Doesn’t it feel somewhat redundant for DragonForce to release an album called Extreme Power Metal? It’s certainly not inaccurate seeing as there’s not many bands that can out-power-metal DragonForce, but in terms of doing what it says on the tin, it’d appear that they’re not keeping very much close to their chest with this one. It’s not like they really have to though, mostly because everyone from the diehards to those who only know Through The Fire And Flames from Guitar Hero know exactly what a DragonForce album is going to consist of. And there’s nothing wrong with that either, as this is a band for whom it’s perfectly exceptable to get by on flashy guitar pyrotechnics alone without even a hint of progression or innovation amongst it. That’s what they’ve done for two decades now anyway, a move that’s seen Herman Li become revered in the modern pantheon of guitarists and the entire band gain a reputation for their blistering speed and technicality that they’ve not even been remotely inclined to drop. And for that one person worrying that this will be the moment where DragonForce are turning into Nickelback, the title alone should be enough of a salve for a wound that has no real reason to exist.
And with that, here’s the usual helping of DragonForce that gets dished out every two or three years, the power-metal comfort food more or less devoid of meaningful, nutritional value, but still more than satisfying enough to dig into. Albums like this are the tried-and-true proof that albums can get by on simply being a ton of fun to listen to, and even if there’s next to nothing here that’ll get remembered past whenever the next approximation of this exact thing is released, in the moment, this is the stuff that makes any criticism largely useless and thrives entirely off its own wild sense of grandeur.
The review could end there in all honesty, such is the familiarity that’s a key attribute of DragonForce and is no different here. Not a moment goes by where Li and Sam Totman keep their impossibly detailled shredding hitting with pinpoint precision, with everything polished and refined with not a hair out of place, and sent rocketing to the stars off the back of Marc Hudson’s towering vocals and his knack for a key-change that’s a suited to a band as flagrantly unsubtle and indebted to the cheesiest of ‘80s hair-metal as they are. What does impress though, is that Extreme Power Metal is a lot tighter than it realistically should be, especially when some of these tracks have no qualms in sending their never-ending streams of shredding galloping over the five- or six-minute mark, but rarely is there any significant bloat thanks to the usual razor-sharp production job that might be even more effective here. There’ll be the odd moment where things start to get a bit repetitious (and at this stage, it most likely wouldn’t be a DragonForce album without that), but the thrills and entertainment levels seldom drop regardless. A large part of that is through how willing DragonForce still are to lean into how utterly ridiculous this all is with the grandiose fantasy and sci-fi lyrics, treading ground to the extent where there’s really little point in singling out many specific examples given how unoriginal it all is, even if that’s where a lot of the charm lies. There are still standouts, like a song about Skyrim on The Last Dragonborn and a deliberately tongue-in-cheek cover of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to round off, but it’s all verbatim DragonForce otherwise, and that’s totally fine for the most part.
If it wasn’t, it’s hard to imagine that they’d have gotten this far, but Extreme Power Metal shows just how well they’re able to tap into their supremely fun wellspring of tricks, even if most everyone probably should know better. But then again, as far as this sort of larger-than-life power-metal goes, DragonForce are still pretty much at the top of their game, or at least have gotten so good at what they do that resting on their laurels still turns out an intricate, lightning-fast thrill ride like this. Either one is ultimately fine, to be honest, because the results are exactly the same – a really solid album from a band who know exactly what they’re doing at this stage with all the talent and unyielding showmanship to pull it off time and time again.
For fans of: Firewind, Sonata Arctica, Sabaton
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Extreme Power Metal’ by DragonForce is released on 27th September on Century Media Records.