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More mature, less consistent, a good follow up - 83%

sultoon, April 24th, 2004

I’m sure I’ve heard this record before. Maybe it’s the fact that, in structure, it is almost a carbon copy of DragonForce’s 1st album, Valley of the Damned? Or maybe it’s because almost all songs are based on chord progressions which are utterly predictable?

This album follows a very similar blueprint to the debut, recorded a year before:
Big anthemic opener? Check – My Spirit Will Go On
Relentless second track played at lightspeed with best solos on the album? Check – Fury of the Storm
More upbeat third track? Check – Fields of Despair
Forgettable Ballad as track 4? Check – Dawn Over a New World
Fifth track with mid-section jazzy breakdown? Check – Above the Winter Moonlight
Unbelievably gay opening of track 6? Check – Soldiers of the Wasteland
Awesome opening of track 7? Check – Prepare for War
Flowerfest intro to final track? Check – Once in a Lifetime (I honestly thought they had fucked up the production and put in Heart of a Dragon)

Add in massive homosexual moments – is that diabolical Casio keyboard intro to Above the Winter Moonlight necessary? Bloody hell, what in Satan’s name is that stand alone chorus at the beginning of Soldiers of the Wasteland?; and can’t ZP sing a whole song without mentioning the words “ride”, “steel” and “glorious”? – and you have, on paper, a run of the mill flower fest which make Rhapsody sound more sinister than rehtaF ruO.

But, and there’s a big but, the sextet again pull out all the stops by having an enormous amount of fun along the way, with catchy hooks, riffs, singalong chorus’ (which a deaf person could predict) and, of course, SOLOS. Monstrously melodic shredding solos. By the dozen.

Now if you thought VotD was self-indulgent, just wait until you hear the 12 solo trade off section in Solos…er.. Soldiers of the Wasteland. If that’s not showing off, I don’t know what is. The booklet which comes with the cd is quite fun too, the two guitarists are clearly pleased with their efforts and have no shame in adding full solo credits for each song.

Take Fury of the Storm:
Solos: Sam /Sam + Herman / Herman / Sam / Sam + Herman / Sam / Herman / Sam / Herman + Sam / Herman / Herman (clocking in at 2’40”, solo section of the album);
Or the aforementioned Soldiers of the Wasteland:
Twin Blast / Sam / Herman / Herman / Herman / Vadim / Sam / Herman / Sam / Vadim / Herman / Herman + Sam + Vadim (a paltry 2’20” by comparison)

Even some of the solos are pretty similar to those on VotD. Herman’s epic opener on the track VotD is mimicked perfectly by himself and Sam during one of those ‘Twin Blasts’ in Fields of Despair– see if you can spot it. It also strikes me that part of DragonForce’s sound is that all solos must obey the widdle-widdle-widdle-widdle-widdle-widdle-widdle-SQUEAL pattern – the shrieking harmonic done to death here.

So, what actually is different from VotD? In structure, next to nothing, but in purely instrumental terms, there are more mature moments. Prepare for War, for instance, nods in Michael Romeo’s direction from the lead riff, which works well. Above the Winter Moonlight, despite the awful keyboard intro, is perhaps one of the most unique sounding DragonForce songs, complete with a jazzy interlude, some intricate keyboard work, and it being a touch slower than the rest of the songs. The keyboard moments in the breakdown bring back memories of staying up late at night playing Midnight Resistance with volume on max. The solos in this aren’t played at lightspeed so Sam/Herman allow the listener to hear their more emotional side. Especially Sam, who is much more impressive than he was on the debut cd - a good thick tone, married with some ultra-fast playing which more than matches Herman, in places.

There are other cameo appearances throughout the cd. From 0’30 to 1’30 on Soldiers of the Wasteland, anyone else notice Tetris being played somewhere in the mix? Celine Dion pops in to say “hi” at times, which is perhaps the most cringeworthy of moments on Sonic Firestorm, e.g. at 4’25” on Prepare for War, and all too often during the unlistenable ballad. The end of My Spirit Will Go On has a harmonized run which is pure Children of Bodom worship – end of Hatebreeder (the song), check it out. There’s a classic moment in Dawn Over a New World where you feel ZP is going to do his best Elvis impression: “We can go on forever… (with suspicious minds…).” And at times, the bass sound in the breakdowns to tracks 2 and 6 is straight out of Keeper-era Helloween.

Finally, the guitar work overall is slightly more cogent. Whereas on VotD, most solos were single tracked, here more than half are doubled up (despite what the booklet says), and in some cases are backed by a lower harmonized riffset. Yes! Four-part guitar harmonies, bringing back fond memories of the mid-section of Iron Maiden’s “The Duellists”. The thick, dark sounding bridge in Fury of the Storm is quite unexpected, and that almost inebriated opening riff to Fields of Despair works well.

So, overall, a good follow up to Valley of the Damned. Not as consistent as the debut, but mindblowing at times (opening triple assault). It’s not going to win anything for originality, but it’s a nice slab of cheesy power metal played at blistering speed, slightly more diverse and of course, damn fun.