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Pop Metal Part 2: rainbows, fairies and princesses - 59%

Jophelerx, May 24th, 2014

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.