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The title track is still a classic - 81%

BloodIronBeer, August 30th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Sanctuary Records

Continuing the unofficial series of albums and bands I liked in 2003 - Valley of the Damned. I discovered this album back in the days of MP3.com (I actually think that was before the release of the album), and it was this, Shadowland by Nocturnal Rites and Evilized by Dream Evil. But this was my favorite. And I told all my friends about it. Ironic that this band would arguably become one of the most visible pure power metal bands in the world. Up to this point my only real exposure to metal was Slayer, Iron Maiden and Megadeth. Dragonforce stood out to me for playing melodic music at a blistering pace. The blazing pace and noodling guitars really separated it from stuff like Iron Maiden.

Silly memories aside, this album really has it's upside, and the majority of tracks stand the test of time. Looking back even today, I cannot firmly nail down who exactly their influences are. The quickness of the drum beats, the tremolo picking, guitar harmonization and noodly leads, and the choir vocals that sometimes harmonize. Other than their countrymen, Powerquest, who debuted right around the same time, I can't see where their influence comes from. And even still Powerquest aren't this over-the-top. Sure, Judas Priest had the harmonized guitar leads, and Queen had harmonized vocals. But that hardly accounts for their whole sound.

The production quality of this album really reminds me of early Blind Guardian, it's nice and unpolished. It actually sounds like dudes playing instruments, not a product made in a lab (which is funny considering how terrible they were live). It still has a touch of a "demo"-y quality, but it really allows for dynamics and the sound of real playing. It's great. I wish every album had this quality. Within the mix the vocals even have a bit of live feel, and ZP's performance is just fantastic, with all the poise and power that you need for this style.

Back then, the most remarkable thing about this album - and still to most people today, I'm sure - is their speed and oodles of guitar noodles. But listening now, the thing that stands out the most is the vocal harmonies and song structures. Many, many bands do the standard power metal things: fast drums, quick melodic guitar leads and high, powerful vocals, but actually using vocal harmonies and backup vocals throughout is fairly uncommon. It gives it so much more sonic depth, it's just very pleasing to the ear, as silly as that seems to say. The keyboards are also used really well to complement the vocals.

The song structures are kind of like if you took a normal song and split it in half and wedged another song inside of it. In the case of Disciples of Babylon, it's more like a normal 4 minute track that gives way to a moody flamenco type passage, that evolves further into Latin jazz and folds back in the flamenco, then back into the jazz with a solo. Incredible as it seems, it really works.

A couple tracks are little bit more on the generic side like like Revelations and Black Fire, but are still strong tracks regardless. Both tracks are helped immensely by the aforementioned vocal harmonies.

Okay, so the album also has it's weak spots. The lyrics are pretty terrible. Having two songs with the word "black" and "fire" within 3 tracks is a serious misstep that has always irked me. Not to mention two tracks with the word "star" - I mean, Jesus, you're British, and you can't think of more than 3 words for your song titles. Starfire is punishingly corny piano ballad. Evening Star is also a weak track, with only the build up to the chorus being very noteworthy. And today, the guitar playing is a lot less impressive and more just style over substance.

Highlights are definitely the title track and Disciples of Babylon. Both have a hint of speed metal, super catchy choruses, and epic song structures. The title track remains an all-time classic power metal song, how much of that is nostalgia I can't say, but it will remain a classic for me.

This album has very high highs, and some very low lows. But the strong tracks ultimately outweigh the weak and make this required listening for any power metal fan.

Impeccable and Epic - 95%

Mr Matt, May 16th, 2018

What a stunning debut! Dragonforce has always been known for being wildly technical and fast. To be like that on their debut is pretty much walking into the hall of the greats and sitting at the round table and now you are part of them. Reminds me of a certain photogenic concert-goer. "Valley Of The Damned" is my 2nd favorite Dragonforce album and will always be a go-to album when I don't know what to listen to.

If you know me, I am a guitar shred enthusiast. Dragonforce guitar solos are some of my favorites ever and Herman Li and Sam Totman are my 2nd favorite guitarists ever. I say them both because they are a duo and are equally amazing. The best solo on this album has to be either the 2nd solo (the one around 3:20-ish I think) from "Heart Of A Dragon" or "Evening Star". Something done on "Evening Star" that I absolutely love and is really capturing is when the keyboard does this one neo-classical inspired lick (around 5:00) then the guitar does the exact same thing after it. A very jaw-dropping and in-your-face moment.

One thing Dragonforce does that most metal artists don't is use major keys. Well, I think the majority of "Valley Of The Damned" is in minor keys, but they also use major keys a lot, most notably in "Black Winter Night". It begins with bombastic music in the key of E major, the same key signature used in Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto In E Major, 1st Movement, (also known as "Spring" in a series of concertos called "The Four Seasons") for reference. E major is a very happy sounding key. Despite this, it's still epic and good when Dragonforce does it. I think that is something rarely recognized when talking about Dragonforce.

The drums on "Valley Of The Damned" are also stunning. You might hear the typical drum rhythms of power metal very often in Dragonforce's music such as double bass pedal action and the "Boot-camp boo-ty camp" (as described by YouTube metal guitarist Stevie T.) drum rhythm, the transitions from verse to bridge or any other section of the song or any repeats puts quite some variation. Also, the togetherness of the double bass pedal and guitar trem picking during the verses and/or choruses is impeccable and a shows us how good the band is. To keep double bass pedal and trem picking together exact and in time is quite an impressive feat.

One complaint I have however: the pitch bender pedal. While I absolutely love it, I think it was over-used. The last half of the solo of the song, "Valley Of The Damned" is what comes to mind for me when I think of that. I can't bash the solo too much because it's awesome and I would love to learn how to play it one day, but I think the pitch bender used on it was way too much. Herman Li is the Kirk Hammett of the pitch bender pedal undeniably. Not sure if that is a good or bad thing.

In closing, "Valley Of The Damned" is certainly a power metal essential and highly recommended for anyone getting in to neo-classical/shred guitar. I wouldn't recommend that you show this to your average non-metal fan though as they might only see the cheesy and nerdy/cringy part of it. As much as "Valley Of The Damned" has cheesiness and cringe (and that's not always a bad thing), it might take an open mind to not pay attention to just that.

Pretentious, Chaotic and Cheesy - 10%

kimiwind, February 15th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Victor (Japan)

Trying to be epic while you don’t have the potential to make it epic is never a good idea. This is the story of DragonForce so far. Their first album Valley of the Damned is a good example that characterizes this kind of direction. Now quickly before we get to the gist of this album I want to mention the lone positive point in this release and it is the production. Without surprise, we have a well-produced album where instruments can be distinctively heard and the overall mix is balanced. In other words, you won’t face any trouble getting the sound clearly into your ears. Now what remains is how good this really sounds.

The music in this album is too happy, emotionless and drab. The band tries so hard to leave good impressions on the listener but fails miserably. This is true when you play something you don’t know how to accurately craft. Power metal is sure not as dark as other extreme heavy metal genres but that doesn’t mean you have to invest all your ideas into making sugarcoated melodies all the time and in every single track. It gets redundant and pointless. It felt like someone from a higher authority ordered them to produce something fairytalish and cheerful, and their response was to overly do everything in a dire need to satisfy him. They poorly threw everything together to make it one huge lump of sugar.

So what we finally get is all the instruments race to get to one ultimate goal: making this sound happy as much as possible. This has created major conflicts in the coherency of the musicianship from top to bottom. The riffs are monotonous and nothing memorable come out of them. You have your basic fast power metal riffs and that’s all. The solos sound the same. It’s like the musicians got stuck in one thread of thoughts and started to recycle them in different faces. Some of those solos excel at pleasantly sting you but then quickly run into meaningless random insipid melodies reminding you that this is not intended to hook you up, and eventually, leaving you all disappointed and disgusted. The drums are fast most of the time with some double-bass work when needed. I don’t see anything special going on. This is again due to the poor musicianship and the distorted format of the music itself.

The main vocalist does have a nice tone but then again poorly used to make his performance shine. He doesn’t provide any variety to make the listener hear some contrast game going on. And we all know that contrast is what transforms anything from boring to interesting. The only song that, somehow, got me is the title track Valley of the Damned. It portrays all the potential he has as a singer. The other instruments followed in the same fashion paving the way to a relatively strong performance. The chorus in this particular track is the catchiest of all what you’ll hear in the album, bear in mind that this is still not something outstanding. The real mediocrity starts from the song Black Fire and continues its way to reach its full capacity in the very irritating Starfire.

Generally, it’s good not to force things. Too much of anything will always turn worse than expected. This is an overdose of oxytocin that is going to depress you instead of making you feel good. Power Metal wasn’t intended to sound like this, and if it was, I will definitely never listen to it. If you are a newbie and want to discover some solid Power Metal try Stratovarious, Manticora, Pyramaze or even Falconer. You will hear real music, not shit like this. By the way, I still don’t get all the hype on this band and the very amateurish music they put together. They are way overrated in my book.

Written for Encyclopaedia Metallum 15-02-2018
© Kimiwind

Shredding and songs - 88%

gasmask_colostomy, June 6th, 2016

It's a badly-kept secret that Dragonforce's commercial success came as a result of a minor change in style, the effect of which was to exacerbate the already slightly extreme and wanky tendencies of the band and place them centre stage. At the risk of making this review a comparison between 'Valley of the Damned' and the turning point 'Inhuman Rampage', there are some marked differences in the two styles that might need explaining for those coming to Dragonforce only aware of their modern reputation. In the first place, the basic power metal structure is more central to the sound here, without many forays away from traditional riffs, tempos, or accompaniments; next, the songs are a bit more "song-based", which is to say that the lead sections last under 3 or 4 minutes, though are still pretty lengthy when compared to the average for this kind of music; finally, and most importantly as far as I'm concerned, the drums are a little more sensible and varied, meaning that the mindless blasting of 'Inhuman Rampage' doesn't spoil the enjoyment of the faster parts, nor are the more creative guitar parts undermined by an over-aggressive rhythm section.

With these guys, it's always difficult to know what criteria to judge the music by, since everything is so clearly overblown and drenched in cheese that, by normal standards, it should curdle a little on contact with your ears. However, Dragonforce have always been great at being overblown and cheesy, so ZP Theart's method of belting out chorus after chorus seemingly without any verses in between makes the whole thing sound like an endless epic battle or the last scene of a movie stretched out to the length of the entire film. The same goes for Sam Totman and Herman Li, who come up with so many different guitar licks, melodies, and leads that it becomes problematic keeping track of the riffs, resulting in a blurring between the definition of guitar heroics and guitar insanity. I'm not terribly sure that the bass is a feature here (it's audible, but not prominent) except at the slower moments, where Diccon Harper gets some freedom to do his own thing. The keyboards are used wisely by Vadim Pruzhanov, not drowning the songs with excessive overdubs or leads nor leaving them empty of atmosphere, while 'Starfire' - I can't believe I'm saying this - is an extremely effective piano-led ballad, more on which in a moment.

The bulk of the songs on 'Valley of the Damned' are either fast or very fast, ranging from the more traditional power metal fare of the title track to the neo-classical fusion of 'Disciples of Babylon', which manages to rage in furious Children of Bodom-eating-Gamma Ray style for its first half, then melt into tranquil jazzy jams offset by smooth solos from all instruments, and finally ramp the energy up again for another blast through a storming chorus. That said, Dragonforce show enough brains to remember that they should occasionally slow down, which is where 'Starfire' draws my praise. 'Inhuman Rampage' - technically superb beast though it was - was utterly exhausting, placing the only slow song at the tail of the album, which made it nigh on impossible to listen through attentively; here, the mellower dip of the ballad brings welcome peace mid-album, allowing the more aggressive and shreddy songs like 'Revelations' to whizz past more tastily by contrast. However, even those faster songs tend to have more varied lead breaks and moments of lower intensity, keeping everything fresh for the entire experience and displaying the full range of chops the musicians have to offer.

What impresses me the most about this (and let's not forget 'Valley of the Damned' is a debut album) is just how natural all of it sounds, ebbing and flowing like tides of warriors storming and retreating. The combination of elements is mostly based in traditional power metal, yet there is a skilful integration of the piano parts, the jazzy breakdown of 'Disciples of Babylon', and song structures that achieve memorability without resorting to the obvious; thus, this album should be placed above those bands who were merely churning out repetitive power metal based on an old formula, of which there seems to have been so many at the start of the millenium. The only disappointing thing about this album is that it does verge on being too cheesy at times, plus the song titles would appear to have been generated by the power metal random name generator, giving us two songs with "black" in the title, two with "star", two with "fire", and two with "dragon", if we include the bonus track. (A bonus track, which, by the way, has by far the most soaring chorus of all the songs on the album.) The lyrics too, are a little overbearing, though it's difficult to imagine ZP Theart singing about politics or women or something normal with the music he's working with. That said, he could at least have used a thesaurus to find more words for "valley", "glorious", "victory", "warrior", and so on, since they are all used ad nauseum.

All in all, 'Valley of the Damned' is certainly my favourite Dragonforce album and probably the easiest to listen to, while the variety that is exhibited here bears the stamp of great musical ability and better taste than the band would later show. Best listened to while looking for overblown inspiration, doing something very quickly, or - of course - when playing air guitar in your living room.

Shine Over The Light - 97%

Caleb9000, January 26th, 2016

In 2001, a sextet that was known as DragonHeart was getting quite a fat load of attention from the metal scene, thanks to their self-released demo album, which was titled "Valley Of The Damned". From the release of the demo in the year 2000, which had received over 500,000 downloads by that time. They had just caught a deal with both Noise and Sanctuary records. It was quite the luck. However, there was one big catch to this: there was a band of the same name in Brazil. So they were told to change their name. So, the band decided on the name, "DragonForce", which is now considered to be a household name. They released their debut album in 2003, which shared the same title as their demo. It is considered to be their best work by many listeners. And I would have to agree, as this is one remarkable work of the power metal genre.

What makes this album objectively better than the rest of the band's discography is that it was where their repetitive formula first formed. Many of the songs on the band's later albums can be compared to a song from this album (or their next album, Sonic Firestorm, but to a lesser degree) and can be seen as a complete ripoff, which they tend to be. But their sound is theres alone, and they aren't ripping off anyone but themselves. So if this is where they wrote out their blueprint, this is where they spent time creating and being inventive, rather than rehashing. The songwriting feels like actual power metal as well, rather than NES inspired music on steroids.

The first track is an instrumental opening which leads into the title track. It is a song that is widely known today. The song is definitely a rather great representation of what the music on this album really is. It is fast and energetic but still manages to be soaring and uplifting. The song has a solo section that is on the more superior side of the album and it has a fist-pumping chorus. Not my favorite song on the album, but still a rather splendid track found on a splendid album. "Black Fire" continues this, but with a slightly more abrasive tone. It has one of my two favorite solo sections on the album, as well as a catchy vocal solo. My other favorite solo section is the one on "Evening Star" which has a truly exceptional triplet solo with Herman, Sam and Vadim. It also has an absolutely beautiful intro. I personally wouldn't mind if the song was done like that for the whole way through.

Another track that I feel the urge to mention is "Black Winter Night", which has an extremely well-structured melody line and while the lyrics of the song are very much on the sadder side, they still oddly fit in with the music. If I was made to say what the most diverse track on this album is, it would definitely be an extremely easy choice to: "Disciples Of Babylon". With a sort of NWOBHM-ish feel, as well as the band's usual sound, it contains a sort of latin rock, jazz fusion-ish section in the middle. It might sound out of place, but once you hear it, you can instantly know that it was for the better. If I was made to choose what I thought that the most abrasive track on the album is, I would definitely choose the bonus track. "Where Dragons Rule" has a more stripped down and heavy sound that doesn't sound nearly as uplifting as the rest of the music, but it still manages to be just as epic.

The guitar work is absolute musical wizardry. Not too much can be said about the playing of Herman Li and Sam Totman that hasn't been already said in the past. It is some of the fastest and most over-the-top playing that you will ever hear in your life (and just to think that there was a time when I actually used to claim that Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Angelo Batio of Nitro were fucking crazy). However, it is quite tame when compared to future releases. The solos have a very new-classical feel to them, whereas on later albums, they tend sound a bit like an NES having an epileptic seizure. As insanely fast and crazy as it is, it is also the complete opposite of the definition of the word, "sloppy". It has a shitload of technicality, but it still manages to have emotion in there, too. Sure, there are one or two moments where you kind of drift off, but they are extremely short.

The vocals are also spectacular. At this time, ZP Theart was young and he sounded a little cleaner. His voice had yet to reach it's truest potential, but he still has a lot of charisma, as well as a very wide range (as shown in some of his other material that was out at the time). Sure, there are plenty of high notes that he delivers to us, but what do you expect from a power metal band. He puts power and focus into each note, making sure that the pitch is as perfect as it can get, but he still puts feeling into his tales of battle and epic fantasy. These lyrical themes were abandoned on future releases, but that counts against them in no way at all, in my opinion.

One more note: The bass is actually mixed in pretty good on this album. This is something that isn't quite as prominent on some of the other work that this band has done. I'm pretty sure that people who criticize DragonForce have to give this album a bit of extra credit for that, even though it may not be all that much.

This album deserves all of the praise that it gets from those who have heard it and it is superior to all of the band's future releases. While being the band's cheesiest release to date, there isn't anything commercial about it. Cheesy isn't always bad. In fact, this is some of the best cheese that I have ever tasted. If you're into power metal with fast tempos, blazing solos, soaring vocals, a symphonic keyboard effect (though not as prominent as bands like Rhapsody or the more recent Twilight Force) and a very uplifting sound, this is definitely for you. I like all kinds of stuff and I enjoy this immensely.

At their purest and most inspired - 90%

Jophelerx, May 3rd, 2014

Dragonforce are a band often put down for their use of ad nauseam repetition, "samey-ness" among their songs, lyrical incoherence, and, especially later on, their extensive use of studio tricks and inability to adequately play their songs live. These are valid complaints on many of their albums, and yet, I can't help but love them. For those who have these complaints about Inhuman Rampage and on, don't leave just yet - Valley of the Damned is the album that has these issues in smaller quantities than all of the others. They're not absent, but they're toned down in favor of quality, cohesive songwriting, a strong focus on riffs, and minimal use of studio tricks (compared to later albums). Sure, the lyrics aren't incredibly intelligent, but this is fun, catchy europower; it doesn't need to have been written by Martin Walkyier to be enjoyable. In 2000, still under the name Dragonheart which they changed for legal reasons, the band released a demo containing five tracks that would later appear here. These songs were a bit crudely put together and not the height of musicianship, but they showed promise, and, with virtually no studio magic whatosever, showcased a version of Dragonforce we'd only get to see that once. Sadly, all of the demo versions are worse than the album versions, with the exception of the titular "Valley of the Damned", which they managed to fucking nail the first time around and inspired much of the success that led them to get a major record deal.

I may be biased, considering this was one of my very first metal albums, but the songwriting here is absolutely stellar. Europower was well-established by bands like Nightwish and Kamelot in 2003, but Dragonforce brought their own sound to the table. Faster, and with more of an emphasis on riffs, the band's heavier tracks ("Black Fire", "Revelations") hearken back to some 80s speed metal, although there is a more evident, and more likely influence present. The rhythm guitar is frequently extremely fast and often hits the same note in an almost tremolo style, reminiscent of black metal, which makes sense since most of the band was previously in the power/black metal project Demoniac. However, the semi-tremolo riffing here is incorporated in a way I've never heard for black metal, even pseudo-power/black acts like Italy's Stormlord. Rather, it's used to create a much different sort of sonic assault, busy but powerful and uplifting rather than dark and frustrated. It's also dialed back sometimes, especially during choruses, which are typically (of europower) soaring, melodic, and multi-tracked, though Dragonforce have a definite knack for catchiness and melodic sensibility. Even when the riffs and leads are going full force, vocalist ZP Theart is belting his (t)heart out in catchy, memorable melodies.

Theart himself has a pretty distinct voice; his tendency to use his upper range is similar to other power metal vocalists, but the similarities end there. He retains a deep-ish tone even when his voice climbs to the stratosphere, and despite having no grit in his voice he always sounds pretty manly; the closest example I can think of is Cloven Hoof's Russ North, but that's not really a good comparison at all, as North has a much deeper and more bellowing voice. If you've yet to hear Theart, just hear for yourself; he's pretty difficult for me to describe accurately. The production here is pretty polished, but that's expected of europower and not really a problem; the guitar tone is sleek but fine, the riffs and leads always sufficiently audible, and if Theart usually takes the spotlight, well, this is europower; aside from the solos, the vocal melodies are the centerpoint.

Six out of eight songs are almost perfect, with two ("Starfire" and "Heart of a Dragon") standing out like a sore thumb. They're both pretty ballad-ish, overly saccharine, and not very well-written, which is disappointing, because the band proves with "Black Winter Night" that they're capable of writing very quality ballads, something too few metal bands can truthfully boast. However, if you skip those tracks, the album is absolutely stellar, from the furious riffage of "Black Fire" to the desparate pre-chorus of "Evening Star"'; from the headbangable chorus of "Revelations" to the fearsome beast that is the entire song of "Valley of the Damned", and of course who could forget that acoustic section in "Disciples of Babylon"? This is Dragonforce most honest, most complex, most metal, and most well-thought out album, and it shows. Inhuman Rampage this certainly isn't (although I do have a soft spot for that album - more on that in later reviews), and if you're a fan of catchy, riffy europower with wonderful vocal lines (Kamelot's The Fourth Legacy is a decent comparison), this album is for you.

Origins Of A Repetitive Style - 80%

beardovdoom, November 24th, 2013

I'm going to start on a negative point. A 13 second intro track? Really? Totally pointless, should've just stick it on the title track. Little things like this annoy me greatly! Luckily the proper opening track is an excellent piece of power metal to almost make me forget that stupid intro.

Dragonforce are notorious for various reasons. Excessive solos, same sounding albums, arrogance, Guitar Hero fame, allegations of not playing live. i've seen them live, they can really play and yes it does all sound the same! This isn't an entirely bad thing if the material is good but it did get tiresome by album number 3. This is the debut where they first laid out the blueprint for their successful formula. I recall hearing something from this when it came out and i was blown away by the guitar work. Think of the guitar solo in Judas Priest's 'Painkiller' taken to the maximum excesses of guitar wankery and you're about there! This is the thing with Dragonforce, they are a crazy combination of Priest, Megadeth, Dream Theater and power metal (and the ballads reek of Bon Jovi cheese). It's a fairly original sound that they call extreme power metal and i can see why people either love or hate them.

No point in a track by track review, they either play stupidly fast or play ballads and this goes for every album. I could literally copy and paste this review for each album that ZP Theart sings on (haven't heard the latest album with the new singer). This isn't meant as an insult as such, Dragonforce are very good at what they do and they stick to it firmly. That formula certainly works for AC/DC and Slayer. As a result, upon hearing this or any of their albums you'll either enjoy it or want to destroy it!

2 tracks do stand out here, the title track and 'Disciples of Babylon' which has a brilliant, weird jazzy section in the middle which sounds like they they listened to a lot of Dream Theater hen writing this. The rest of the album is basically made up of lightning fast riffs, billions of guitar solos, some keyboard solos (the non-lead keyboard parts are also very Dream Theater sounding) and relentless drum pounding. I'd say you would have to be in the right mood to listen to this because otherwise it becomes quite monotonous but all in all it is a pretty solid album of power metal, complete with cheesy lyrics required by the genre!

Recommended tracks: Valley of the Damned, Disciples of Babylon, Heart of a Dragon

An amazing debut album. - 92%

SRMetalhead, July 7th, 2012

The debut album from Dragonforce – a very controversial band – apparently according to some people they speed up their songs in studio, all their songs sound the same and they have no feel-full solos whatsoever with mindless guitar shredding all over all their songs. Of course, none of this is really so true and anyone who said this after listening to Inhuman Rampage should really take a look at this brilliant album.

First off, the vocals. This was a time when ZP Theart had a younger, fresher, more powerful voice with a vast range to incorporate in the songs he sung – every song on this album is sung with passion and such incredible power – it’s pretty safe to say that some songs like Evening Star would not be anywhere as amazing as they are on this album if ZP Theart wasn’t singing them. His singing is brilliant and truly brings this album to a beautiful new level. The speed with which he can switch from one pitch to another as displayed in the beginning of the title track, Valley of the damned, is quite incredible indeed, and he is one of the few singers I currently know who has such a passionate and strong voice.

The guitars are FAST. That’s it, FAST. At points, very melodic, emotional but aside from the beautiful ballad Starfire, the guitars are FAST. The thing that drags me to Dragonforce is how melodic they can be even at such high speeds – take a look at the end of the solo in the song “Evening Star”. It’s fast but melodic, in line with the main song melody, and quite powerful, too. The solo in Valley of the Damned, the title track, and the outro solo are both incredibly melodic – fast, but melodic!

The keyboards are not used extensively in this album compared to Dragonforce’s later efforts but wherever they are used, they establish a beautiful melody, usually in song beginnings - Evening Star and Starfire are examples.

A note about the writing – the lyrics are classic power metal lyrics, but that’s not what sets them apart from so many other power metal songs – every darn chorus on this album can be stuck in your head for months on end; personally, my favorite damn chorus in this album would be from Evening Star – this song has so much – feel, melody, darn catchy chorus that will stay stuck in your head for eternity, fast solos, brilliant vocals, audible bass – it’s my second favorite song on this album next only to the title track. Sam Totman, a million hats off to you!

Highlights: Valley Of The Damned, Black Fire, Evening Star, Starfire, Black WInter Night, Heart Of The Dragon, Where Dragons Rule - pretty much every song!

Recyling Riffs... - 45%

Jiri777, July 21st, 2009

This is DragonForce’s best effort by far. But it still does not live up to the hype. I will attempt to analyze this as best as I can and if you don’t agree with me, don’t hate me for pointing out the obvious. DragonForce has succeeded with “Valley of the Damned” but they only wrote two basic songs in reality.

The album starts with a pointless 12 second instrumental and leads into the title track. A very good power metal effort here. It goes for seven minutes and holds the listener’s interest for most of it. A well done song. The other song here is “Black Fire” which happens to be the next track. This song has a catchy chorus with astounding guitar solos towards the end. The album is two for two!

However, it ends here. From “Black Winter Night” and on the songs sound very much like a combination of “Valley of the Damned” and “Black Fire”. It is so bad that whenever you hear one of the seven songs that follow the big two you automatically get “Black Fire” stuck in your head. They really recycled riffs, and even choruses here. They got away with writing two good songs and reprocessed the rest into new songs with different lyrics and guitar solos.

That aside, let’s discuss the music of “Valley of the Damned”. The vocalist, ZP Theart, is a fair vocalist. He sings in a high-pitched area through the whole album and lacks range. He also does not vary his vocals much. Its just happy singing in the same key from start to finish. His vocals also are deficient in passion and emotion. He has a cold robotic voice that should not impress too many ears.

The guitars are definitely where this album is supposed to shine. Herman Li and Sam Totman are the guitarists here. They are the main focus and get a hell of a lot of solos. There has to be at least 100 different solos on this album between them and the keyboardist. For this, I give the band credit. However, the solos run together and definitely start to get stale after a while.

The drummer is a speed metal drummer. He does not stop pounding his percussion and it does not sound good! He never lets up even when the general feel of the music is slower. I personally see no need to smash the drums relentlessly in the ever so happy sounding genre of power metal. This isn’t black or death metal here. Boring, agonizing drum work with no variation at all dominates the whole album. The drummer is obviously not a highlight here.

There is also a keyboardist on the album that gets a lot of playing time. All he does is speed solo after speed solo. The solos are laced together with the guitar solos and it sometimes gets hard to tell them apart. Yet another facet of “Valey of the Damned” that is rather boring.

Overall, the album is not great due to the lackluster performance in songwriting skills and monotonous execution of instruments. The album does contain two well written and well executed songs with the title track and “Black Fire”. I would not recommend buying this just for those two songs though. Just listen to them on the band’s official myspace page and you will hear everything “Valley of the Damned” has to offer.

B - 84%

Lyrici17, February 10th, 2009

This is the DragonForce that I am not embarrassed to like. DragonForce have lost a lot of their acolytes over the years, but I don't think any of them could ever renounce "Valley of the Damned"; it just wouldn't be right. It is, honestly, nearing the status of "power metal masterpiece". It's a little weak in spots though. Regardless, it is still a very good release. What makes "Valley of the Damned" so good, is the relentless energy that is has. It creates an excess of momentum that is so consistent that it never needs to rely on what it has accumulated; it starts at a very high level and maintains it the whole album.

I am a fan of wankary. Herman Li and Sam Totman supply me with pretty much endless wankary. When they're not efficiently wailing leads or solos they're still playing extremely fast. It's not just mindless shredding either. It's not even shredding just because they could. Herman Li and Sam Totman play at the speed of light for one reason, and one reason only: because it fucking slays. I can't say whether that is true of them still, but that is definitely the case with "Valley of the Damned".

Some songs ("Evening Star") are more or less just alright (read ehh), but get a overall better score just because there's some killer wank at the end. These songs are kind of like how some people feel the need to watch M. Night Shyamalan movies just to see what happens at the end. Regardless of how much they like the beginnings of his movies, they must watch them, all, so they can see how he ends them. I'm not sure if that makes any sense or not, but what I am trying to say is that I will definitely always listen to most the songs off of "Valley of the Damned" all the way through, even if I don't necessarily like them all that much. The parts up until the soloing might not be a winner with me, but some excellent wankary can change my mind.

The guitars are, generally speaking, fantastic. Great riffs (lots of great riffs), great leads (0:41-0:51 in "Disciples of Babylon" is my favorite), and great solos (see list below). All of it, fast. I've read rumors that they speed their sound up in the studio. I, personally, can't imagine any band doing that. However, I can't believe that this would be possible with DragonForce - I would have to think people would notice live.

The opening riffs are a lot of the time like bear hugs, they catch you in their grasp and you can‘t do anything to get out of it. "Black Fire" and "Disciples of Babylon" are the best examples of this. Once they really grab you, it's hard for you to fall out of that. Even with most of DragonForce's songs going over the six-and-a-half-minute mark, I never really get bored. I think this has a lot to do with those great hooks played right the beginning of a lot of the songs.

What can I really say about the solos. They're overly technical, flashy, and often times spiral seemingly out of control. None of the solos on this album are slouches, but I can't possibly praise them all. The following are the best soloing sections (and yes, I realize that I my list is still rather large; sue me, there's a lot of good soloing on this record):
"Valley of the Damned" (6:04-7:07)
"Black Fire" (3:17-4:33)
"Black Winter Night" (4:24-5:13)
"Disciples of Babylon" (1:11-1:21) (5:08-5:54)
"Revelations" (3:45-4:40) (4:53-5:59)
"Evening Star" (4:25-5:54)

One of the best parts of the guitar playing on this album (as opposed to their other albums) is that Herman Li and Sam Totman know when to reign it all in. There are several times that they restrain themselves and concern themselves only with playing a nice driving rhythm. It’s all about the self-control.

But enough about the guitars. Yes, they're amazing and the main focus, but there are other musicians playing on this record.

ZP Theart is a mixed bag singer. Some like him, others don't. I for one, don't really like him much. However, he is actually pretty solid on this release. I think the main difference here is, like the guitars, he’s not just balls out the whole time. He employs a good amount of self-control. Overall, not even remotely one of my favorite vocal performances, but solid enough for this record. The bass is a wonderful instrument all throughout. Obviously it's not nearly the focus of the guitar, or even the vocals. However, the interesting and complimentary bass lines shine through regardless. From 2:36-3:22 in "Black Fire" is a nice little section (and this section has some pretty emphasized guitar leads to compete with too). The drums are driving and thundering - which does nothing except go along perfectly with the guitar playing. There's even some good keyboards going on in there. The keyboard solo at the end of "Disciples of Babylon" in particular is an enjoyable one. All in all, yeah, sure the guitars are the reason you listen to "Valley of the Damned", but the other instruments are why you keep on listening to "Valley of the Damned" (though for some, it might still be because of the guitars).

There aren't really any real stand out songs (though my personal favorites are “Black Fire”, “Disciples of Babylon”, and “Revelations”). The ballad "Starfire" is an interesting song. It might be worth mentioning simply because it actually reminds me of an 80's hair metal power ballad. Which I oddly find to be not that surprising. I mean this song is certainly more progressive and "metal" than most of that material, but it sounds like it nonetheless. They even sing over part of the guitar solo which is reminiscent of something hair metal bands did (and never made any sense to me). I can't decide on this song. I do like how it breaks up the hyper speed and uses the gathered momentum to play a ballad, and pull it off too.

Overall, “Valley of the Damned” is a pretty solid power metal affair. It’s a bit on the cheesy side (more so than a lot of power metal even - I think it may even be because of the production), but it’s worth a listen if you enjoy blazing guitars and solos that literally take flight - cutting through the clouds like a majestic eagle showing you just how high (and well) he can really fly.

Still a Classic - 90%

DawnoftheShred, January 15th, 2008

Many people probably discovered British power metal wunderkinds Dragonforce through their 2006 album Inhuman Rampage, their highly controversial Roadrunner debut, and many have likely written them off as a spent force creatively. I’d like to think that those people have never had the pleasure of hearing their first album, Valley of the Damned. Despite the fact that the band has basically repeated the formula they established here on their other albums and have since kind of fallen into self-parody, this album is nonetheless a textbook example of how inspired power metal can be, even in this decade.

The two best words to describe the album on a whole would be “fast” and “epic.” The former is what most catches a first time listener off guard. This album is fucking fast and very intense, no doubt due in part to the dense production and the insane drumming. The epicness comes in when one realizes how much material these guys cram into songs that are on average about six minutes in length. Long extended guitar solo duels come with most every song, as do ultra catchy “faux choruses,” which are just pre-choruses that mislead one into thinking they’re the main chorus until they’re replaced by the even catchier, higher-pitched true choruses. Guitars and vocals take center stage in this album, but there’s a lot of nice keyboard work interspersed for additional atmosphere. And even though the bass was done by a session player, it’s still quite audible under the speed frenzy, making this one of the few modern power metal albums that actually takes advantage of its bass lines.

Of particular note is the guitar duels. Herman Li is the virtuoso, playing impossibly fast lines and toying with a variety of effects and unique sound techniques while Sam Totman plays the straight man, delivering more traditional solos with wah-wah and melody being his only tools (he writes most of the songs as well). Though there’s plenty of long solo sections, their playing sounds fresh and unique from beginning to end, not going stale until later in their careers.

Most of the songs fit into the blazing fast category, with “Disciples of Babylon” being a bit more varied with mid-paced verses and the mellow, jazzy acoustic break in the middle and “Starfire” being the token piano ballad, though it still listens a lot better than the far less interesting (not to mention more serious) Hammerfall ballads. “Evening Star” opens like a similar ballad, but then breaks into another speed fest. The only tracks that are questionable are the absurdly long-titled intro track (which is fine if you just consider it the intro to “Valley of the Damned”) and the album closer “Heart of a Dragon,” which is almost too upbeat for its own good, despite being as sonically demolishing as the rest of the album. There is a bonus track on some versions as well, entitled “Where Dragons Rule,” and it’s just as good as the others, itself being of an “Evening Star” vein.

The beauty of this album in comparison with its followups is that though most of the songs follow the same formula, they’re all really quite distinct. This album has the most memorable Dragonforce songs, the most memorable guitar solos, the most memorable vocal melodies, and the most memorable interludes. Really, how many times in the future would an awesome song like “Disciples of Babylon” appear, with that awesome acoustic mid-section with the jazzy piano lines layered in? Or songs as intense and beautiful as “Evening Star” exist with that mellow piano intro? Actually, many of this album’s best moments are keyboard based. And that’s the only thing that Valley of the Damned truly lacks: the greater keyboard integration of their sophomore effort. They’re certainly used to good effect here, but not nearly as much as on later tracks.

Highly recommended for both supporters and detractors of Dragonforce’s later work, as well as power metal fans in general.

Highlights: “Valley of the Damned,” “Black Winter Night,” “Disciples of Babylon”

Very solid power metal - 90%

invaded, September 23rd, 2006

Vally of the Damned, Dragonforce's debut album is also their best release to date, although Sonic Firestrom is also pretty good. On this album it is the songwriting that I find superior to the rest of their catalogue.

The first real song, the title track is most definitely my favorite on the record. The chorus is so catchy and I won't even mention the solos, as it is taken for granted that they are mind blowing to say the least. ''Black Fire'' is also very good with a fist pumping tone and rapid fire lead exchanges. The chorus is very cool and ignites a feel of war that is typical of power metal but done in a good way.

This album is fun to listen to, mostly because despite the speed, the album doesn't lose its dynamics and the melodies are just as important as the speed. The most interesting song compostionally among this batch has to be ''Disciples of Babylon''. The song has a rapid fire verse, pre-chorus and chosrus which iot goes through a couple of times before entering this very cool, almost jazzy section where clean guitars mesh very well with piano lines and make for some very cool and almost (dare I say it) adventurous and out there parts. The song kicks back into its oh so powerful and epic chorus thereafter and ends in style. ''Revelations'' is another standout track with fierce melodies and once again some very strong lead playing.

''Heart of a Dragon'' closes the record with a very majestic and once again epic feel. This isn't the best song on the record, but it does have some cool elements and closes the album well.

Reminiscing on the days when dragons ruled. - 95%

hells_unicorn, March 3rd, 2006
Written based on this version: 2010, CD + DVD, Spinefarm Records (Reissue, Remixed, Remastered)

The question of power metal is often a question of excess, just how far can a concept be stretched and exaggerated until it becomes an exercise in parody, and by that point would anybody really care anymore? This question is often posed on the subject of Dragonforce, though when taking into account the band's now fairly extensive history, it becomes less clear with regard to their formative work. Somewhere in the midst of the power metal revival that occurred at the turn of the millennium, this collection of tech. savvy Brits would begin the process towards eclipsing much of their mainland European inspirations and competition by taking the very fundamentals of their chosen style and continuing to exaggerate them. As with all processes, the beginning of this one, which resulted in the technically masterful yet admittedly formulaic debut Valley Of The Damned, came in a manner that wasn't all that terribly removed from where most of the power metal scene was at the time.

There is definitely a typical character to this album that puts it firmly into close proximity with the likes of Freedom Call, Stratovarius and Edguy, along with the then expansive scenes that had developed on the lighter yet faster side of the power metal coin in Germany, Sweden and Finland. Part of this can be credited to this band's insistence on getting a massive production job for their debut LP, forgoing the possibility of beating out their crosstown rivals and former band mates Power Quest for the title of being the first noteworthy British act to put out an album in this style and arriving close to when they'd already begun to transition away from it a bit on their sophomore effort Neverworld. Along with this came a much cleaned up vocal approach by ZP Theart, who was occasionally flirting with Kai Hansen territory on the DragonHeart demo, with a grittier vocal approach that is still preferred by some even to this day, to speak nothing for the expansive guitar solo battles being refined and further elaborated.

It is actually hard to avoid considering the character of the demo that preceded this album since more than half of the material on here originated there, as it reveals two somewhat divergent schools of songwriting in a band that was largely pegged as a one-trick pony from the get go. The first and obviously dominant school is the primarily fast and frenetic, not to mention almost pop/punk tinged catchiness of Sam Totman, who was probably the chief culprit in Power Quest's early works sounding so close to Dragonforce's. All of his offerings on this album, both older and newer, are consistently structured to a sheer fault, and go so heavy on the hooks that the likes of "Black Winter Night" and the title song have two equally prominent choruses and a series of verses and bridges that may as well be choruses unto themselves, whereas more standard fair like "Revelations" the newer additions to the repertoire exclusive to this album in "Black Fire" and "Heart Of A Dragon" sport a single chorus section yet require constant sing-along participation from any listener. Take this same basic formula, and simply dial down the tempo significantly and add a piano and what occurs is this album's lone ballad "Starfire", which could almost pass for Bon Jovi territory save the fantasy-based lyrical content.

The other side of this not quite uniform equation is the occasional progressive twists on the album, all of which are a credit to the crazier guitar shredder in the fold Herman Li. A listen to any of his guitar solos will definitely point one to heavy Steve Vai influences, especially when that pitch-shifting pedal starts to go full force, but his songwriting is a bit closer to a nuanced take on Iron Maiden and Helloween, though dressed up with some occasional shifts in style that hint at a slight Dream Theater influence. The biggest outlier on this album is definitely "Disciples Of Babylon", which is only slightly longer than the other songs and has more of a rhythmic character to it rather than that of a constant speeder, not to mention going beyond simply featuring a two-minute solo battle over existing verse and chorus sections and introduces a massive jazz ballad interlude in the middle with a host of different soloing styles. His other contribution to this album "Evening Star" is a bit closer to how Totman writes and cooks most of the time, but kicks off in ballad territory and features a slightly more developed and nuanced melodic scheme.

The only real blight that existed on this album when it originally hit the shelves was the production, which went way too heavy on the instruments and saw ZP Theart's vocal display sounding like a distant cry behind a storm of virtuoso musicians. This was remedied on the 2010 remaster, which is the version to have for the fullest experience of where this band was at their peak, not to mention including yet another slab of high octane excellence in "Where Dragons Rule". At the time they were, and to this day continue to be, a band that is noted more for their technical ability and catchy hooks than for any message contained between the sea of notes that became the envy of every up and coming guitarist in the mid-2000s. Nevertheless, they were at their best when they were in fantasy territory, even if they weren't really storytellers like Rhapsody Of Fire or Blind Guardian and just opted to have illustrations of archaic battle scenes to go with the musicianship. Heroes tend to work best in realms where heroism is most appropriate, or so one would think.

Rewritten on December 2nd, 2016.

Speed isn't everything - 92%

The_Black_Halo, July 17th, 2005

If you want fast-paced metal, you'd usually expect to look at speed or thrash, but in this case, Power metal is all you need. The solos are fast, the drums are fast, the basslines are fast. The only thing that isn't fast is the powerful singing, and even that can get to ridiculous speeds if they so wanted.

DragonForce are a talented band, and the talent is very consistent. You might say a little too consistent. There's no doubt that every member of the band are talented, but sometimes it's just a little too in-your-face.

DragonForce have come very far with their debut album, easily beating the likes of Kamelot, Manowar and Hammerfall's debuts, and the solos easily beat legends like Slash, Yngwie Malmsteen and John Deacon. When I heard a demo of Black Winter Night, I immediately thought 'Hang on a second. I think we have an Eddie Van Halen in the making, here.'

Originally touring as DragonHeart, they proved they could play live. The quality of their first album is exactly as epic as their live performances, and its obvious they don't obsess over digital remastering. DragonHeart later changed their name to DragonForce due to legal reasons. A wise choice, because I'm hoping to see a hell of a lot more albums from this band.

In summary, there's no doubt about it. This album is absolutely amazing.

When a dragon screeches power metal - 99%

simonitro, October 25th, 2004

I can’t find anything wrong on this great record. I am very impressed by this band's performance. This album is becoming a classic album in power metal history. These guys do have potential in creating such great music and satisfying power metal freak. If you are hungry for fast solos, then this band is for you.

The album opens up with a small windy intro which clock 13 seconds and BOOM we are now kicking off the title track, Valley Of The Damned. And damn, every time I listen to this song it amazes me more and more. The vocal performance is amazing, and I love the way the vocalist starts singing in the beginning with some palm muted parts, then he'll excite you with his incredible high-pitched voice. The music is exciting, atmospheric, and fast. You should wait until you reach the middle of this song to get mesmerized with blistering series of solos by Herman Li and Sam Totman and I must say they are a great guitar team. Kinda reminds me of Slayer's guitar team, one does speed solos and the other melodic solos. The song closes with another short melodic solo performed by Sam.

Let's talk about the other songs like Black Fire and Black Winter Night are both fit to make the album great. And also, the amazing guitar team of Herman Li and Sam Totman shines on both tracks and the vocals are amazing. These two tracks have great choruses. Black Winter Nights has some weird sounding leads during the verses, but not annoying. Then, comes in the ballad, Starfire and opens with some cool atmospheric piano parts with some rain special effects. I love this ballad.

My personal favorite song is Disciples Of Babylon, and it's fucking awesome. It has the Catchiest. Chorus. Ever. I fucking love the parts when ZP Theart screams in the chorus "It's hear, It's near". The keyboards flow brilliantly with the guitars and the vocal parts. The mood is so fucking exciting. In the middle, there is an acoustic guitar/piano interlude which is pretty good, and the solos are as fast as lightning, and there is a part where Herman Li shreds so fuckin’ fast and I don’t know how to describe it. This is the longest song on this album.

The rest of the songs from Revelations until Heart Of A Dragon are amazing and all of them are catchy. You will stumble upon another cool and beautiful ballad which is Evening Star and it's really great, and in my opinion, it is better than Starfire.

An advice from me, get the Limited Edition with the bonus track, Where Dragon's Rule. The album won't be complete without this motherfucker of a song. First, it starts with cool calm parts and then gets heavy. Unlike other bonus tracks I get from other albums, this one is actually amazing for a bonus track. It will close the album with a brilliant way that you'd still need more from Dragonforce, and thank God there is another record.

This is a very well composed album and the production is overwhelming from beginning till the end. The lyrics are flowery but they give a great mood with the music and I give the credit to every member of this powerful band. I'm not hesitated to give it a 99 because they deserve it and this like the second after Somewhere Far Beyond. There are no fillers or throw-aways, and you don't need to skip any track because they are all great. I recommend it to all power metal freaks.

Well worth the wait since the demo - 91%

NightOfTheRealm, May 25th, 2004

Holy damn! I can hardly believe that this album has finally come to light. I was introduced to Dragonforce nearly three years ago when the band, then called Dragonheart, put up their demo, also titled VALLEY OF THE DAMNED, on MP3.com. Changing their name in 2001 from Dragonheart to Dragonforce so as not to be confused with the film and Brazillian band by the same name. After whas seemed like eternity, this talented group of British power metallers finally struck a deal with Noise records to release their debut album.

Power metal...now wait a minute here. Dragonforce has many of the song and chorus structures of a power metal band, but the true core of the band is rooted strongly in the speed metal genre. The drums of Didier Almouzni truly are excellent, pounding with ferocity and intensity that does not relent, and the solos, oh the solos. The amazing guitar work of Sam Totman and Herman Li (who has some of the longest hair in all of metal) is what hooked me on the band three years ago from their demo. Between the two axemen, VALLEY OF THE DAMNED contains more technical shredding and melodic solos (especially the title track) than any metalhead could ask for. It’s obvious that Dragonforce is built up around the mastery of these two musicians. Dragonforce also recruited Ukraine-born Vadim Pruzhanov into their ranks to handle the keys, and he does his job quite well; the keyboards are integrated well into the songs without stepping on anybody’s toes. With Diccon Harper filling the role of bass as a “contributing artist” and not a full time member, that brings us to vocalist ZP Theart. ZP really can sing. His voice screams easily into the highest notes, and he sounds technically proficient. The only drawback, however, is that his voice would benefit from some more power and depth.

As I mentioned before, Dragonforce favor the speed end of the power-speed spectrum, as evidenced by the opening track (after a very brief, and useless intro), “Valley of the Damned.” This is where my initiation to Dragonforce began, as well as for many others. The album version is not much different than the demo, with the exception of more polish applied in the production department. The song just flat-out rules for all the reasons mentioned above. The drumming is absolutely insane, and the solos fly from all angles. In addition, the chorus is excellent. Clearly, this is how power metal should be done.

With an opener this good, how can the rest of the album possibly compare? Well, although the title track is the strongest of the disc, each of the other songs hold their own as well. Consider “Black Fire,” the next track up. This new song carries on with just as much fury as the previous. It’s obvious that these guys know how to write. I love the little bass/riff breakdown starting at the 2:31 mark. “Black Winter Night” features a kicked-up keyboard section, making it more bombastic than the other songs on the disc. Of course, it wouldn’t be a power metal album without the obligatory ballad. Stuck exactly in the middle is “Starfire,” which reminds me, in a good way, of course, of an 80s monster ballad. The album bogs down for a couple tracks as “Disciples of Babylon” starts off with some really tight riffing, but suffers from a weak, repetitive chorus. Incidentally, this was my least favourite track from the demo, and still remains my least favourite Dragonforce track. Even it is not without redeeming value as the middle acoustic/piano breakdown at 3:58 made me sit up and take note. “Revelations” is a decent track, but is very similar in sound and structure to the title track. Closing out the album on a high and happy note is “Heart of a Dragon,” an upbeat, catchy tune that is very Freedom Call-ish.

The verdict? VALLEY OF THE DAMNED hits with enough force to make the three year span between demo and debut well worth the weight. Combining technical shred and melody with plenty of speed and heaviness, Dragonforce have definitely delivered a winner. This fresh and talented band have started their career off very well.

(originally written by me for www.metal-rules.com, April, 2003)

Too fast for your brain - 87%

StillDeath, January 24th, 2004

The music on this amazing debut is just too fucking fast to be compared with speed metal classics such as Walls of Jericho or Painkiller.

However, there are two things which stop this from being the best speed album ever.

Firstly, the vocals are mostly clean and there should be more screaming from the vocalist to match the intensity from the instruments. This is where the album really loses points because in a perfect world Kai Hansen would make a guest appearance here to create a fantasy speed metal monster. Another thing is that the lyrics and the image say "HammerFall clone", while the music features an abundance of blast beats and a sonic assault which would be more common to Death/Black than Power metal. What were you thinking guys? Hopefully, this kind of style will grow to be wider accepted because DragonForce breaks new ground here.

The production is interesting as the vocals are being brought to the front and fade back. This leaves the impression of someone singing in the face of a 100 mph storm or on a roller coaster. If this is intentional, I assume it is, well done because it adds to the overall impression of a breakthrough album.

I won't go into song by song analysis as it has been talked about already. Suffice to say that every song here is unique enough to be recognizable, the most unique song on here is "Disciples of Babylon". The ballad "Starfire" is well done, for a band specializing in speed metal. Valley of the Damned has great replay value as well.

Give this album a listen if you want to hear power/speed metal done with blast beats without losing the melody and catchiness.

The beginning of a power metal legend? - 89%

Nightcrawler, April 28th, 2003

I think I dismissed this album too quickly. At the first couple of listens, some of the stuff on here sounds quite monotonous, mostly because of the overwhelmingly, ridiculously and unbelievably high speed of each and every song on this album (with the sole exception of the ballad, Starfire). All this intense high-paced power metal at first leaves you with little time to think about anything else than the hyper-fast riffs, power metal melodies and double bass drumming, the songs individual distinguishing factors kinda get lost at first. But after some intense listening of the CD the last week on my behalf, I've started to see these previously mentioned distinguishing factors on each individual song. And although the vibe and formula might be similar, these are not nearly as monotone as one would think at first listen. In fact, this shit fucking rocks from beginning to end.

Like I said at first- this is insanely fast power metal. Possibly the fastest album I own, of any genre. But in this overkill of speed they also manage to carve their very own sound, and sound like no other band I've ever heard. Lyrics about glorious knights and fearsome dragons and mighty battles and whatnot do abound along with many other power metal clichés, among others the ultra-happy melodies and of course the front cover, with a half-naked chick, two mighty horses and an icy landscape. But the music on here is really like nothing else.

Their melodies have their very own sound and are instantly recognizable, and the guitarwork is some of the best I've heard within the genre. It's loaded with hyper fast riffs and the unique melodies which should put any power metal nerd into some form of ecstasy. Same goes with the vocal melodies on here. While listening to the title track, several people have told me that I look as though I'm in a trance. And all the other songs have pretty much the same effect on me, I can safely say. And to go nerdy for a while, the glorious power and emotion displayed in Thearts majestic vocals is just beyond words. He has the classic vibe of most power metal singers, but he sings with inspiration that few have achieved. He lives into every word with feeling almost matching Eric Adams and the likes.

So yes, the guitars and vocals definitely stand out on this album. But the album of course has an incredibly solid backbone as well. The drums are ridiculously fast and intense as hell, but it's not just incessant double bass onslaught. Great variety and impeccable timing is displayed, and the drumming is just extremely well executed. The basswork is pretty damn well done too, and perfectly loud in the mix. You won't really hear it unless you listen for it, but it's highlighted at a few riff changes and other moments which adds really cool effects every once in a while.

Ahh, the individual songs... Where to start? The beginning, I suppose. The kinda weird and supposedly eerie intro Invocation Of Apocalyptic Evil (Rhapsody, anyone?) leads into the title track, Valley of the Damned. And holy crap, as I listen to this, I'm prepared to say that this song could easily compete with the best material of power metal giants such as Helloween, Gamma Ray and Blind Guardian. The vocals especially are absolutely divine. The lyrics are somewhat typical for power metal, dealing with knights in shining armor, epic battles and painting out mesmerizing landscapes all in one song- and I love that kind of shit. And, these guys do it better than anyone else I've heard. And these vocals are sung with just the passion I tried to describe earlier, and he truly gives life to the environments he sings about. The bridge and chorus is one of the most divine moments I've experienced in the world of metal.

And the guitarwork is at the peak of its creative, ecstasy-inducing greatness on this very song. But the rest of the songs nearly hold the same divine quality as the title track, and they all have some parts separating them from eachother. The lack of guitars and highlighted keyboards during the first verses of Black Winter Night build up an incredible atmosphere. Disciples of Babylon has this really strange acoustic middle section leading into a jazzy breakdown with bass highlights in the middle of the crazy power metal assault. And the fist-pumping section in the middle of Revelations, which is pretty fast, but feels midpaced at least compared to the rest of the stuff here. Yeah, and so on- unlike what you may think at first listen, all the songs are different from eachother.

But of course, the song that stands out the most is the ballad, Starfire- which also is the second best song on here. The way they use quite regular acoustic guitars under the verses and kick in the lead guitars during the bridge and chorus is quite unoriginal, but very well done. And those vocal melodies never fail to amaze me. And the singer elevates the song to higher levels than many, many other ballads, and he really makes it the masterpiece it is.

Dragonforce have with Valley of the Damned crafted a legendary power metal album, and definitely up there with Helloween and Grave Digger in the top albums of the year. While all the songs except Starfire are pretty similar to the title track and none of them reach the same level of awesomeness, they're all excellent in their own right. Power Metal fans all over the world, prepare to be owned. Dragonforce reigns supreme.

With a heart of a dragon we ride! - 96%

Wez, March 16th, 2003

After topping the metal charts on MP3.com for so long, surpassing the likes of Blind Guardian and Nightwish, there has to be something special about this band. I was therefore expecting a lot from this album - I got more. This incredible band carve themselves a unique identity in the power metal world from the very first minute. After a short and eerie synth intro, you're thrown headlong into a mesmerising mix of catchiness, speed and power. Adding together all the defining elements of power metal, but increasing the speed and creating a sound so ultimately fresh to my ears - this band would just not let up. The title track builds up riff after riff before launching into a chorus that would shame the biggest names in power metal today. You get the occasional cheesy melody here and there, but this is a strength not a weakness for the band.

Herman "Shred" Li and Sam Totman (who wrote the majority of music and lyrics) prove an outstanding duo, their different styles making for interesting solos which just keep coming and coming (there are 41 solos in total on this album!). Vocalist ZP Theart gives an admirable performance and colours the music at times with some very unique vocals moving away from the average power metal vocal style. Though sometimes the guitars tend to drown out his voice a little, this is a minor complaint, and doesn't really make the music any less enjoyable. Vadim's keyboards are used to good effect throughout the album (playing a big part in the mid section of "Disciples Of Babylon"), though a broader use of them in some songs would have been welcome (my opinion only). The drums show no sign of faltering with the speed and remain precise all the way through, no complaints there, though they don't really detract a whole lot from the majority of power/thrash drum patterns, Didier is talented and shows promise for future albums, and hits the spot with great double bass drumming.

The album maintains the same high standard throughout, and it's very hard to choose a favourite track. The album finishes as it starts, and will be difficult to follow up, but from the obvious talent on display from all five members, the future looks bright.