Bloodbound - Rise Of The Dragon Empire - (7/10)
Published on March 13, 2019
Usually, power metal bands start their careers singing about fantasy, then evolve to more ‘mature’ themes (Iron Fire, for example). But I’m happy that there’s a band like Bloodbound who are keen to put an insolent middle finger up to ‘maturity’ and keep banging on about dragons (alright, I know they’re mainly talking about George R. R. Martin’s Song Of Ice & Fire books but dragons are awesome and they never won’t be awesome). 2017’s War Of Dragons may have been a slight lyrical departure from the norm for the Swedes, but it was a masterclass in how to churn out generic-yet-effective fantasy power metal with aplomb (I still maintain that “Dragons Are Forever” is the greatest power metal chorus ever written). Back into their 2-years-like-clockwork routine, Bloodbound are back with Rise Of The Dragon Empire – obviously the next logical step from War Of Dragons. But what does it do with the theme?
To my disappointment, this was an initially underwhelming listen. One thing in particular seems to persistently bother me: there’s only one song which reaches that true galloping power metal tempo – “Slayer Of Kings” – and that’s one of the more forgettable tunes on offer. For the rest of the album, the tempo sticks firmly between slow to mid-pace. Thankfully, that has no bearing on the overall energy; the slower numbers are martial and rousing, and the mid-paced numbers are fist-pumping anthems with plenty of memorability. However, the lack of speedy cuts leaves me wanting more. Another mild disappointment is the mixing job which doesn’t seem quite as clean as the previous effort. It’s only a minor point, but the guitar tone is a wee bit muddy, especially on the heavier chugging sections like “Magical Eye”.
But that’s enough complaining. In general, this is a more-than-solid power metal record with plenty of old favourite clichés guaranteed to keep fans happy. The choirs and blaring keyboards in particular are undeniably fun, especially when they take the helm and blast the melodies with unabashed pride – like “The Warlock’s Trail”. Each chorus is layered with generous amounts of welcome cheese thanks to the choirs and keys. The slower cuts, namely “Skyriders & Stormbringers” and “Blackwater Bay”, are actually among my favourite tracks due to their incredibly grandiose refrains and march-like rhythms. As for the more up-tempo numbers, you’d be forgiven for losing your attention span between them a little. But that doesn’t stop anthems like “A Blessing In Sorcery” and “Breaking The Beast” from being full of vibrancy and impact – the latter, especially, contains the best riff on the album.
The title track was an odd choice to kick off proceedings. Despite its wonderful choral melody, it doesn’t quite possess the gravitas to herald in a whole album – definitely could’ve done with some short, cheesy narration a la “A New Era Begins”. Similarly, I was expecting “Reign Of Fire” to be a furious, rapid-fire way to close the record…but alas, it’s the token ballad! How could you, Bloodbound?! For all its small-yet-cumulative shortcomings, this LP does contain “Giants Of Heaven”. Undeniably the best song on the album, it powers along with hammering momentum and a blazing chorus which shows the Swedes at the top of their game. It is, to use the layman’s terms, a fuckin’ banger. Rise Of The Dragon Empire is a step down from War Of Dragons, I cannot deny that, but I still would love the band to carry on pursuing this fantasy-oriented direction. Only mildly underwhelming by Bloodbound’s standards, but still a massively enjoyable romp for fans of the sub-genre.
7/10 – Needs more ”Dragons Are Forever”.