Metal Review – DragonForce: Maximum Overload

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Metal Review – DragonForce: Maximum Overload
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DragonForce: Maximum Overload
Power Metal
earMusic, Metal Blade Records
August 19th, 2014
Release length: 49:39
Special Edition length: 1:10:55
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Since 2009’s Ultra Beatdown, DragonForce has been taking small steps in venturing away from their traditional formula of blistering speed and impossible technicality with the occasional ballad piece thrown in. This wasn’t the only alteration to occur, finding long time lead vocalist Zachary Theart (or ZP) out of the ranks, allowing Marc Hudson to fill the gap. 2012 saw the release of The Power Within, a pivotal recording that welcomed the new line-up into the studio, but also made the shift in direction a little more obvious to long time listeners. It’s been about two years since that widely well received release that also marked the last to deal with Roadrunner Records here in North America. For 2014, DragonForce find themselves on Metal Blade Records to unleash their sixth full-length effort (seventh if you count their debut as DragonHeart) titled Maximum Overload. But will this release show the band stepping up in their musical exploration, or treadin back into their old habits?

The start of Maximum Overload is your fairly standard brand of DragonForce speed, technicality and melody. “Tomorrow’s Kings” starts off with notes from the keyboard carrying the effect of an old black-and-white Science Fiction film that pertains to aliens. It’s an interesting introduction that unfortunately doesn’t reflect the song itself and could easily have been omitted. What follows is a lot of activity that makes things sound more complex than it seems to be. There’s quick picking at the chords on the lead guitars meshed with fast notes from the keyboards and high speed drumming that completely steals the show from the rest of the instruments and fantastic singing that has a bit too much layering approaching the guitar solo. “No More” follows the same concept, though throws a few weak gang chants into the mix with additional electronic effects, more game sound effects around a minute and a half, and pushes a light-hearted touch to the chorus similar to “The Edge” by Annihilator.

While the faster material does stand out on it’s own, it’s the restrained songs that follow “No More” that end up the most notable, and not just for sounding like early Helloween and Stratovarius. “Symphony of the Night” just carries a beautiful fantastical tone that is really uncommon for the band. Nothing on here feels like the band is showing off outside the Neo-Classical guitar solo, the bass guitar comes through in the chorus that seems to bounce with the atmosphere, and nothing ends up forced for the sake of complexity or speed. “The Sun is Dead” is another surprise with touches of eighties Rock and Metal influence that is just shy of having some grand narration when the guitars take on a softer, cleaner approach that accentuates the night sky atmosphere the song carries. “Extraction Zone” has its share of Power Metal traits as well, but it’s hard to ignore the thrashier elements it has during the chorus along the line of early Faith of Fear but with melody, as well as a sudden Progressive Metal break with more eight-bit effects and other sounds that make you think some Rap will shortly follow. Thankfully it doesn’t, instead we’re given a blend of those two aforementioned styles to wrap things up quite neatly.

And then there’s “The Game,” the lead single and music video of the release. This is the only song to really show the band’s aggressive side, which is a shame as it can be fairly intense. The lyrics are surprisingly touching thanks in part from Marc’s higher vocals and layered range of falsetto with a mixture of held notes and complex melody. Overall the song is a solid example of why the band has become so popular over the years, though it’s also the biggest example of how they abuse studio editing. The chorus sometimes feels like a whole other production quality by ditching the higher pitched sound for something a little more bulkier and sleek, especially the second time it goes into the heavier riffs with harsher background vocals performed by Trivium‘s Matt Heafy (the same for “Defenders” and “No More”) and additional gaming effects as you approach three-and-a-half minutes in. This could be argued as a shift in tone from the guitars, but it’s hard to use that excuse for things like the vocals obnoxiously increasing in volume as you head into the chorus for the final time, which hits one word earlier than it does in the chorus around the two minute mark, which sounds horribly timed in execution.

“The Game,” however, is still light years ahead of their cover of Johnny Cash‘s “Ring of Fire.” This version is standard DragonForce in every way possible and, when you compare the two, it’s like water and oil. The source material is damn near unrecognisable with the extent of the liberties taken to the music. The only reason you can even use the term “cover” is that the lyrics are still in tact. There’s little to be said about it except it’s as bad as it is boring, and the chorus fails to remain consistent vocally. Some of the words are drawn out, but at the very end what once was the most critical part of the song that needs to follow suit for the necessary impact to work ends up nothing more than an infuriating passing glance.


Both the CD and digital special editions of Maximum Overload come with the “A New Found Force” making of documentary and live footae of “Cry Thunder” (the physical version puts it all on a bonus DVD), as well as five more songs. Unfortunately I have not been supplied those videos, but the songs alone are worth taking note of. “Power and Glory” is a fairly standard Power Metal performance cut with a generally uplifting Heavy Metal presence that is still really addicting to listen to. There’s a slightly darker tone as well that’s present on “Chemical Interference.” There are some rougher vocals, or something that sounds like them buried deep within the mix, which is a shame since this one has plenty of moments where some growls or even Matt Heafy’s screams would compliment the heavier material.

“Galactic Astro Domination” is a very brief instrumental that is as uninteresting as the vocals on “Fight to Be Free.” That one is early DragonForce from start to finish, throwing back to the Valley of the Damned album. The problem is that Marc’s vocal presence sounds thin and generic here, not having ZP’s power that would normally override the ill-effects of the emptier audio. “You’re Not Alone,” however, is easily one of the best to appear in any edition. It is a ballad piece, but the vocals find a little more emotion to them with music that matches it with a subtle passion in the atmosphere they create, allowing every member of the group to shine through in a truly epic and memorable performance.


While Maximum Overload doesn’t quite stand up to The Power Within, it does show the band starting to branch out and try new things, both successfuly and not. Part of this is thanks to the first ever “outside” producer Jens Bogren who, according to Herman Li, acted like a “slave driver” to push for the best out of the band instead of releasing an album in which they “settled in the past for one standard.” Unfortunately all of that is stuck between the lead single that showcases the band’s old tricks and ends with a bastardized version of a Folk classic that inspired so many musicians the world over in a manner that is simply insulting to decree everyone involved be banned from making music forever. Closing track aside, Maximum Overload‘s faults are given amnesty by the two major things going for it: Fun and variety. Even at it’s most cluttered and altered the music is impossible not to get wrapped up in, while their weakest attempt outside the band’s wheel house is still respectable and infectious enough to have no qualms coming back to time and again. As for which edition, even without having seen the bonus DVD, there’s no doubt that the special edition is the way to go. It’s a shame the three of the five songs that matter and need to be heard are only on certain versions in an effort to get more money from fans, or to move more units.

Standard Pressing:
01. The Game – 4:57
02. Tomorrow’s Kings – 4:14
03. No More – 3:50
04. Three Hammers – 5:51
05. Symphony of the Night – 5:20
06. The Sun is Dead – 6:35
07. Defenders – 5:47
08. Extraction Zone – 5:06
09. City of Gold – 4:44
10. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover) – 3:16

Special Editions:
11. Power and Glory – 5:06
12. You’re Not Alone – 4:39
13. Chemical Interference – 5:13
14. Fight to be Free – 4:45
15. Galactic Astro Domination – 1:32

Standard Pressing Score: 8/10

Special Edition Score: 8.5/10
(DVD not counted into score)

DragonForce
DragonForce

Digital review copy of this release provided by Metal Blade Records
via Freeman Promotions.