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Dragonforce are on a seesaw of cheese it would seem and getting fatter album by album. Aside from the whole 'Ring of Fire' debacle on the most recent album, things have been getting less serious since the first two releases. If you want to know how much cheese to expect from Ultra Beatdown (well, first read the title) you can imagine Dragonforce on that seesaw of cheese again, just about balancing with Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, and Tom and Jerry stacked on the other end. The first two names should indicate that the band had not exactly jumped out of the power metal genre, nor regressed to writing simpler songs, though the duo of cat and house might tell you that there are some gimmicky and populist elements to this album. Oh, and there's a shitload of cheese.
Concerning the differences from Dragonforce's preceding breakthrough album Inhuman Rampage, there are some improvements and some additional difficulties. One of the biggest problems with that release was that it lasted 56 minutes, was primarily a superfast shredfest, and had retardedly many blastbeats - hence, it became monotonous and tiring faster than it should have. That the only ballad closed the album was also a terrible decision. For Ultra Beatdown, there is slightly more variation in pace and drumming style, though still plenty of songs where Dave Mackintosh steals the focus from the riffs and makes all the fast sections sound very similar. There are also still plenty of screaming virtuoso solos and the same over-the-top epic vocals, while one could perhaps see how the band tried to alter certain parts of the formula to make the whole experience less monotonous. These alterations take the form of some "lighters in the air" stadium moments where the power metal drops out and we get sweet gentle soloing, some tasteful piano, or a ballad verse, most of which crop up in 'The Last Journey Home' or 'Heartbreak Armageddon', the former of which also plays around with some '80s rock riffs and keyboards, somewhere close to how Europe sound.
What seems quite evident when listening to Ultra Beatdown is that Dragonforce hadn't tired of their "everything at maximum" formula and actually decided to increase the complexity, length, and ideas base of their compositions. Almost certainly that was a mistake, since these songs mostly fail to maintain focus and interest throughout their arduous lengths (averaging over 7 minutes), while some of the inclusions feel either too wayward or too insipid to be justified. I can't help comparing some of the sprawling eight-minute numbers to the bonus track 'Strike of the Ninja', which does everything that Dragonforce were aiming for in just over three minutes and arguably does it better than anything else on the album. (Add 'Scars of Yesterday', the other bonus track, and its awesome riffing to that debate too.) So the editing is like shit, because the band should have cut out at least two minutes from most of the tracks and possibly dropped one of the more redundant pieces, probably choosing from the two I've already mentioned. Also, I don't understand why the band thought that some of those popular song features (quiet verses and so on) would benefit their songs: I get the fact that it varies the pace, but as often as not it loses the feel of the song, whereas something else could have done that just fine, such as the really cool mid-paced middle part of 'Inside the Winter Storm'.
These minor differences in style make a reasonable difference to the effect of the songs, largely due to the fact that Dragonforce's greatest asset has always been their ability to make power metal sound like a victorious canter across a battlefield and that canter is often interrupted on Ultra Beatdown. ZP Theart is certainly underrated as a power metal vocalist, since his huge lungs and propensity to sound like he's always in the middle of a chorus make everything grand and catchy, though here he has to put up with too much messing about from the instrumentalists to get a clear run for more than a minute or two, as well as all those ballad verses. The other instrumentalists still show copious amounts of skill; however, I remember writing of the previous album that it was like "the giant who is too stupid to control its own power" and that's precisely the problem here too, just even more so. There are a few songs that would have fitted onto Inhuman Rampage, those being 'Heroes of Our Time', 'The Fire Still Burns', and 'Inside the Winter Storm', while 'Reasons to Live' and 'The Last Journey Home' are the weird ones that don't really work, particularly the unfocused former of the two. It starts off with some fake tech-death blasting, turns into a Dragonforce song (with horns) for a bit, then takes a trip into Yngwie Malmsteen's discography (with piano), morphing gradually into more cheesy '80s stuff, returns to the Dragonforce song, and tacks on a pop ballad ending just for good measure.
Ultra Beatdown isn't a write-off by any means and many of the band's fans will love every minute of it. Nevertheless, it's musically all over the place due to some bizarre songwriting ideas and doesn't satisfy or excite as much as the earlier material. As it turns out, the cover image is actually a good indicator: a mostly naked pink-haired woman with a huge gun, like a screenshot from some Korean computer game; you can just tell that this album will appeal to the kind of person who will play that - wacky, hyperactive, and immune to cheese.
Dragonforce's first three albums were all enjoyable to varying degrees, even the much-maligned Inhuman Rampage (IR), which was very "samey" and poppy, but the band just completely lost it with Ultra Beatdown (UB). Everything that made IR fun and powerful is just gone here. Well, almost everything. Vocalist ZP Theart is still in top form, as I mentioned in my other Dragonforce reviews - it's hard to imagine him not being in top form, he's just a monster on the mic. The production is also fine, albeit not spectacular, about on a level with IR's; solid guitar sound, vocals not too upfront, but room for improvement. Unfortunately, the songwriting is where everything falls apart. It's much more riff-lite than IR, and while the cool leads are still there, there's nothing except lame pop ballads and goofy (in a bad way) keyboards to back them up.
While IR and Valley of the Damned manage to keep the pop influences to a reasonable minority of albums that are still focused on metal, UB seems more interested in writing pop hooks and saccharine, cliched passages than anything else. It tries to force pop, metal, and even some other influences (there's a freaking trumpet in some parts!) together into a mishmash that just comes out all wrong. I guess they "sold out" to an extent; their wild popularity after IR likely inspired them to try to go for a big cash grab. It probably worked; I bought a copy when it came out expecting it to be good, as I imagine many other people did. Sadly, it just doesn't live up to its predecessor at all.
Despite their poppy tendencies, Dragonforce were always able to keep the ballads to a minimum, with one or two per album. If we're talking ballads in the strictest sense of the term, this still applies, but so many of the songs are lacking for riffs and driven by keyboards and vocals that I'd call many of them semi-balladic ("The Fire Still Burns," "Reasons to Live," "The Warrior Inside"). This album is just way too wimpy as a whole, I'd barely even call it metal much of the time. The sad thing is I can still hear the Dragonforce I know and love trapped in these songs, but it's buried under piles of saccharine unicorn crap. Occasionally there will be a cool riff or chorus, but it won't last long enough to save the entire composition, the main exception being "Heroes of our Time", which for the most part is still on IR-level quality. Not as good as "The Flame of Youth" or "Revolution Deathsquad," but on par with "Storming the Burning Fields" maybe, albeit even more commercial-sounding than anything on IR.
"The Fire Still Burns" is the only other decent song here; it has some pop shit strewn throughout, but it's not enough to ruin it entirely, thankfully, while as I mentioned, "Heroes of Our Time" is an excellent song. Sadly, that's not near enough to save the album, and the rest of the songs range from slightly decent to godawful. "Scars of Yesterday" and "Heartbreak Armageddon" are the worst offenders, while "The Last Journey Home" is close to being listenable, but overall it's just pretty pathetic for a band with such strong offerings as "Valley of the Damned," "Dawn over a New World," and "The Flame of Youth." It's just a huge step down from anything else they've ever done, and even ZP's immense charisma can't save it.
The next album is even worse - ZP's not there to even try to save it - but this is where Dragonforce really became dead to me, as this album, aside from a couple of songs, is just a complete clusterfuck of pop, metal, and the sound of Li, Totman and co.'s greedy fingers reaching for money. For fans of Dragonforce or power metal in general, just grab the first three albums and skip this one entirely - in fact, you're better off just pretending it doesn't exist except for the first two songs. Three quality albums is more than most bands put out, so despite my disappointment with this album and on, they will always have a place in my heart. I still remember days of discovering awesome songs like "Valley of the Damned" and "Operation Ground and Pound", and that, not slowly realizing my disappointment with this album, are the memories I will focus on.
I do not listen to DragonForce much anymore because I have worn them out for myself, but when I do go on a DragonForce binge, I find myself usually digging around in their 2008 album Ultra Beatdown.
I have really loved this album ever since I first heard it. I was not sure what I loved about it when it first was released, but after years of listening to other power metal and maturing as a music listener, coming back to it I really start to realize what is so great about it.
It has many insanely catchy melodies, yet it is not a very simplistic album when you take time to really listen. Vocal layers and great backing vocals, some of the most interesting rhythm guitar, diverse, and well placed keyboards, fantastic solos, more diverse song structures where the songs actually slow down and make you feel, and often quite a bit going on in a song at one time while being very well constructed, make this album so enjoyable for me.
People have claimed it is more of the same DragonForce, but to me it is on a whole other level. Maybe people looked past it because of how mediocre Inhuman Rampage was, or maybe they do not like many of the effects on Ultra Beatdown which I find enjoyable. But even if it you do not like the effects, there is plenty of solid music throughout the album.
If you are among the many who still hate on DragonForce, claiming no diversity and samey songs, then I implore you to take a better listen to Ultra Beatdown. The Fire Still Burns, Reasons to Live, and The Last Journey Home are some of the finest examples of what this album has to offer. If you hate very flowery metal in the first place, then maybe stay away none-the-less...
Dragonforce truly has become the Cannibal Corpse of the power metal genre; pop-culture's ur-example when the layperson wants to pretend he knows what he's talking about in terms of metal music. They've also earned this label in my mind because they're following the exact same path: talented musicians hamstrung by an inability to write interesting or original lyrics, wasting their considerable musical chops on the same concepts over and over and over and over and over again. I love Valley of the Damned and really liked Sonic Firestorm, but Inhuman Rampage was where they lost me; with speed the only upside and the lyrics fully locked into power metal trope parroting. Dragonforce's lyrical vocabulary could fit inside a twitter post, only making the songs even more indistinguishable from each other.
It is with all this in mind that I say that Ultra Beatdown...isn't a bad album. It's actually better than Inhuman Rampage, and actually sounds a little bit like Dragonforce trying to right their own ship after their previous album threw them completely off the rails and into the Valley of speed metal camp. Granted, most of the songs on here are still pretty much the same goddamn thing with the same goddamn fire-of-pain-above-the-skies-of-our-hearts-to-ride-with-the-dragons-to-be-heroes lyrics again and again, and the same sound of Li and Totman furiously masturbating their fretboards. But, I admit, I found myself really digging some of these songs. The Last Journey Home sounds like a speedy prog-fueled Judas Priest (which is AWESOME in my opinion) The Warrior Inside feels like a callback to Valley of the Damned (again, AWESOME), and the special edition has the odd yet pretty funny Strike of the Ninja, possibly a shout-out to Dragonforce's side project Shadow Warriors. Funnily enough, the songs I ended up liking were probably the slowest songs on the album, proof that speed isn't everything, and speed all the way through gets hopelessly boring.
Is this a great album? No. Is it a terrible album? No. But I actually would recommend that people give this one a chance, if only to buy a couple singles from it. This album is proof that Dragonforce is at their best when they restrain themselves for the most part and only let the BPM fly when it really counts. I just REALLY wish they'd find someone with more ideas to write their lyrics.
Is this album a sign that they're getting their act together again and are one Neil Peart-esque lyricist away from restoring their status as a heavy hitter amongst those in the know? Yeah, I don't think so either. But hey, one can dream, no?
One of the numerous highly-anticipated releases of 2008 has finally arrived, with those lads from Dragonforce releasing their 4th full-length CD, entitled ‘Ultra Beatdown’. It’s time to put your 6-strings into hyper-mode as we prepare for another onslaught of furious speed power metal as only Dragonforce can deliver. With many of us wondering how much faster can they actually play, we were also noticing that their extreme style of uber-fast power metal may be wearing thin on some fans and haters alike.
After 2 CDs of their current musical style, one would not be ridiculed (too much) if they could not separate and tell apart the songs they were hearing. I mean, yeah, some do sound the same as others. Dragonforce has proved to the metal world that they are indeed talented musicians, particularly guitarists’ Herman Li and Sam Totman; who can play at ridiculously fast speeds, but yet remain clear, clean and in sync.
So, would a 3rd CD in a row of the same brutally fast power metal be in the best interests of the band and its fans, and therefore risking negative feedback that this band is completely one dimensional; or will they mix it up a bit and slow down a tad and possibly deliver something of a cross between ‘Valley of the Damned’ and ‘Sonic Firestorm’?
Well, the answer is... well... both. Dragonforce have still retained their speed, but not from start to finish on every song, like much was the case in their previous 2 CDs. The band has managed to become more melodic in their sound, thereby slowing the tempo down in many parts throughout the entire CD. One standout factor on ‘Ultra Beatdown’, is that Dragonforce has achieved giving all of their songs their own identity; something which they have struggled to do in the past. That’s right, you now can tell apart every track on this CD. Dragonforce, in slowing the tempo, are now able to make their songs flow smoother, rather than the calculated, highly strung tracks from before. In a nutshell, the songs are now more relaxed and more creative, but without losing their own identity as a band.
There also has been a significant increase of the use of Vadim Pruzhanov’s keyboards, which (in some parts) do sound quite bizarre. You might say that in some parts, you may use the term “keyboard wankery”; a description usually given to guitarists extending their ego’s on the axe. During one “break” before a verse, the tones from his keyboard sounds like something you’d hear from a video game from the 80s. I guess it’s just the band having fun with their music, as you also hear a guitar “wolf whistle” during one of the songs.
Of course, the extended 2-minute + guitar solos still remain, with Herman and Sam pulling out some brilliant, speedy and creative riffs and licks. The songwriting has improved quite a lot, and their change of tempo is refreshing to hear. More importantly, the slowing of the tempo has now allowed J.P. Theart to really sing with more melody and confidence, rather than quickly getting the words out so to keep up with the music. This level they are on with ‘Ultra beatdown’ is a perfect balance for all involved.
You really need to listen to kick-ass songs like “The Fire Still Burns”, “Reasons to Live” and “The Last Journey Home” to hear the differences they have made to their tempo, songwriting, melody and overall creativity. I’ve never heard Dragonforce sound this way before and it’s great to hear. For any of those people who said Dragonforce could never play any other way than the way they did on ‘Sonic Firestorm’ and ‘Inhuman Rampage’; you just need to give ‘Ultra Beatdown’ a listen to make you change your thinking. Hey, it shocked the hell out of me, even I wasn’t expecting such a fantastic auditory experience which Dragonforce has laid upon me.
Anyone who is maybe starting to jump off the Dragonforce bandwagon or were starting to get bored with their style; stop, turn around and go get yourself this CD. You will be surprised. ‘Ultra Beatdown’, in my opinion, is the best release so far by this band. It is definitely their boldest release, and their most creative and melodic. So much can come from a tempo change and for Dragonforce, they have really excelled with this change. They have delivered a pure masterpiece, hands down, while silencing their critics at the same time.
Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com
Every once in a while, one comes across a band so overblown by way of constant, fellating praise. This is made confounding when you've never heard the group in question, and upon procurance of their latest offering, where they aren't, in any particular fashion, doing anything to justify the endless glad-handing, you can't help but feel absolutely dumb-founded, if not betrayed, by this lack of the godliness placed upon the shoulders of the group.
Like, say, this here Dragonforce band...
For the life of me, I can't figure out why these goons are considered geniuses in their field. I suppose I could chalk it up to their chief fanbase clientele being too easily impressed, but that wouldn't be fair (though still bursting with truthiness). I guess if I could define Dragonforce's sound, it would be the musical equivilent of jiggling a set of keys before a delighted infant; all that movement, all those fancy sounds...it's all so delightful on the surface, but deep down, its enacters come off as patronizing. Anyone remember the shred movement in the late 80s? The kids today might not, but us old codgers are reminded of all those pointless guitar noodlings acting as a smoke screen to prevent the listeners from truly seeing them as talentless hacks that didn't have the compositional chops necessary to back up their multi-jointed metacarpels when listening to what Dragonforce have to offer. All their reportoire is is sugar-rushing shred, replete with all the glaring limitations and bothersome tactics that comes off as new and fresh to the ears of a young, unsuspecting public. That's exactly the deciding sin with Dragonforce; what they're doing is nothing new at all, nor would I consider it "talented" by any stretch. Rather, "Ultra Beatdown" is little more than an eight track excursion into vainglorious jerkoff sessions that exude egotism and snarky grins in the form of wasteful, go-nowhere guitar/keyboard solos that near four-digit tempos. And I hated every second of it. The whole band sounds tight in performance, but to me it's quite apparent that studio gimmickry may have had more than one helping hand in cultivating such a "perfect" production approach. Obviously, the biggest factor in the album's overall sound are those wacky-dacky solos and leads, but once you look past them you won't find any meat on the bones regarding the singing, riffs and arrangements. Like any good shred band, all the rhythm section does is augment the lead players' spotlight sessions, not putting a single lick of originality or awesomeness into the morass of blandness present on this disc. And as for those solos...dear God. I've never heard (or, as well, seen) such dexterity so completely out of control. The problem with this sort of thing is that playing that fast and wildly kills every bit of feeling and natural ability that would be present, which, of course, is totally the case here. Every time the guitars or synth is so molested and abused, I cringe, feeling the musicality being systematically choked into oblivion. This is showcased the brightest on bothersome tracks like "The Fire Still Burns", "Heartbreak Armageddon", and “Inside the Winter Storm", which shove so many sixty-fourth notes down your throat it becomes incredibly painful to listen to all the way through.
In the end, "Ultra Beatdown" proved to this listener the uselessness of Dragonforce. Bands that bug the hell out of me due to consistent pandering and worship and not being able to live up to the hype come and go, but these guys I would lump on the top of the shit pile. Please please PLEASE go away, you twits!
The infamous DragonForce. The band that is known for “only getting fans because of Guitar Hero,” for having songs that “all sound the same,” for being the band that “can’t play live,” for having “cheesy, repetitive lyrics that make no sense,” and, overall, just being “not metal.” I disagree with most of the talk surrounding DragonForce. Yes, I did get into them through Guitar Hero, but how else was this band supposed to get known? It’s not their fault that the radio in America plays no metal but Metallica. Besides, they didn’t ask to be put in Guitar Hero; Guitar Hero came to them. Their songs really don’t sound the same. You just have to listen to the album a few times, and they certainly aren’t the only band like that. I have never seen them live, but I’ve seen videos of them live, and it looks like they can hit every note. Supposedly, they were just bad on their Inhuman Rampage tour because of technical difficulties. As far as the lyrics are concerned, they are pretty cheesy. However, that’s not a bad thing necessarily. It’s nice when the lyrics mean something, but I’m not going to turn down a good band just because the lyrics are cheesy. At least they aren’t going on about how you should worship Satan. And as far as not being metal goes, a lot of people who say that are just listening to Slipknot and Avenged Sevenfold, so I choose to ignore them. I think that they are just as metal as any other power metal band.
What makes DragonForce stand out is that they push their music to the extreme. They are not your average power metal band, as you probably already know. They focus on extreme speed. Their guitar work may not be that complex or have that much variety, but I don’t think that’s what they were ever aiming to do in the first place. They just want fast, furious, constant shredding, which I think is cool. Their singer, ZP Theart, had a pretty good voice. He recently left the band, but honestly I don’t think he should be that difficult to replace. The choruses that DragonForce writes are always really catchy, like with most power metal bands. Some people act like people only like DragonForce for the guitars, but for me it’s the parts with vocals that I enjoy the most. The solos are usually pretty awesome, but can sometimes get long.
So, what’s special about Ultra Beatdown? Well, for one thing, every song, save for the bonus track “Strike of the Ninja,” has at least one section where it suddenly gets slow and melodious. These sections are usually really cool, and help add to the variety that they sound like they were shooting for on this album. I think that most of the songs on this album are pretty unique in their sound. Also, each individual song changes a lot. The single “Heroes of Our Time” has a chorus, but everything else in the song seems random because it just keeps changing. “The Last Journey Home” and “Inside the Winter Storm” are also like that. Overall, I think that most of the songs here are just better than on their other albums. That might just be some sort of mental bias thing, but I don’t think so. The only song that’s somewhat weak is “Heartbreak Armageddon.” The ballad “A Flame for Freedom” is really beautiful. It may not be as good as “Starfire” or “Dawn over a New World,” but it’s still good. I’ve always loved DragonForce’s ballads.
You may be wondering whether it’s worth it to buy the bonus track version. I know most reviews of any album will say that you should, but this time it is completely necessary. The two bonus tracks are two of DragonForce’s best songs they’ve ever written. “Strike of the Ninja” is a remake of a song by Sam Totman’s side project, Shadow Warriors. Shadow Warriors must have been a pretty sick project, because this may be my favorite DragonForce song. It’s only about three minutes long, but the chorus is simply incredible. So are the verses, really. It does start to get old after a while. This isn’t a Sonata Arctica song. However, it is still fun to listen to even after you’ve heard it 50 times. It’s just a really cheesy, but really fun song. “Scars of Yesterday” is also an incredible song. It starts out with some relatively heavy guitar riffs, and then after a little while it sounds more like your average DragonForce song, but at the same time, it sounds completely unique. It’s a very powerful song and, as usual, has an amazing chorus. If you want to spend a lot of money, you could get the Japanese version of the album. This version includes the bonus track E.P.M. I don’t have it, but I’ve listened to it on Youtube. It’s another fantastic song, with some really catchy guitar riffs. Maybe some day, they’ll re-release this album with the bonus track, like they recently did with their first two albums.
Overall, I think that this is probably DragonForce’s best album yet. I’m glad that Guitar Hero introduced me to this band, because in the end, this is the band that got me into power metal. I can only hope that their new singer will be a good replacement for ZP, and so their future material will be as good or better. If I had to choose highlights from this album, I would say that “Heroes of Our Time” and the two bonus tracks are the best songs. If you don’t want to buy the full album, at least buy those songs from iTunes or somewhere. Long live DragonForce!
I'll start this review off by saying I have a low tolerance for power metal in general. So as a foot note this may come across as extremely biased, but I did my best to review the album (and power metal) objectively. I've heard some good power metal, but it's few and far between. Dragonforce is no exception. They're another run-of-the-mill fairy tale loving power metal band with no appreciation or inspiration for diversity.
2008 saw the dawn of a new Dragonforce album... and the dawn of more reasons to hate this band. DF has been subject to a lot of baseless hype from mallcore kids (aka their pseudo-fans) and amateur guitar players alike. From 'SOOPER TECH SOLOZ' to 'UBER LIGHTNING FAST SHREDZ', Dragonforce has deserved praise beyond what they deserve. The ignoramus hype surrounding Herman Li and their drummer is baffling. And it's this hype that really pushes me to the verge of suicide. Let's clear one thing up: Herman Li is not a god nor is he a superb guitarist. He's average at best. If he and Sam would stop playing at speeds they can't master, I would respect them a bit more, but they play to show off (even though they speed up a lot of the guitars in Pro Tools) and try way too hard to be technical. You're not. You're abysmal live and your praise is beyond what you deserve. Thankfully, the IQ level of Metal Archives is above the 13-year-olds who get hard to Herman Li's sloppy playing 'skills' so I'm sure everyone understands he's not that great.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get on to the music. The album kicks off with "Heroes of Our Time" which has a chorus VERY similar to "Fury of the Storm." Not a good start already, boys. The song goes on and the headache gets worse. Pointless wankery around every turn, unnecessary double bass abuse and abrasive keyboards. And then, the song is over. Repeat this 8 times and you have Ultra Beatdown. 7 minute songs saturated in flamboyant, pointless wankery. Actually, now that I think about it, there was a ballad somewhere amongst this auditory hell. Unfortunately for DF, it sucked more than their other music. Honestly, Dragonforce wouldn't be so bad if they cut some of the songs in half and actually took the initiative to experiment rather than playing it safe.
The production is the same as Inhuman Rampage. Filtered, opera-esque vocals (and by filtered I mean fake as hell), low-in-the-mix rhythm guitar and inaudible bass. Yawn. In retrospect, the production of the rhythm guitar is bothersome. When one of the guitarists is masturbating his guitar pointlessly, you can barely hear the rhythm guitar. Since one of them is constantly jacking off the fretboard, you rarely hear it. Another problem I have is the heroic sound of the sweeps/pinch harmonics. I know it's intentional, but it bothers the fuck out of me. It's beyond fruity.
So! Not-so-epic songs full of sloppy fretboard abuse, incessant fast drumming, fake vocals and inaudible bass. Yep, that's Ultra Beatdown in a nutshell. The only reason this is getting a 3% is because of a solo I heard amidst the repetitive bullshit. It was good until they mutilated it with another entropic solo. It probably would have earned at least a 10 had it stayed coherent. Maybe I'm not understanding something about power metal. Is every song SUPPOSED to sound the fucking same or is this just Dragonforce? If it's the first, then I declare myself a proud enemy of everything power metal stands for. If it's the latter, I firmly declare myself a proud enemy of Dragonforce.
If by some odd curiosity you decide to give this album a spin, listen to "Heroes of Our Time" on YouTube. You'll have heard the entire DF discography in 7 minutes.
Don't buy this album unless you enjoy an hour long migraine. Or you can actually stomach the vomit this band makes.
The history that an individual has with a band makes all the difference with how he/she reacts to its various offerings. Those who knew Dragonforce since their underground days from 2000 to 2002 naturally might be hesitant to embrace what they are now, which is a far cry from the glorious tales of dragon riding and sword fighting heard on “Valley Of The Damned”, let alone all of the additional keyboard and vocal gimmicks that have since been incorporated into the band’s most recent releases. Likewise, someone who discovered the band through the heavy success of “Inhuman Rampage” will come to see their debut as obsolete/cheesy D&D metal in the vain of a faster and more technical incarnation of Hammerfall or Dream Evil, completely at odds with the whole “Guitar Hero” videogame image that the band has since assumed. But then there are, of course, stubborn loyalists like me who’ve stuck with the band from the beginning and accepted almost every change the band has made.
This band’s 4th and latest studio offering “Ultra Beatdown” takes a sort of middle ground between the overindulgent technological approach of “Inhuman Rampage” and the epic meets technical celebration of virtuosity that was “Sonic Firestorm”. The token harsh vocals that functioned as something of an extreme metal window dressing have been dropped, and the electronics have been scaled down to something a little more measured, though still highly prominent for even a power metal band. The songs are still loaded with contrasting sections and interesting twists, while still maintaining this sense of an endless chorus. This isn’t power metal that is meant to have the audience singing along with just a singular refrain section for audience participation purposes, but a perpetual volley of sing-along fanfare melodies meant to make a lead vocalist of every member of the audience for the whole fucking show.
There is time set aside for the band to continue playing with their new gadgets, though now in a more tasteful fashion. “Reasons To Live” sees Vadim the crazy Ukrainian keyboardist with a new toy that sounds like a 21st century version of the Millennium Falcon hyper-drive during the intro and ending, while the equally as insane Dave Mackintosh blasting away like he’s the next Gene Hoglan. In between this it’s mostly standard faire, catchy vocal sections with hyper speed riffs and drumming, but the first 30 seconds of this bad boy are sort of like a tech. death meets progressive metal interlude in what is largely a flurry of Helloween on steroids riffs meets Steve Vai guitar gymnastics. The special edition bonus track “Scars Of Yesterday” is loaded with plenty of quirky techno keyboard sounds, as well as a fair share of neo-classical elements that are somewhat unusual even by the standards set by the last album, but despite hanging on to a fairly non-catchy set of ideas longer than a brief 30 second burst, still finds itself back in familiar territory at key points.
The band’s overt catchiness and the light lyrics of heroics and personal triumph are often the principle point of derision amongst the band’s detractors, aside from the occasional fit of childish bickering about commercial success, and there is just as much of it here as on any Dragonforce album. The first single and lead off track “Heroes Of Our Time”, along with “Heartbreak Armageddon” and “The Warrior Inside” are classic examples of a band that tailors every verse, bridge, interlude and breakdown as if they were an extension of the chorus, resulting in something that sounds melodically linear and one dimensional, in spite of all the activity going on between every other instrument backing up or trading prominence with the vocals. Other songs such as “The Fire Still Burns” and “Inside The Winter Storm” get a little more adventurous with tempo changes and contrasting sections and invoke a bit more of a “Sonic Firestorm” image. The chorus of the latter is ambiguous in that I can’t quite figure out which section is the actual chorus; as two sections have equal power and could each be content to be the final word in the song.
The interesting thing to note is that on this album, unlike any of the band’s other previous full lengths, the band has elected to slow things down a bit for more than just a couple bridge sections and their one token ballad. Whether this a sign of the band maturing a little or just getting bored and deciding not to overuse their human drum machine, the band takes a break from upstaging the brutal death metal scene with their superior use of double kick work and present something that sounds closer to the original template set by Helloween and Running Wild. “The Last Journey Home” is an epic in somewhat of a similar model as “Soldiers Of The Wasteland”, but at about 2/3 the tempo. This contains some of the better ballad moments from this outfit, avoiding sounding too sappy and generally flows evenly from one section to the next, not holding onto one tempo or idea for too long. The other bonus track “Strike Of The Ninja” is a straightforward 80s speed metal song with heavy keyboards added, very predictable, but extremely fun and the only fast song on here to completely avoid an endless blur of double bass.
The special edition also comes with a bonus DVD containing some important educational video for Dragonforce lovers and haters alike. The video of Herman Li’s signature guitar line is more for those with guitar experience who are looking for an instrument to emulate his Vai meets Malmsteen style of playing and want to know how they are built, but the studio footage video is required viewing for anyone wishing to comment on the band’s recording practices. It essentially dispels the idiotic yet all too common belief that the band lives in some sort of colossal studio loaded with super computers that are used to turn dog shit into diamonds. Most of the music is recorded in a bedroom, save the drums, and then mixed by a professional just like every other signed band out there.
Footage of Totman, Li and Mackintosh recording their parts shows pretty plainly that there’s no studio magic work at here, just a band that happens not to be drunk off their asses while playing at this particular time. Everybody in the band can play these parts, and with the exceptions of a few botched gigs where the band wasn’t in peak form (this happens to everyone at one point of another) or otherwise publicly intoxicated, there is absolutely nothing to suggest otherwise. The band does it’s fair share of clowning around, including a shot of Totman erasing an entire keyboard part and then mocking Vadim while not being himself present is one of several parts where the laugh factor is in full gear.
But being the longtime fan of this band that I am, the contents on here need to be measured against the band’s previous accomplishments, and the final verdict is one of worthiness. This is essentially one step behind “Sonic Firestorm” and two ahead of “Inhuman Rampage”, and showcases a band that is still in top form. Part of me misses the odes to medieval glory and knights doing battle on snow covered plains, but that’s what bands like Iron Fire and Hammerfall are for. This band is nothing else if not 100% consistent in their output, so those that love the band will tend to love this, while the detractors will continue in similar fashion, and those who can’t get over the video game oriented album art will be encouraged to get over themselves, shut up, and enjoy the sonic fireworks.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 9, 2009.
Wow. What a surprise. After Inhuman Rampage was released, I was half expecting Dragonforce to spiral irreversibly down a vortex of techno-inspired drivel. Usually when a band goes down a dark path, they never recover. One word: Sepultura. But anyway, I shouldn’t even say it was a dark path. I still liked Rampage, but it was a little out of hand at times. Once they started trying to sound more insane than a hyena on crack, I figured they would just take it way too far on the next album, and it would end up sounding like pure nonsense, a collage of indistinguishable sound effects that did nothing but confuse the listener. This, of course, was just my worst fear. What actually happened was that Dragonforce released a more controlled album that didn’t sound as noisy and obnoxious as the previous effort. Ultra Beatdown actually contains genuine, well thought out SONGS, as opposed to what many Inhuman Rampage critics described as pointless wankery.
Instead of writing a song-by-song review, as one is generally inclined to do for an album as great as this, I’ll just talk about the album as a whole while mentioning certain parts that stand out. Let me start by saying that the tracks on Ultra Beatdown are so much more musical than the ones on Rampage. They just make more sense, and they’re more distinguishable. They flow more easily, and the instruments finally have some room to breathe. But don’t be fooled by my language. It’s still an intense thrill ride of a listen. While their music remains just as intense as it always has been, they somehow managed to keep it under control and create something highly melodic and noteworthy. There are parts on this album that don’t even sound like Dragonforce. For example, there is a slow waltz-type rhythm halfway through Reasons To Live that really changes things up without sounding forced. That whole song in general is probably the best track I could recommend to a Dragonforce skeptic. You might be surprised by what you hear in that song, especially during the very impressive Dream Theater-esque keyboard solo. The Last Journey Home is a bit unconventional for them as well. It’s probably the slowest Dragonforce song that isn’t a ballad. In the beginning it sounds more like the intro to a Rhapsody or Symphony X song. There are multiple parts here and there where the tempo and mood will change somewhat unpredictably to avoid any monotony. There is a mid-paced riff in the middle of Inside The Winter Storm that is reminiscent of the slow part in Soldiers Of The Wasteland. In my humble opinion it’s a mean ass riff, and it’s sure to cause some sore necks during their gigs.
There are still some wild guitar effects on this album, but I can assure you that the overall level of wankery has been greatly reduced from the last record. The guitar playing is a bit more raw and traditional, and a tad simpler. Dave Mackintosh is a demon behind the kit, as the drumming is nothing short of a flat out assault on your ears. I think the drums have a better sound here than on any other Dragonforce album. The vocals are beautifully done, yet aggressive when they need to be. I love the short high notes that ZP hits during the verses of The Fire Still Burns.
Once again, they decided to make an album with exactly eight songs, one of which is a ballad. It’s always fun to read the track listing before the album comes out and guess which one the ballad is going to be. Enter A Flame For Freedom. What a beautiful song. They write ballads better than just about anyone. Ultra Beatdown ends in dramatic fashion with one of the most triumphant sounding outros I’ve ever heard. What a way to finish the album. It leaves you with a good refreshing feeling. The album opener ends in a similar fashion as well. I think Ultra Beatdown may be the only album that could possibly compare to the dominance of Sonic Firestorm, which has been my all-time favorite album. I predicted that no band could ever outdo Dragonforce except Dragonforce. And with their latest effort, that may have happened. Now that I’m on the subject, I’d just like to say that if it wasn’t for the mediocre production quality on Valley of the Damned, it could have rivaled Firestorm as well. It sucks when excellent songwriting and musicianship are blemished by a sub-par production. It obviously didn’t ruin it though, but it definitely took it down a few points. I bet if they rerecorded it today, it would be as good as Firestorm and Beatdown. Inhuman Rampage is probably the worst of the bunch, but it still killed.
I bought the special edition of Ultra Beatdown, which includes two bonus tracks. One is called Strike Of The Ninja, which is basically a rerecorded song from their old joke band, Shadow Warriors. It used to be called Feel The Fire. The new version of this song sounds infinitely better of course, considering what type of equipment they had back in 2001-2002. I was hoping they’d rerecord all four Shadow Warriors songs and release them as an EP or something, but oh well. Maybe they could resurrect the Shadow Warriors and have them open for Dragonforce. They could dress up as ninjas and play the SW songs, then leave the stage, undress and come back out as Dragonforce for another set. That would be awesome. Well anyway, the other bonus track is called Scars of Yesterday, the music for which was written entirely by the two oddball members in the band, Vadim and Fred, which explains why it sounds so unusual. Needless to say, their musical taste is noticeably different from that of Sam and Herman. I’m glad it’s just a bonus track, because it’s obviously not the kind of stuff Dragonforce would normally play. It’s still a good track nonetheless, and I’m glad they included it on this version of the album.
My only qualm with this release is that there aren’t enough of those harmonic vocal parts where all the band members go balls out and do a triumphant chant, usually following a killer solo. I think they only did it twice on this album. I loved those! They could have thrown one or two more in there in my opinion. But honestly, that is my biggest problem with the album, and it’s a really minor one at best, so I’d still say this is one of the greatest records I’ve ever heard. There is so much raw emotion on this disc. Each song is very rich and has a lot to offer. It’s a flavorful blend of speedy, aggressive riffs, flashy solos, and powerful, anthemic choruses. I would suggest buying the special edition. You don’t want to miss out on the Shadow Warriors song. It’s a gem. It also comes with behind the scenes footage from the studio and whatnot, which is always a cool treat. It would have been nice to see some footage of them getting drunk with the fans, but oh well. If you want to see some of that, you’ll just have to do it in person next time they come to your town!
Simply put, Ultra Beatdown is a vastly entertaining joy ride from start to finish. It’s epic, triumphant, uplifting, and incredibly happy. It’s everything you’d expect from a Dragonforce album and then some. You’ll actually have fun listening to it. And if you’re still skeptical even after reading this, just loosen up and give it a shot. I think you might be surprised.
I'm not going to waste your time by writing how other people's arguments on why this is a bad album are wrong starting far too many pointless disagreements, I'm merely going to present my own arguments and hope you find them helpful.
DragonForce have created a very strong power metal album in Ultra Beatdown and it is their most impressive work since Valley of the Damned. The introduction of track 1, 'Heroes of Our Time', while containing the same DragonForce feeling from previous songs is immediately recognisable as a new song (a trend which will continue throughout) though quickly changes to the DragonForce formula and works as a pleasing testament to their previous work.
After that, however, there is a noticeable change in the direction of this album. From the first few seconds of 'The Fire Still Burns' you realise DragonForce have tried hard with their new intros... and have definitely succeeded! While the structure of the songs remains true to DragonForce's trademark sound each song is clearly different from the last (and all others). A point made that much more obvious as you listen through the album for a second time and recognise parts from particular songs that have stuck in your memory... something that couldn't be said about Inhuman Rampage!
As for the instruments, the guitars produce their usual melodies and one-note riffs during the verses and chorus which are, fortunately, spiced up by some nice underlying fills that work well. The drums see a much needed improvement, given Mackintosh's great skill, with varying drum riffs throughout the album instead of the constant repetition of the one drum beat continued through every song on previous albums. The bass is, unfortunately, very hard to hear and so not much can be said about it. The keyboard sees a great step forward as it now plays a much larger part in most songs with sections with a lot of focus placed on it and it doesn't disappoint giving a strong accompaniment to the guitars and creating high-quality riffs by itself as well. There are also the usual assortment of "video game" sounds in the album, however, this time they are used to a much greater effect, working very well with the music, rather than just being placed in "for fun". The vocals complement the songs well, but still produce the same lyrics heard over the last three albums. While the topics don't necessarily need changing, the words do.
However, fans mustn't fret because even though the songs are now original, they still contain the factors you want from a DragonForce, fast, melodic riffs, a strong drum track continually beating away through every song, and the trademark insanely fast solos, which now have (perhaps to some peoples relief) been shortened by about a minute on average.
Some of the most welcome parts of the album come at the end if you have the special edition version with 'Strike of the Ninja' and 'Scars of Yesterday', the two bonus tracks. 'Strike of the Ninja' has a brilliantly portrayed urgency about it, emphasised by the fact that the song finishes after just 3 minutes, a usual half DragonForce song. 'Scars of Yesterday' then brings a completely new sound to DragonForce with an unmelodic intro that contrasts well with their previous songs, it soon transforms into another classic DragonForce song, but still has a feel about it which brings it above average.
Other songs worth a mention are 'The Last Journey Home' which marks DragonForce's first slower song that isn't the classic "ballad" that is included on each album. In reality it sounds like a power metal song that has been written at their usual tempo and has then been slowed down, however, the effect works well nonetheless. 'A Flame for Freedom' also warrants a look as their best written "ballad" since the original 'Starfire' and it's a welcome return after the disappointment of 'Dawn Over a New World' and 'Trail of Broken Hearts'
For those lucky enough to obtain the Japanese version, the Japanese-only bonus song 'E.P.M.' named after DragonForce's self-proclaimed genre, extreme power metal, brings a very nice idea to life with a brilliantly written "video game" intro that then transforms to the classic DragonForce instruments at an increased tempo.
This album is a great improvement on Inhuman Rampage and is well worth a listen. All in all a very well written and together album which brings a new sound to DragonForce while keeping the charm that many fans have fallen in love with!
Many fans or critics of DragonForce, including myself, have a stance that says that their first album, "Valley of the Damned", is far superior to either of their next two albums, saying there is a much stronger sense of melody and slight variation than either of their later albums. Though the members are awesome technical players and show off some serious skill, they really haven't been put to good use, as they're simply "OMG LOOK I CAN PLAY FAST" and no sense of variation and shred fest solos throughout, and they tend to sound as though DragonForce simply recorded the same song nine times. So, rightfully so, when I went out and purchased this album my expectations for the album were not great, but there was a sense of optimism rushing though my head, hoping, just hoping, that Sam can come up with at east SLIGHTLY original compositions.
After I pushed the play button for the first time, the first single and track, "Heroes of our Time", hit me like I thought it would, an uplifting and fast riff to start off. Though I found it enjoyable I wished that the rest of the album wouldn't sound like this like "Inhuman Rampage", save one track. My wish came true.
For example, "Reasons to Live" starts off as a blistering offering from the drums and guitar, but three minutes in features something that is only present in a very scant few of their songs... a breakdown, and an instrumental not completely dominated by shredfests. A section in this song also shows clear "Images and Words"-era-Dream Theater influences. "Heartbreak Armageddon", follows a similar formula but with a much different, calmer sound. "The Last Journey Home" is, simply put, a beautiful song, "A Flame for Freedom" is a predominately slow song, and "The Warrior Inside" is an incredible song that fits very well as a closer.
The old elements of DragonForce are clearly still present, with cheesy lyrics, ridiculously fast solos, epic-length songs, video game noises, etc. All they really needed to do was to keep the constant solos and noises in moderation and focus more on creating original, different and varying compositions that the band overall are capable of doing. This album satisfies these criteria and make for a great and enjoyable album for almost all DragonForce listeners. If they can continue to follow these guidelines, add more variety, and most of all, continue to have fun creating music, then their fifth album, sixth, and any albums beyond that may be considered some of the best albums of all time. They have the capability, now all they have to do it continue to harness it. Their future looks bright.
So, where do I start? Ok, some background. Well, I first got into DragonForce through Sonic Firestorm, and found it completely astoundingly epic. I likewise found Valley Of The Damned great too, but was somewhat thoroughly disappointed with Inhuman Rampage.
Well I have to say, I found this album incredible. I had low hopes for it at first; thought it'd be a ridiculous snorefest like Inhuman Rampage, but after giving it a spin, I couldn't resist coming back for more. Consistent all the way through, and I'm amazed at how they can make something so ridiculously catchy whilst sustaining clearly evident metal foundations. This is just what power metal is all about: metal, epicness, catchy tunes and melodies.
I can't really pull out the stand-out songs; they're all very good, but I guess The Fire Still Burns, Reasons To Live, Heartbreak Armageddon and Inside The Winter Storm are the best in my opinion. All fast paced, up-beat, and more melodic than the others. The ballad, A Flame For Freedom, is seemingly taking a more heavier approach than their past ballads, and the title song, Heroes Of Our Time, sounds exactly like Revolution DeathSquad, so don't judge the album pre-emptively with that song.
Oh, Strike Of The Ninja, I shall point out, is actually a cover of their own material. Demoniac wasn't the only other band of DragonForce, oh no, they had a band called Shadow Warriors, which, out of a potential drunken night, they decided to be ninjas and record 4 songs. One song, Feel The Fire, is what they covered. Just worth noting...
So, what to expect of this album? Well, if you don't care about being tr00, and you like songs with hooks, like power metal and more effectively, their Sonic Firestorm album, you'll love this album. It features basically the same formula as their past albums, except now they seem to be taking a lean into neoclassical/symphonic metal, and have decided that the rejection of the traditional song structure is a way forward. You'll most likely enjoy it. I certainly did.
If you have bashed DragonForce for their past releases being samey, untechnical and "sped-up", then you most probably won't like this at all, end of, so stay away!
Of course, 90% isn't perfect, and I'm not one to evangelise your opinion into liking this. It's a review for piss sake, not free advertising, so I'll go ahead and show the cons.
Firstly, you know how Herman Li is seemingly having that race with Explosions In The Sky about who can whammy more? Well that race is apparently still on. There's almost as much whammy as actual notes in one or two songs on the album for christ sake! Try some other guitar techniques please, Herman!
Secondly, I have to reiterate my point on the neoclassical/symphonic influence. The neoclassical parts are either severely misplaced, as if shoehorned into their songs without purpose, or just seriously hit the shit. The symphonic intro to The Fire Still Burns sounds like they decided to give Tuomas Holopainen a burning handjob or something. The neoclassical middle of Heartbreak Armageddon almost completely brushes over my mind without me realising it transcended to and fro. And the neoclassical middle to Inside The Winter Storm just sounds so misplaced, it's impossible.
Thirdly, what's with the name? A strange thing to pick on, I know, but Ultra Beatdown just sounds like a fail metalcore name. Even Ultimate Flamedeath would've worked better, and that's just saying a lot.
All in all, a great album, just don't get it unless you're certain you fit the parameters it demands. People who downrate due to cheesiness and whatnot fall into the same category as those who rate Sunn O))) down for being too slow - they miss the point entirely.
They’re having fun, but they sound like they’re serious this time.
Witness the visual vomit they’re trying to pass off as album art. It’s the first clue, then the album title. I imagine them laughing at their own bombastic hilarity as they put this thing together. But then the music starts and I imagine something else entirely.
Musically this is really an amalgam of the previous two albums. The same superficial elements from Inhuman Rampage are present, that video-gamish overall sound and whatnot. The only thing missing, surprisingly, was the growls or grunts that were in the background on the last album. I liked that as a counterpoint to the main singing, even though it wasn’t really a major thing. I thought they would push that further on here but there was no attempt at all. They were completely gone.
The rest of their sound is made up of elements from Sonic Firestorm, most notably to my ears the riffing. It seems the guitars have gotten their edge back, they were smoother on Inhuman Rampage. Also majorly noticeable was the return to song structures with slower moments to change the pace a little and keep you listening, and these were more atmospheric than what SF had. One thing I did not notice for quite some time was the drumming, and much was made of their new drummer. This was not due to any flaws in the drumming or the production, it’s just that he followed the music and remained merely a foundation for the rest of it all. The drumming here is the same as it was on past albums.
The only thing to note about the production would be the edgier guitars and the fact that the singer is not so in-your-face this time. Otherwise all the changes here would come from the actual songwriting, which I found to be more interesting than what’s come in the past. The most interesting song I heard on here was The Last Journey Home. It slowed things a bit in spots but lacked nothing in speed when it was required, and essentially represented in one song everything they’ve done for this record as a whole. In a way they have summed themselves up with this album, and with this song in particular. All that they’ve developed in their career is on display here, except their brief experiment with darker vocal styles.
That in particular would have been cool to hear on at least one song, with a little development from when we heard it last time. It would not have been out of place on several songs, and since they’re enjoying themselves so much and doing whatever they want regardless of criticism, using it on some songs but not all would have only increased the variety. The lyrics seem serious at times but the music is always fun and the package as a whole is corky as hell, similar to what else they’ve done but more developed than any of their other albums.
The more you listen to it, the more the beauty of the work as a whole comes into focus. I noticed this more when listening to this album than their previous work. There is greater variation in the songwriting here than there was in the past, making each song seem like a separate movement of a symphony, even though none of it sounds like it’s classically influenced. This isn’t like Symphony X’s music, but the album succeeds in sounding less like a string of new songs for the fans and more like a cohesive project that the band was very involved with.
The first impression you get from it is that they had a ton of fun, almost like they’re so cocky this is a joke to them. Later on they come to seem like they take themselves seriously, thinking of themselves less as a metal band and more as a metal orchestra. That they could create something so intricate while simply having fun is testament enough to this band’s skills. It takes many listens to fully appreciate, but the time is worth it, and you won’t be bored at all.
DragonForce is back with their fourth full length album, Ultra Beatdown, after gaining widespread popularity thanks to Guitar Hero. Not unexpectedly, Ultra Beatdown brings nothing new to the table but will certainly delight those who still find their trademark sound appealing. Making their return are the same formulaic song structures, meaningless yet amusing lyrics, computerized guitars, mute bass, and obnoxious keys.
DragonForce is not without controversy. Many level accusations of speeding up guitars with computers int he studio. After seeing live performances by DragonForce on two occasions, I can say I witnessed a profound inability to replicate their sound live. Li and Totman struggle to keep up with the blistering speed of the solos, and notes are often slurred together or passed over entirely. Similarly, ZP's voice will crack and falter from all the successive high notes. Why bother touring if you can't recreate your sound live? This is not to say DragonForce is without talent, but this talent is blown so far out of proportion it is no longer amusing. Ultra Beatdown displays the same impossibly fast playing with little variety and all the same gimmicks.
But this is an album review, so let's get to it. Quite simply, Ultra Beatdown lacks variety. Portions of some songs may be at a slower and more varied tempo than on previously releases, but this merely creates the illusion of diversity. Listen closely, and the same gimmicks are undeniably there. Here again are the same 'walalalala wooooaaaawww' guitar solos that last over five minutes, the same song structures with nearly identical bridges and chorus lines, and the same single-note riffs. Oh, and the 70s called; they want their keyboards back. Am I listening to the sound track from Space Invaders or a power metal album? I can't tell anymore. Unorthodox usage of keyboard melodies is nothing new to DragonForce, but Ultra Beatdown take it to new heights.
The only redeeming trait of this album is Dave Mackintosh, previously of Bal - Sagoth. It's a shame having to play five black beats a second prevents him from really standing out on this album. His excellent performance fails to make up for the rest of the album's failings. ZP's vocals are pretty good, too, but the constant synthesizing of his voice gets old fast. And it happens on practically every song. If I could hear the bass, I imagine I would enjoy it, too and make an honorable mention here.
Lastly, some will say DragonForce is a joke band similar to Masacration or Austrian Death Machine. This may very well be true. In fact, I sincerely hope this is the case. If DragonForce is a joke band seeking to write consistently repetitive music filled with all kinds of guitar wankery, 70s rock keyboards, and all sorts of electronic flairs with the intention of duping fans into praising otherwise mediocre music as power metal mastery, they have attained a level of comedic genius not seen since Andy Kaufman. The joke would certainly be on me and everyone else who harshly criticizes the band but also on those who bow down before it. The safest way to enjoy this music then is to approach it as entertaining power metal capable of laughing at itself.
That said, I must admit I like DragonForce. Valley of the Damned remains one of my all time favorite albums and to me is the only one worth buying. Once you listen to one DragonForce album, you've heard them all. Ultra Beatdown is no exception. If you're tired of listening to the same song over and over again, nothing here will make you feel refreshed and engaged. Still, this won't stop many from finding a few enjoyable moments, if only briefly and in small doses. Leave this one to the diehards.
Once again Dragonforce have done it, they've managed to release another album with complete and utter wankery, but whereas the guitar solos were cool before - FAR - too much of sounds the same. I'm so ashamed of the two guitarists that I'm actually going to refuse from using their names and refer to them as "Musical idiot 1" and "Musical Idiot 2".
Listening to the opening of Heroes Of Our Time... actually before I get onto that I'd like to moan about the song names. Why do they consistently decide to make crap song names for everything? WHY I ask? Is it that difficult to come up with a vaguely decent song name that doesn't mention some sort of element (namely fire or ice), a weather condition or a type of hero? Really guys, it's time to take all this "Knight Saves World" out of the themes, we have tanks now.
Anyway, as I was saying before, the opening of Heroes Of Our Time just proves that Dragonforce consistently refuse to change what they were doing on every other song they've ever made. The only thing that seems to change on this album is the key. Literally, you could watch all the porn in the world five times and you'd never surmount as much cum as the guitars that Musical Idiot 1 and Musical Idiot 2 spew all over us. It's just tiring. On top of that every lick, every twiddle, every random trem bar dip, every bend, EVERY part of the solo sounds like something they've done before. It sounds like they developed a Dragonforce Solo Machine and just used that. You could actually take pieces from the solos in Inhuman Rampage and make the exact solos on this new pile of crap.
Another thing I hate is that they try so hard to incorporate something new and fresh into the music, but in the meantime just end up sounding like idiots. Some of the openings, I admit, are actually fairly cool, and you think "Wow, this looks promising". Well you were WRONG! As soon as the verse comes in all of your hopes for Dragonforce literally just crumble. Dragonforce have no idea how to put a verse together. They use the same riff theyused from the previous song and stick another stupid vocal melody over the top and decide they'll rev up the speed a bit more and hammer it into your already nullified skull.
I really don't think this is actually what Dragonforce want to do. Either that or they have no musical talent whatsoever (which is probably more likely). Seriously though, the ways they attempt to "change" their songs and is pathetic. They've essentially taken their old songs, shifted them up a bit, shoved some random techno thing in for about a second or a Slipknot-esque riff in (see Heartbreak Armageddon) and decided that that was ok. Well it's NOT ok. If you're going to attempt something new then at least make sure it's vaguely acceptable before releasing it to your pathetic, delusional fans.
Seriously guys, just stop it. Split up, have Musical Idiot 1 killed, start covering McFly songs, anything but this repetetive tripe
This is an absolute fucking shame and a waste of talent. Dragonforce showed such potential with Valley of the Damned, and although that debut was repetitive and derivative, you can't blame a debut for being repetitive and derivative, since a band needs to start somewhere. But 4 albums down the line, nothing new has come to the table. It's essential that musicians grow in their abilities constantly. It's essential that artists constantly push the envelope. To stagnate is to regress, and every time you settle with doing the same thing over and over, you get worse because you get stuck in your own little microcosm.
Which is what makes Ultra Beatdown such a shame. For all it's worth, Inhuman Rampage and Ultra Beatdown are indistinguishable. Whereas Sonic Firestorm and Valley of the Damned were distinguishable (slightly) and had a bit of personality, Dragonforce's last 2 efforts have shown no growth and no change at all. While it's refreshing to hear a band stick to their guns, this goes beyond that. This is the musical equivelent of Taco Bell, i.e. it's the same old crap, just rearranged and with a new phony name. As usual, the songtitles and lyrics are interchangable, the chorii are interchangable, the guitar licks are interchangable, and the songs themselves are interchangable. Never before have I heard such homogenous pap before. There is no equal to Dragonforce's self-robbery.
Again, that's why this is so disappointing. Sam Totman and Herman Li are, despite everything your average curmudgeon can lob at them, talented. They are very talented. Vadim is a talented keyboardist, if not derivative and uninspired, and even the bassist, Fred Leclercq, is a talented guitarist/bassist and they have definately not used him well enough here (I've heard his work with Maladaptive and Heavenly. He is truly formidable.) Even the guitarists, who hog the spotlight, haven't used their talent for anything productive here. All this talent is wasted egregiously.I find no redeeming value here, this is just wanking. Even the almighty prick Malmsteen's newest album, Unleash the Fury, has more musical content, value, and significance than this. And you all know how I feel about that album. At least Yngwie knows how to write coherent songs, even if they're predictable, they're not incoherent, sloppy, 200 mph wankfests.
On a positive side, they quit trying to make soulless, sappy, and god awful ballads. However, what's the point of not doing what you're terrible at if you can't do what you're good at with respectable results? Literally, every song here sounds the same, and the single, Heroes of Our Time, sounds like every other Dragonforce opener. It's one thing to do this schtick for a couple albums, but after a while the need to do a minimal amount of experimentation is apparent.
I figure that by now you know what Dragonforce sounds like. So when I do this review, I'm trying to differentiate this from other albums, since the similarities far outnumber the differences. Well, I'm here to inform you that there is NOTHING to separate this from Inhuman Rampage, and, if only for the reason that this is even less original and more derivative, from Sonic Firestorm and Valley of the Damned.
Like fellow DF'ers, Dark Funeral also fill up their albums with uber fast nonsense. But the difference between Dragonforce and Dark Funeral is that Dark Funeral do it successfully and make songs that, while they might be silly faux-satanic fodder, stick in your head and are coherent, well written songs. Dragonforce fail at the most simple of songwriting tasks.
And as another reviewer pointed out, what's with all the extraneous techno-ish nonsense? It's one thing to make your music techno-y (and I certainly have no objection to it) but when a great portion of the music is just noises, not even electronic music, but random beeps and bloops? What's with all the extra crap? It's another defining piece of evidence that Dragonforce are a tired gimmick. It's all gimmick, no real substance. This is not the best (or even close to it) that power metal has to offer. For that, you would have to look into Iron Savior, Grave Digger, Heavenly, or Gamma Ray (and not their new album - yuck!) Each of them are infinitely more interesting than Dragonforce.
I give this a 15 because despite all the slick production efforts and time the musicians spent practicing, this is completely unlistenable. What a waste of time.
2008 brings another DragonForce album and more metalheads complain about their negative influence on metal, I mean yeah, look at the album artwork and how it reminds you of Samus and the title “Ultra Beatdown”, and the fact they’ve been on Guitar Hero which means they’re automatic sell-outs right? Well while I competely disagree with all the negativity towards DragonForce I can see how some people might think it’s gotten too far. I really love Valley of the Damned and Sonic Firestorm, hearing both of them before Inhuman Rampage was even released and thinking how unique and amazing this way, how fast it all was and oh yeah, the solos. After Inhuman Rampage was released, I worshipped at Through The Fire and Flames’ fee, loving the pure awesome catchiness of the song, but after some time I realized how the rest of the album was quite weak and unworthy; and then the backlash came from them getting popular and such. I had lost a bit of faith in their ability to write memorable and good songs, instead of having just one or two catchy and good songs with the rest falling under filler category, which is basically how Inhuman Rampage was composed.
So with this release, Ultra Beatdown corrects my stance and shows that I can trust DragonForce once again to release a decent power metal album with plenty of catchy songs that are more than just a similar structure as well as having MORE to them, instead of just the chorus and solos and blah blah. Herman Li and Sam Totman are back with a vengeance with ridiculously fast and lead guitar work that is more than just fancy shredding, at least this time creating more riff-wise and adding a bit more to the solos, what can I say, the lead guitar work will always be spectacular with those two. The keyboards are back with more flowing goodiness, adding more atmosphere to the ‘epic’ power metal feel something that Freedom Call and Rhapsody do, but at the same time adding more ‘videogame’ elements as they are known for, with weird noises and such like the opening of Reasons to Live, or maybe that’s the guitar? Drumming with DragonForce and Dave Mackintosh is always very tight and powerful, ranging from hyper fast blast beats something not always familiar with power metal, once again check the opening to Reasons to Live to the more atypical power metal drumming with a constant barrage of double bass, which is always a good thing; but most importantly it’s always solid and competent.
The most improved factor I can tell about DragonForce other than the newer more complex song structures, is ZP Theart and his vocal performance. Heroes of Our Time presents itself as the perfect opener, which is the “Through the Fire and Flames” of this album as someone previously mentioned, having some excellent lead guitar work and especially Theart shining with the chorus and choral arrangements. The choral arrangements and epic nature brings in more for a power metal feel like in the beginning of The Fire Still Burns, something not exactly used a lot in previous DragonForce albums. Inside The Winter Storm is another DragonForce powerhouse with a heavier rhythm section and some great riffs complimented once again with fantastic lead guitar and keyboard melodies. DragonForce also shows a few more times they can slow it down with slower moments like in Inside the Winter Storm, adding elements like slower lead guitar work that works well, but of course it speeds up as usual, I mean it is hyper speed power metal after all.
So Ultra Beatdown is a decent offering in DragonForce’s catalogue, showing they aren’t just a phase or a trend or anything of the like that they can still write good songs and most importantly an album. After the slight misstep of Inhuman Rampage it seems that the boys realized their mistakes, improved on them and worked on making quality songs that are so ridiculously cheesy and so unmistakeably “DragonForce” that it works. This isn’t something you should take totally serious, nor should you take it more than what it is, a decent and fun album plenty of catchy choruses and fast and impressive musicianship. It’s nice to see that they also haven’t fallen into a trap of more mainstream music and such instead coming back to what they should be doing, music in the vein of Sonic Firestorm with a slightly more epic approach with plenty of new ideas. I’ll be listening to this for a while, it’s a step ahead from Inhuman Rampage but not quite back up to the Sonic Firestorm status, but at least the songs on here are more memorable and that’s what they rely on, so good on them.
You know that old proverb, "never judge a book by its cover?" Yeah, well it goes double for this. You must literally tear yourself away from the laughable cover and the cheesy name (I believe it's from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.) If any of you didn't like Inhuman Rampage then I have very good news, Ultra Beatdown is more varied while remaining unmistakably Dragonforce. They throw in some slow parts and one song (not counting the ballad of course,) isn't even fast. In fact, ZP and Vadim is more often than not the focus of the songs!
Opening with the utterly magnificent "Heroes of Our Time," this is essentially Through the Fire and Flames but with more variety and the breakdown end part. My favorite part is the "Glorious!/Forever more in us!" bit where Dave "Compact Dynamo" Mackintosh does those 'too-fast-my-ass' bass drum rolls. I just crack a shit-eating grin whenever I listen to that. The solos are, of course, spectacularly played especially Herman's little Hot Hands (or whatever the hell it's called,) trick and the final harmony leads.The ending is a fuckin' singalong, I double dog dare you to not sing it!
The following songs showcase the band's newfound variety. "The Fire Still Burns" has a ridiculously infectious chorus and ZP is singing ridiculously high without going falsetto (that "Darkened days goes by" bit.) I didn't like the bridge though, I felt they could've done without that echo. "Reasons to Live" opens with a keyboard melody and blastbeats with whammy mania before getting down to business. Actually, the song isn't really fast (although the chorus remains infectious,) and the solos are NOT played at 270 bpm. I liked this, it shows that they can do more than shred. Alright, there is a sweep-tastic part towards the end but it totally fits the context. Oh yeah, "Heartbreak Armageddon" has an actual riff! Along with another slow solo part.
"The Last Journey Home" is the slow song I'm talking about. Well it's only slow if you compare it to their usual stuff. I guess when they mean slow it's still pretty damn fast. This song feels more serious than the others and it just may be their best non-VotD song. Sure the lyrics aren't serious but ZP delivers them in such a way, it actually sounds emotional!
Skipping the ballad (which is okay but doesn't really top "Starfire,") the last two songs are good, but they couldn't follow up "The Last Journey Home" in my opinion. "Inside the Winter Storm" brings the speed up again and they throw in another riff and "The Warrior Inside" is impossibly upbeat. Those of you who can't take flower metal then skip the last song.
The production is an improvement over Inhuman Rampage and Sonic Firestorm. It's not completely sterile and I daresay that it's a good idea that they brought ZP and Vadim to the fore. On occassion you can hear Frederic but he's still kinda buried by Dave, Herman and Sam. As you may have guessed, Sam's songwriting has considerably improved. Hell even Vadim's compositions are much better. One warning, it is more videogame influenced than the previous albums so stay away if you're a game-ophobe. The solos (all 50 of 'em,) are fantastic and it's sure to please even the most gloomy of metalheads.
My disc has three extra tracks (odd since Indonesia hasn't been Japanese since '45) and "Strike of the Ninja" is the shortest song Dragonforce has done, clocking in at 3:17.The chorus sounds rather 80s glam but I like it. "Scars of Yesterday" could've easily been on the album but it doesn't really stand out, "E.P.M."on the other hand should be mandatory on all releases! This is where Vadim REALLY shows his shit, it's also the most videogame sounding song on this album.
While Ultra Beatdown may not dethrone Valley of the Damned as my favorite Dragonforce album (and favorite PM album,) it easily matches Sonic Firestorm in certain places and beats the shit out of Inhuman Rampage. I highly recommend buying the Japanese edition.
We all know that power metal isn’t exactly the most creative of musical genres but DragonForce have definitely tried their hardest to make ‘Ultra Beatdown’ different from the rest.
The album starts off with the signature styled Dragonforce guitar work with Heroes of Our Time (which is probably the best power metal song is year), but what makes this album different than previous releases is that there are more slow segments shown on such songs as Heartbreak Armageddon and Reasons to Live, which gives the album more variation and almost at times feels progressive which is a really smart move for this band. Speaking of Reasons to Live, DragonForce are known for their fast drumming with Dave Mackintosh, formerly of Bal-Sagoth, but this song has black metal styled blast beats that are defiantly reminiscent of his past work and makes the phrase “extreme power metal” much, much more believable.
If I could sum this album up in two words it would probably be “epic” and “catchy”. The epic would come from the vocal and keyboards. ZP has outdone himself on this album with more backing vocals as well as the layering and Falsetto work that ZP is known for. As for the keys, they are far more prominent which serves as a good thing production wise. The lyrics are mainly focused on uplifting themes and overcoming evil which are a positive thing, quite different form their previous works which focus on Armageddon and dark themes.
As for the name of the album, can’t say I’m a big fan of it but it does well with the music and gaming themes they are known for, which is a bonus.
Anyone who is lucky enough to pick up the special edition of ultra beatdown will get 2 extra songs and a D.V.D containing the making of the album and the making of Herman Li’s signature Ibanez E-Gen guitar which is definitely a bonus.
I definitely recommend this album to anyone interested in power metal or of course DragonForce.
I, as well as many others, had formed some pretty terrible conclusions when Ultra Beatdown was announced. If the title and artwork alone filed to wave a big, red flag with bold, black letters saying “Bad!” then the fact that it was the album to follow up Inhuman Rampage certainly did. Moments before listening, I prepared myself to be let down. I hyped myself up for failure, I'll admit it.
So needless to say I was more than pleasantly surprised upon finishing the album. Indeed, Ultra Beatdown allowed Dragonforce to proudly show that one bad album doesn't necessarily mean a decline in future music. If we were to compare Ultra Beatdown to previous albums, it would rank up there between Valley of the Damned and Sonic Firestorm.
When talking about the music, we have to be realistic. Dragonforce sticks to a formula, and rarely, if ever, do they drift away from it. That said, even though the song structure is the same, each individual song is easily unique and distinguished from the other. Catchiness goes miles to cementing a song in your head, and when the first vocal note strikes the ear, there's no doubt you'll know what song is playing.
The musicianship on Ultra Beatdown is another step forward for Dragonforce. Possibly the best aspect of the album is the reduction in solo time. Yes, I love an awesome solo as much as the next person, but not when they are needless and over four minutes long. Solos here average at about two to two-and-a-half minutes long, just perfect. The “video game” noises also see less of a spotlight here, and instead are replaced by more over-the-top, soaring keyboards, which is a definite plus. The drums, while still presented inhumanly fast, also sound more natural, again another plus. And finally, contending with the solo reduction, are the vocals. Yep, ZP Theart demonstrates fantastic singing abilities throughout the album. His booming voice essentially carries the music forward, from the slower parts of Heartbreak Armageddon to the chorus of The Fire Still Burns.
Unfortunately, for all their progress, Ultra Beatdown simply isn't going to shatter your views regarding Dragonforce. Those who loathe their over-the-top cheesiness and the repetitive song structure won't find anything different here. Haters will be haters, but they won't change the fact that Ultra Beatdown is a solid power metal album and a very solid Dragonforce album. If you're a fan of the genre and band, then you won't be doing yourself a disservice by picking this one up.
Ah, here we have one that will reel in a lot of unneeded shit. DragonForce, long having become a joke in the Metal scene - and rightfully so; anyone who takes them seriously is perhaps the real butt of the joke! - have here their fourth long player in what will probably be an extensive career. Fresh off their stint with Guitar Hero and their weakest effort to date, the rather uncatchy Inhuman Rampage, this new album is called Ultra Beatdown. Yes, you may read that again, and then you can look at the ridiculously roguish and gaily colorful album artwork, and while you may snigger or scoff, go ahead and try to tell me with a straight face that DragonForce have not perfectly summed up their music with all of this so-called faggotry. Seriously, isn't that what these things are supposed to do in the first place?
Anyway, the music here is a step up from the rather faceless tunes on the previous album. Here DragonForce embrace a style that is pretty much right in the middle of the styles they've been playing since their inception, with the polished production and Pro Tools-inspired wizardry of Inhuman Rampage and the songwriting dynamic of Sonic Firestorm, which is still their best album to this day. Right from the opening bombast of "Heroes Of Our Time," we know it's DragonForce, and they don't let you forget that with other great songs like "The Fire Still Burns," "Reasons to Live," and especially the 8 minute tour de force of "The Long Journey Home" with its slow stomp and mature vocal performance - their best song in years!
The ballad, "A Flame for Freedom," is a very 80s glam inspired piece, so that means you might want to ready your barf-buckets, but me, I think this is pretty good, if not excessively sappy. Then you get "Inside the Winter Storm," with it's flurry of melodic icicles stabbing at your bare flesh, and it's a good song, if not a bit too hyperactive, with a few slower sections that just don't connect. But damn, just listen to some of those melodies, very frigid and regal. The bonus tracks include the super-catchy "Strike of the Ninja," the pulverizing "Scars of Yesterday" and the fiery, triumphant flair of the intriguingly titled "E.P.M.," all good songs well worthy of being on the final album.
I think people are missing the point when it comes to these guys. They're an enjoyable band. They make fun songs to sing along to and pump your fist along with. They're catchy as fuck, too. That's it. They'll never be a legendary band or an essential one, with their frenetic approach to songwriting, but if they keep making albums this fun and replayable, I'll keep listening to them. Ultra Beatdown is the album DragonForce fans have been waiting for, with every performer giving 110% energy into songs as catchy as they are melodic and powerful. Recommended.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
It must suck to be this band. Not only do countless metalheads hate them, but most of their fans got into them because of a freaking video game. I watched videos of the Mayhem festival, and when ZP Theart asked the audience if anyone plays Guitar Hero 3, half the crowd raised their hands. Fucking scary.
DragonForce plays a style of hyperkinetic, superfast power metal with some of the most gratuitous guitar sex seen in a long time. Most of the praise is usually given to guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman, but all of the band are great musicians. Drummer Dave Mackintosh is a force of nature who's double-bass assault never lets up. Keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov has a fast, jazzy style and his keyboard shredding often matches the guitars. Bassist Fred LeClerc isn't heard much, but he gets a few rhythm spots here and there and he's solid. And vocalist ZP Theart has an amazing, soaring voice with a distinct South African accent that sets him apart from other power metal vocalits.
"Oh, but they're repetitive and all their songs songs sound the same!" I only half agree. It's true they re-use a lot of the same ideas, and the songs follow the same pattern, but beyond this the wheels fall off the argument. DragonForce songs have incredibly varied dynamics, ranging from the insane blast-beats of "Reasons to Live" to the acoustic section of "Inside the Winter Storm". The guitar playing is very unconventional, with Sam and Herman (particularly the latter) letting loose with the craziest effects this side of a Steve Vai album. Long story short: if you listen to the album just once, it will all sound the same, but repeated listens bring the album's variety to the fore.
Most of the songs are very enjoyable, but for me "The Fire Still Burns" is at the top of the heap. This song just rocks. Fast, epic, catchy, it has all the good stuff. It does take a while to get going, but once you hear that unforgettable chorus you'll understand why this mean mama kept you waiting. "Heroes of our Time" is the lead single, and one can only hope it won't be as ridiculously overplayed as "Through the Fire and the Flames" was. The part after the first verse where ZP Theart sings "Glorious, forever more of us!" over Dave Mackintosh's steady tom-tom rolls is seriously cool.
"Reasons to Live" and "Heartbreak Armageddon" continue the trend of "fast tempo, lots of keyboards, catchy chorus", but "Last Journey Home" sees the band starting to experiment. The song is actually midpaced (OK, if you can call 160bpm midpaced), with lots of sad, emotional parts.
There are a few small changes from previous DragonForce albums. The vocals are more prominent than ever before, with whole songs living and falling by ZP Theart's singing. The soloing has been scaled back (which is a good thing, since 5 minutes of continuous shredding gets old) with most songs having solos that last for 2 or so minutes. The album is perhaps slightly less guitar-oriented, with most of the hooks being keyboard melodies and vocal parts.
There are only two songs I don't like. The first one is "A Flame for Freedom". This band just can't write good ballads, anyone who says otherwise is hearing impaired. The second is "The Warrior Inside", which starts off with some goofy Caribbean sounds and then devolves into a decent but predictable speed metal song. Musically digestible, but it's not one of their best moments.
In closing, while I do think this band receives too much promotion for their own good (hence the backlash from the metal community) this is an awesome album that is totally worth your cash. The only thing I hate is the title, which makes it sound like a goddamned techno album.