Released By: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: August 19, 2014
Genre: Power Metal
Marc Hudson – Vocals
Herman Li – Guitars
Sam Totman – Guitars
Frédéric Leclercq – Bass
Vadim Pruzhanov – Keyboards
Dave Mackintosh – Drums
1. The Game
2. Tomorrow’s Kings
3. No More
4. Three Hammers
5. Symphony of the Night
6. The Sun is Dead
8. Extraction Zone
9.City of Gold
10. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash Cover)
11. Power and Glory (Bonus Track)
12. You’re Not Alone (Bonus Track)
13. Chemical Interference (Bonus Track)
14. Fight to be Free (Bonus Track)
15. Galactic Astro Domination (Bonus Track)
Oh, Dragonforce, a band that can be considered equal parts beloved and loathed, depending on which group of people you ask. I guess that can apply to most bands who are successful enough to get attention, but I’ve seen many people use Dragonforce an example of everything they hate and find cheesy about power metal, or as an example of how to ruin songs with overlong guitar solos. On the other hand, there are the fans who love their brand of extreme, speedy power metal with cheesy sing along choruses, and those who can appreciate their extraordinary musicianship, and to those people every new album they release is an event to be excited for. In general I’d say I fall in line with that second group, with “Through the Fire and the Flames” being one of my favorite power metal songs ever, though I did find their first four albums to be a little repetitive and excessive at times. I was very happy with the more streamlined direction they took on their previous album The Power Within, where they demonstrated how awesome they can be at writing more straight-forward melody driven songs, while retaining their usual ridiculous tempos which often go far beyond what you’d expect, even from a power metal band. With their sixth full length release Maximum Overload they have taken this simplified sound even further, resulting in their best album to date, and one that certainly ranks among the best power metal albums of 2014.
On the surface Maximum Overload remains very true to the trademark Dragonforce sound, but it certainly shows signs of a band that has evolved quite a bit since their formation back in 1999. It marks the first time they have asked someone outside the band to handle the production, and this shows, as the album has a much more powerful and dynamic sound than their past albums. Most songs are still played at incredibly fast speeds, and the classic Dragonforce feel is very much in tact, albeit with a greater focus on guitars than ever before. One instantly noticeable difference is the increased presence of riffs, as this is a much heavier and more modern sounding album than anything they’ve done before. A few tracks have some slightly thrashy riffs, while Trivium vocalist Matt Heafy contributes some aggressive vocals on three tracks to help spice things up. Fans have nothing to fear, though, as despite the increased heaviness and occasional extreme vocals, this is a still very upbeat and happy sounding album, and while the band has restrained themselves even more than they did on The Power Within, there’s still a ton of great solos to be found, with some being rather unique.
One area where I thought they improved greatly on The Power Within was the songwriting. I found their first four albums all had moments of brilliance, but aside from the obligatory ballads most songs tended to blend together, with all of them being played at around the same speed, having eerily similar lyrics (seriously, how many of their songs contain the line “Far away”?) and even lasting around the same length (typically somewhere between 6-8 minutes.) On The Power Within they cut their track lengths to reasonable lengths, while maintaining everything about their music that worked. With Maximum Overload they have improved even further, as now every song is distinct and instantly recognizable. Even the lyrics are much improved. They will never be lyrical geniuses or anything, but at least on this album it seems they made an effort to add in some interesting themes for each song, instead of rehashing the same generic lines they had been giving us on all their previous albums.
Yet another area where I feel they’ve improved over time is the vocals. I admit ZP Theart had a distinct voice, and he generally did a good job, but I found him to be a bit irritating and out of his depth at times, which certainly isn’t the case for Marc Hudson, who has really come into his element on Maximum Overload, his sophomore effort with the band. He has a very smooth and high pitched voice that I think could work well with a more commercial band, but he can also sound powerful enough to carry the heavier songs on this album, and his voice does work very well for power metal.
Immediately on the opening track and single “The Game”, fan cans hear the mix of old and new that this album brings, with the thrashy riffs during the verses and instrumental section instantly leaving an impression, while Matt Heafy’s backing harsh vocals are a totally new element for Dragonforce. Once the chorus hits, though, it’s as epic and fun as one would expect. “Tomorrow’s Kings” is classic Dragonforce at its absolute best, with ridiculously speedy guitars and epic melodies, except that it’s much shorter and catchier than normal, which instantly made it one of my favorites. “Three Hammers” is the slowest song on the album, and is very much in the same vein as “Cry Thunder”, though I think it’s an even better song, and it has a really awesome sped up section in the middle. “Symphony of the Night” has a very unique feel to it, with some nice harpsichord playing throughout, and a slightly darker tone than normal, especially during the instrumental section in the middle. Even the verses and chorus sound more like classic power metal than what they usually play, and it’s definitely another favorite. “The Sun is Dead” is the most progressive song on the album, with constantly changing tempos, highlighted by a very distinct solo section. “Defenders” was the first song released, and is very similar to “The Game”, with an emphasis on the riffs and some extreme vocals from Heafy. “City of Gold” stands out for having some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard on a Dragonforce album. Lastly, they included their first ever cover track to close out the normal edition, with an impressive makeover of the Johhny Cash classic “Ring of Fire”. It really is exactly what I look for in a cover, as the general tune and lyrics are instantly recognizable, but they really made it sound like it could have been one of their own songs. The chorus in particular works extremely well when played as a really fast power metal song.
Fans who pick up the special edition can treat themselves to five bonus tracks, all of which are excellent. “Power and Glory”, Chemical Interference” and “Fight to be Free” are all fast paced songs in their usual style, while “You’re Not Alone” is the lone power ballad on the album, and it’s certainly a winner. Perhaps the weakest track is the instrumental “Galactic Astro Domination”, which is a nice enough track, except that it ends before it can really get going. Still, for four excellent bonus tracks and one solid but brief one, it’s certainly worth shelling out a bit of extra cash to get the special edition.
Maximum Overload is a perfect example of how a potentially great band can evolve their sound in ways that take them to a whole new level, while still maintaining all their core elements. Dragonforce fans can expect the same focus on ultra speedy, epic power metal as ever, but with a focus on heavier riff, shorter songs, and more varied songwriting than before. Any power metal fan who isn’t allergic to the more melodic and “cheesy” side of the genre is highly recommended to check this album out.
Written by Travis