Are DragonForce a boundless reservoir of untapped potential or one of rock’s great lost causes? The heirs apparent to Iron Maiden, DragonForce are a band devoid of shame, unafraid of grand overtures, who possess an awe-inspiring breadth of technical talent. There is no note too high, no solo too knotted and no rhythm too gallopingly glorious. However, underneath all this innate ability lies a lingering doubt: the belief that DragonForce just don’t get it.
Maiden for all their pomposity - withstanding even their seven-minute rewrites of historical events - understand that even the most gifted outfit must pick their spots. Killer solos shine in isolation, not en mass. Well-structured verses and grand crescendos are as, if not more, important than the unrelenting assault. DragonForce struggle to break through to the next level, because while their tracks sound stellar in isolation, they are numbing over the course of an hour.
Why spend so long examining the fundamental flaw at the heart of DragonForce’s drive towards superstardom? Because Maximum Overlord serves to wash away these bad habits. The London six-piece have delivered the most coherent, satisfying and well-judged record of their career to date. Big bold guitars rise up and cascade down, blood-curdling cries arrive at exactly the right moment as DragonForce display immaculate timing, knowing when to tease and when to overawe.
The lyricism remains undeniably nerdy and devoid of subtlety. “Three Hammers” sounds like a spoof - perhaps knowingly so – but is so exhilarating for all of its near six minute run time that DragonForce can be forgiven a fanfic-ish line like: “Strike back with vengeance, till to death we defend, until the day the Dragons will rise once again”.
Iron Maiden and Metallica have faced similar struggles in years past, but metal bands have always found ways to write about gypsy magic and Ktulu with a straight face. DragonForce have yet to develop the kind of heft and believability that can shrug off claims of self-parody. For the time being they are fully committed to the world of fantasy fulfilment and, as such, Maximum Overload plays like the ultimate B-movie. Everyone knows the acting isn’t up to snuff, the director is reusing old ideas and the fight scenes are completely ridiculous, but for whatever reason, it not only works, but upstages its more dour counterparts.
Maximum Overload is full of delightful tonal transitions as the band glide from dark delicacy to the triumphant rout, hinting at greater things to come. For the time being - as “Defenders” makes clear – DragonForce’s primary weapon remains the long sustained squeal followed by the onrushing solo. However, perhaps for the first time, this album will be defined not by its ability to melt faces, but by the way the audience find themselves unconsciously singing along.
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