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Long Live Draco Rex - 78%

HeavyMetalMeltdownReviews, June 2nd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, AFM Records

Bloodbound have been on the scene for quite a long time now, formed in 2004, Bloodbound have been through their fair share of vocalists, most famous of which is Urban breed; known for his work in Tad Morose and more recently, Serious Black. These days though, Bloodbound have settled on Patrik J. Selleby who has been in the vocal seat since 2010. Alas, if you have never heard Bloodbound, imagine a cross between Edguy with the cheese factor of Dream Evil or HammerFall turned up to 10 and you’re starting to get into the right ball park.

Since they were formed, Bloodbound have had a relatively stable output of albums, on average releasing an album every 2 years. Here we are in 2017 and we have a new Bloodbound album. 'War of Dragons' is Bloodbound’s overall 7th studio album, continuing the 'Game of Thrones'/fantasy theme laid down previously with 'Stormborn', the main difference is 'War of Dragons' doesn’t directly reference the 'Game of Thrones' series, choosing to focus more on its own concept.

It looks like AFM Records have ploughed a large budget into 'War of Dragons', sonically, the album is superb and the guys at Bloodbound have done a brilliant job with the production, 'War of Dragons' is a pleasure to listen to. The keyboards of Fredrik Bergh go a long way to fill out the sound, giving 'War of Dragons' an exceptionally warm feeling overall putting it directly on par with recent releases from HammerFall, Avantasia, Sonata Arctica or even the mighty Sabaton. Speaking of Sabaton, you also have to mention the fact that as much as Bergh’s keyboards fill out the sound, there are a lot keyboard stabs that suspiciously make a few of the tracks sound as if Sabaton’s 2012 masterpiece, 'Carolus Rex' has been used as a template, especially the likes of 'King of Swords', 'Symphony Satana' and 'Tears of a Dragonheart' having a very similar feel to 'Lion from the North'. The Sabaton influence doesn’t end there, 'Battle in the Sky' has a close vocal melody delivery to 'The Last Stand' with the pre-chorus to 'Fallen Heroes' having one lingering chord that is very reminiscent of 'Ruina Imperii'. However, don’t think that 'War of Dragons' is total Sabaton worship, there are tracks likes the beautiful 'Silver Wings' and 'Guardians of Heaven’s Gate' that wouldn’t be out of place on a HammerFall album.

All these similar melodies that ooze from 'War of Dragons' give the album an almost hypnotic and utterly enjoyable feeling. 'War of Dragons' is full of songs that are so insidious; they creep in with melodies that will have you singing along on the first play – a very good feat indeed. From the very start of 'Battle in the Sky' through 'Tears of a Dragonheart' to the title track, 'War of Dragons' is full of the soaring melodies that you would expect from Bloodbound with Selleby once more proving that is the perfect successor to Urban breed.

Sometimes it is dangerous ground to write an album revolving around dragons and particularly a dragon war, it is clichéd, cheesy and borderline laughable. However, Bloodbound have the skill and tenacity to pull this off completely without it sounding none of the above. 'War of Dragons' is masterfully crafted by a band who are well bedded in and know their audience well, but 'War of Dragons' has the melodic hooks with a simple, easy to follow story that could easily attract new fans or casual listeners with tracks such as 'Symphony Satana', 'Fallen Heroes' and the albums closing track, the rousing 'Dragons are Forever'. This track makes you want to raise your mead laden drinking horn high in the air in salute to our fallen scaly guardians.

What you get with 'War of Dragons' is an album of yes, very similar sounding songs, but it also breeds a familiarity that is infectious and once it gets you, you will find that you keep choosing 'War of Dragons' to play. Bloodbound have released another album that is the typical sound of power metal, it’s grandiose, it’s epic and it is full of the fantasy themes that make the genre so endearing.

Stepping further into the power metal river. - 90%

hells_unicorn, March 12th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, AFM Records

As the ancient philosopher Heraclitus once said, "a man can not step on the same river twice", words that have a great deal of applicability to one of Sweden's favored power metal sons. Initially presented as a diabolical offspring of the mid-2000s scene with a style that reached back a bit into the earlier part of the same decade, Bloodbound has not been one to be continually bound by a singular approach to their adopted style, and have seen a fair number of lineup shifts to complement the all but capricious shifts in sound. Over the course of the three previous albums a level of stability in their lineup did little to dissuade this band from mixing it up from one LP to the next, and the only question that was left hanging by the time the new year ushered in 2017 and a new album was on the horizon was "has this band run out of ways to reinvent themselves"? With the release of War Of Dragons, the short answer is no, though with a few needed caveats.

As far as albums go in this band's now 13 year history, their latest offering is the first to trend a bit closer to the previous offering (Stormborn), building off a similar aesthetic of cinematic orchestrations that lean a bit in favor of the massive sound offered by fellow Swedish veterans Sabaton and German contemporaries Powerwolf. However, this symphonic aesthetic has been heightened and accompanied by a massive arrangement of vocal layers, culminating in a massive choral backdrop that introduces something of a Freedom Call meets Rhapsody Of Fire element into the equation, anchored by the band's enduring yet now somewhat obscured affinity with the older school mode of heavy metal exemplified in Hammerfall. Most of Bloodbound's signature elements, namely the technical guitar wizardry of Tomas Olson and the attitude-based power of Patrik Johansson's vocals are still on point, but the overall feel and aesthetic of this album is more in tune with the epic, larger than life, turn-of-the-millennium sound of power metal that this band has generally fallen just shy of truly exploring.

While not really being known for writing excessively long epic numbers, this album has a decidedly more compact feel than most of their previous works, placing a greater emphasis on concise verses and brief instrumental forays that all tend to point towards the chorus as the focal point. Most of the time the tempo ranges from moderately fast to a festive frenzy of speed, and while they tend to be a tad bit top heavy relative to previous offerings, the bottom end of this is a bit better emphasized between the rhythm guitars and the bass and drum presence than a typical Twilight Force or Pathfinder offering, though there are occasional moments where Bloodbound seems to channel one or both of said bands. The opening trifecta of Sabaton-like power that are "Battle In The Sky", "Tears Of A Dragonheart" and the title offering "War Of Dragons" present the most well-rounded offerings of this style where things are generally fast and driving, but not quite exaggerated to the point of sheer early 2000s majesty.

If one were to go by the first few songs on War Of Dragons, one might be tempted to mistake it for a more keyboard oriented and atmospheric version of Stormborn, but as things progress further a different beast emerges. Perhaps the first real break with this band's sizable collection of precedents is the folksy, infectious nod to flute-driven Tolkien channeled goodness "Silver Wings", bringing a little bit of an Elvenking and Blind Guardian into the Sabaton meets Hammerfall mix. A highly impressive nod to the harder edged German sound of Primal Fear and Gamma Ray comes into the equation with "King Of Swords", particularly during the raunchy shrieks displayed during the verse and bridge sections, which are cut recurring Helloween and Sabaton elements elsewhere. The high point of this otherwise straight up climax of an album is the speeding fit of technical mayhem "Guardians At Heaven's Gate", which takes the flashy riff work pioneered by Kai Hansen to its logical conclusion and rivals Malmsteen during Tomas' guitar solo.

This is one of those relentless power metal albums that doesn't really give the listener any kind of respite from the epic goodness that is often reserved for about a third of the album. The only real flaw it carries is a slight over-reliance on similar instrumental themes, many of them running parallel to the Sabaton/Civil War approach of massive sounding keyboard harmonies, but the mixture of other stylistic elements finds this album in a better place than much of what both bands have done since their inceptions. It's a matter of taste as to whether this album is a cut above most of what lay in Bloodbound's past, but for anyone that regarded the time from 1995 through 2002 as being power metal's golden years (this includes the author of this review), this album shares the same status as the debut effort Nosferatu, though both albums are pretty far apart from each other apart from being qualitatively similar. Unapologetic statements of melody and high-fantasy storytelling are the order of the day here, so much so that these warriors haven't even bothered bringing sheaths for their swords.

Bloodbound - War Of Dragons - 48%

Silicon Messiah, February 24th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, AFM Records

When Bloodbound released Unholy Cross in 2011 it felt a lot like a comeback, even though Tabula Rasa was released only two years prior. Recruitment of vocalist Patrik Selleby (then known as Johansson) as replacement for Urban breed (Serious Black, Project Arcadia, ex- Tad Morose) proved to be a perfect match to go alongside brothers Tomas and Henrik Olssons NWOBHM inspired power metal centered around powerful riffs, and the entire constellation just felt revitalized.

War Of Dragons is the fourth album since then, and the seventh in total for these boys from Bollnäs - and nothing is the same. An astonishing amount of songs, including singles ‘Battle In The Sky’ and ‘Stand And Fight’ are opened with mediocre tries at arena pumping magnitude, wherein Selleby’s vocals are drenched in layered vocals that he doesn’t need to sound powerful. The same goes for most every chorus on the album, and it doesn’t have as much sing along value as was intended, save perhaps for a few tracks like the admittedly pretty cool closer ‘Dragons Are Forever’. Add to that an at times odd mix where Selleby is overpowered by the bombastic synths and Pelle Åkerlind’s very energetic drums. The latter actually left the Bloodbound prior to the album’s release.

The deep and dark undertones are all gone, and themes centered around evil, darkness and Lucifer have been switched for dragons, warriors and heroic battles - as generic as it gets. Gone are the brothers’ Olsson’s slow, Judas Priest like intro riffs that created an atmosphere of their own, replaced with standardized power choruses that tell you exactly how to feel. The small guitar duels that still appear, spread over the 45 minute material, bring back feels of the old ways so it’s clear that all is not lost.

I wonder if Daniel Myhr (Civil War, ex- Sabaton) might be filing a lawsuit, because the keyboard sound on War Of Dragons is ridiculously inspired by Sabaton, and even that is an understatement. Sure, predecessor Stormborn (2014) had some such leanings, but it was handled more subtly and it didn’t take precedence over other elements of the music or storytelling. And when War Of Dragons does not sound like Sabaton, it sounds like just any generic power metal band, far from the intense heavy power of days past. ‘Silver Wings’ is a bit of a break, featuring some Turilli like stylistic choices, and keyboards like those of Alex Staropoli on old Rhapsody albums.

Given a few spins, War Of Dragons does produce a few tracks that aren’t half bad, even though they never get above average. ‘King Of Swords’ has likenesses to ‘Satanic Panic’ from the previous album and is a nice example of how good Bloodbound can be when they don’t overdose on “Sabaton did it and got famous, let’s do it too!” but instead builds on fleshy riffs and features an intense Selleby, otherwise fairly anonymous on this album, channeling his inner Halford.

Bloodbound had an almost perfect debut in 2006’s Nosferatu, and it’s understandable that they want to move on to different directions, and it’s equally understandable how hard it can be to live up to something like that album over a decade later. But the band did release great albums in both Unholy Cross and Stormborn, and that just makes the drop in quality that is War Of Dragons hit that much harder.

They’ve shifted from the darker elements and the staying atmosphere to uplifting power metal focused on speed and hymnal choruses rather than feeling, and landed in an effort that could be replicated just as well by any given band within the genre. While never bad per se - even with my complaining - it’s just so damn far from what you’d expect from the band that gave us Sweden’s greatest power metal album.

Standout tracks: King Of Swords, Dragons Are Forever

Dragonbound - 81%

Larry6990, February 24th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, AFM Records

I really want to hate this. Don't get me wrong, power metal is one of my greatest passions in life, and any album adorned by a dragon will garner my attention. But I don't want my fellow critics to think that I'm on autopilot, praising the everloving shit out of any band who sing about wizards, magic, rainbows etc. Therefore, the new Bloodbound, War Of Dragons, was my opportunity to hear something truly generic and dull. After all, with song titles like "Dragons Are Forever" and "King Of Swords", this couldn't possibly be anything but unoriginal tripe...right?

Damn. It's good. Real good. On this, their seventh full-length, and after a highly consistent run, the Swedes have amassed a collection of rousing power metal anthems that are rife with triumph and glory. Of course it's nothing original, but no power metal fan should ever expect true originality these days. There are three songs with the word 'dragon' in the title for God's sake. Embrace the generic! These also happen to be this record's particularly strong tracks; especially the the storming "Dragons Are Forever". With a chorus that soars among the clouds, it is the absolute correct choice to close the album.

Bloodbound are a reliable band and rarely offer surprises, but the added layer of synths to War Of Dragons is an expansion on their sound. On the slower tracks, it almost comes across as Sabaton-esque (a band I very rarely use comparatively!). The production could have been handled better so that the synths don't envelope the vocals; especially on "Battle In The Sky" and "Tears Of A Dragonheart". Otherwise, the mix is pleasing all round. The drums thunder along with plenty of power, and the choral vocals are especially notable as they surround Pata's delectable tones.

If there's any gripe I'd pick at, it's that the whole affair may be a track or two too long. There's no token ballad or epic interlude, so it really is just eleven straight-up hymnal metal anthems with little variation (obligatory 30-second intro notwithstanding). "Fallen Heroes" offers a more earthy listen with its marching tempo and grandiose choirs, but the whole release would've benefited from replacing the fodder ("Silver Wings") with a real sore-thumb highlight. Admittedly, the grimy riffage in "Starfall" is enough to make anyone's ears prick up and listen - and subsequently headbang - but too little, too late.

From the rapid-fire gallop of "King Of Swords", to the bombastic theatre of "Symphony Satana", War Of Dragons is generic beyond belief. But I've made peace with that being the reason we adore this sub-genre so much. Fantasy, swords, steel, magic, wizards, fire, glory...and, of course, dragons. Need I say more?

Originally written for www.metal-observer.com