In many ways DRAGONFORCE were victims of their own success. Hyped to death by the overzealous Metal media as the greatest thing since breathing, there was a period in the mid 2000s where everybody and his dog seemed to sing the praises of this band and their so-called ‘Extreme Power Metal’ sound. What goes up must go down, though, and for many (including yours truly) the novelty wore off faster than a Coors Light buzz. Lukewarm reception of their last two albums, the loss of vocalist ZP Theart and a subsequent period of protracted silence did not bode well for the band, and indeed many were ready to consign them to the great Metal scrapheap.
It is with great pleasure, then, to report that “The Power Within” is nothing if not a gargantuan return to form. There is no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that this is the band’s masterpiece – the kind of killer album the band simply had to write. This is a leaner, meaner DRAGONFORCE that has one goal: to kick ass and take names. Gone are the unnecessarily long 7-8 minute long songs, the repetition, and those cringe-worthy guitar solos and keyboard wank-fests. DRAGONFORCE V2.0 is all about economical song-writing (most songs average around the 5 minute mark, with only one breaching the seven-minute mark), catchy (yet non-tacky) vocal harmonies, and much more dynamic guitar-work. Hell, I can’t even recall a single instance of “so far awaaayyy!!!”, though there is still a healthy dose of “glorious & victorious”...
The album starts off better than it ends but there really isn’t anything approaching filler here. Kicking off with the epic “Holding On”, all the trademark DRAGONFORCE characteristics are immediately on display (minus the silly keyboard bits of course), and the concise nature of everything will immediately resonate with those who bemoaned the band’s proclivity towards overindulgence on albums past. “Fallen World” is even better, thanks in no small part to the band’s wise decision to build the song up to a non-tacky chorus, as well as the presence of some surprisingly thrashy riffs that drive things along at a rapid pace. A song like “Cry Thunder” is an immediate feel-good anthem with its catchier-than-AIDS chorus and uplifting vibe. After such a sprightly number the order was given to temper the more saccharine parts, and so we have the uncharacteristically dark (dare I say “spooky”?) onslaught of “Give Me The Night”, that sees the band mesh a rapid onslaught of riffs with some surprisingly dark keyboard interludes and guitar leads. At seven-plus minutes “Wings Of Liberty” tends to drag a bit, and together with the slightly meandering “Heart Of The Storm” this is the only instance where the quality takes a slight dip. “Seasons” is a slower number that leans more towards a metalized form of Hard Rock (think something like STRATOVARIUS’s “Infinite”), yet it remains a fun listen all the way through. The heaviness is ratcheted up again with “Die By The Sword” (not a SLAYER cover), with its totally kick-ass mosh-worthy thrash break at 3:37. The band caps the album with “Last Man Stands” – another great example of the deft balance between intensity and more ballad-like sentimentality, and a solid acoustic version of “Seasons”.
The big question is of course whether newcomer Marc Hudson is a worthy replacement for the departed ZP Theart, and the answer is yes with a capital Y. His slightly more mid-register delivery fits like a glove, and you’ll forget they have a newbie behind the mic in no time. These guys have never had any issues in the production department, and the same applies here as well. The drums sound a lot more organic than before, though, which is very welcome.
All things considered, “The Power Within” is the best thing this band has ever done. If you’ve always liked the band then “The Power Within” will blow your mind. If you’ve always hated the band then “The Power Within” will open your mind... and then blow it the fuck away.
(Online May 31, 2012)