar and bass the likes of which you won’t hear anywhere else. Despite the sonic assault, the keyboards manage to shine through the mix too. The string and drum head endorsements for DragonForce could easily become the most lucrative in the business if they continue their up turn in popularity.
Black Winter Night
OK, now that I have sheathed my sword from fighting off legions of evil during the last songs I am all ready for, oh? Wait? We aren’t done? Cool! Sseriously though, the sound of the guitar intro on this is something that can’t really be described. You simply have to crank it to 12 (no, 11 won’t do) and hold on for dear life. The blazing speed at which they play would make the untrained ear think there couldn’t be a song buried beneath the wall of sound which falls upon the listener during this song, but this cut should be on your short list if you are foolish enough to only download this song from iTunes.
Starfire
Whoa! Argh! What is that? Ambient sounds of water? Piano? A power ballad style vocal? Holy cow! Anyone who dares say DragonForce are only capable of playing songs that would melt glass would be totally wrong. I don’t want to say “power ballad” like it’s a bad thing since it most definitely isn’t. The band play through a classic arrangement of lighters-held-high swaying to and fro with your fellow metal heads - power balladry like it was second nature to them. The emotion filled delivery of the lyrics about “the warrior standing on top of the hill” take this out of the sappy metal love song realm and into a power metal world of swords and warriors. The band should ride forth unto these heroic steppes more often.
Disciples of Babylon
Well if Babylon sounded like this, sign me up for the first time machine to the Hanging Gardens. Rarely does a band with two guitars and keyboards manage to mix their music in such a way that one can even hear the synth. This number is worlds faster than the previous yet it is mid-tempo for DragonForce and not at their typical breakneck pace. Again, it's a nice departure in sonic tonality. At the four minute mark the song breaks down in a false ending into an acoustic guitar and piano driven bridge that feels like some of the most progressive rock sounding arrangement the band has done. A minute later the music morphs into something that feels downright “jazzy” for a few seconds before a blazing electric lead propels you back into the song proper.
Revelations
A powerful band-driven riff rocks in this next number which transitions quickly into full speed ahead DragonForce metallic pummeling. Vocalist ZP Theart sings like he is the third guitar player, his voice forceful enough to sound like a lead riff played over the dual six-string speed metal storm. The overall tone of the lyrics on this disc are squarely in the world of heroes with swords vanquishing evil and you know what, it never felt so good to admit that had this band been around in the early 80’s you would have played them at every Friday night Dungeons & Dragons session with your friends. (the writer rolls a 20-sided die as a saving throw against a spell of eternal nerd-dom).
Evening Star
A softly played ambient synth heralds this next number with a piano and gently sung vocal. Oh wait, this is DragonForce, which means thirty seconds later its ludicrous speed ahead full! There should be another warning on all DragonForce albums: “WARNING: Attempting to air guitar along with Herman Li and Sam Totman could result in breaking one’s own fingers if you miss a note.
Heart of A Dragon
Hoist your swords and your flagons of mead on high! We toast before we ride out to slay evil that could only be conjured by all the CGI artists in Hollywood! All joking aside, how can you not get behind a band that wants to ride with you since you all have hearts of a dragon? It seems very fitting the band would close out their debut disc with a song containing the word dragon in it. With signature DragonForce riffing throughout and some of their most melodic vocal passages yet, this is 21st century metal at its best and most fun
 
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