Album: Reaching Into Infinity
Record label: EarMUSIC
Release date: May 19th, 2017
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1. Reaching Into Infinity
2. Ashes Of The Dawn
3. Judgement Day
4. Astral Empire
5. Curse Of Darkness
9. Land Of Shattered Dreams
10. The Edge Of The World
11. Our Final Stand
12. Hatred And Revenge
13. Evil Dead (Death Cover)
Power metal is often on the receiving end of critical snobbery from metalheads, particularly in the UK. But power metal does not care, because there’s no denying its worldwide appeal. Early power bands from the 80s and 90s (Blind Guardian, Helloween etc.) still have a huge following, while newcomers are emerging all the time (notably Sweden’s Lancer), and superstars such as DragonForce are taking the subgenre to new heights of popularity. That DragonForce are British-based  is surprising because, despite power metal’s debt to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, its irony-free and bombastic sound would seem anathema to the cynical British ear. But DragonForce’s 18-year record speaks for itself. Having toured with some of the biggest bands in the world (Disturbed, Slipknot and Babymetal to name a few), they have been Grammy-nominated  and their track ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ is the most popular song on Guitar Hero III. They are currently on a marathon tour of Asia, Australia and North America, and will be touring this new album in the UK as part of their world tour beginning in October.
Reaching Into Infinity, released on 19th May, is the band’s seventh studio album; their first with new Italian drummer Gino Anzalone, and their third with vocalist Marc Hudson. Dragonforce continue to embrace their unique formula, which of course means breathtaking speed, absurdly long and complex guitar solos, anthemic choruses and a general atmosphere of self-indulgent glee. If you regularly fantasise about riding a robotic dragon through space, wearing furry underpants and killing orcs with a massive sword, then you will love it. And if not, then frankly you’re no fun at all, and you should check it out anyway because there are innovations this time round, and you might be surprised.
The title track of Reaching Into Infinity introduces the album with a short atmospheric instrumental, before the launch into ‘Ashes of the Dawn’. It is truly an assault on the ears, as DragonForce have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this song – insane guitar virtuosity, synthesised horn sections, backing choir, tremolo picking, blast beats… There’s so much going on that it becomes an exhausting listen, and Marc Hudson’s tenor vocals oddly serve as a calming veil over the utter franticness going on underneath. The saccharine chorus is a little too Eurovision for its own good, and this is by no means the best track, but it certainly sets the tone for the of the album.
‘Judgement Day’, ‘Astral Empire’ and ‘Midnight Madness’ sound like speeded up pop songs, with the high-register shredding, symphonic keyboards and screeched vocal climaxes that you would expect. In DragonForce everything comes second to the unbelievably fast guitar skills of Herman Li and Sam Totman, who dance around the very top of the fretboard in a frenzy of scales and arpeggios; sometimes they take it in turns, sometimes they play in impeccable harmonized thirds. When they run out of frets and can’t get any higher, they resort to pinch harmonics and whammies. Theirs may not be the most original solos on the market, but one can’t help but be uplifted by such a ridiculous number of notes. Their computer-like precision is of course aided by the slick production, but they are capable of reaching the same technically impressive feats live. DragonForce have deliberately chosen guitar tones which approach the ‘chiptune’ sound of 80s arcade games. It isn’t quite Nintendo-core, but their homage to the gaming industry (listen to the opening riff of ‘Land of Shattered Dreams’ for an example, and ‘Curse of Darkness’ is a tribute to Castlevania) is part of the band’s niche sound.
Meanwhile, ‘Curse of Darkness’ and ‘Our Final Stand’ have a rock musical feel, with soaring vocals, sing-along anthems backed by a chorus, and theatrical chord changes. ‘Silence’ is the album’s slow number, an epic ballad which continues in the rock musical vein with lyrical themes pinched from ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Lyrically, DragonForce are sticking with the vague notions of alienation, worlds, judgement and heroism that have served them well so far, and which matter little as long as non-English-speaking fans can chant them live. It’s the grandiose platitudes and non-sequiturs in their songs that are irritating and appear to have been plucked from a random generator. The silly chorus lyrics are far more satisfying – for example:
‘WAR! Now this is WAR! Straight from the CORE!’
‘Now Listen! This is WAR! We won’t take it any MORE!’
‘WAR! WAR! WAR! WAR! WAR!’
There’s also a wonderful part of ‘Midnight Madness’ where they rhyme eight words in a row with ‘nation’.
The album’s penultimate track, ‘The Edge of the World’, is proudly proclaimed by DragonForce as ‘our longest ever song’. But contrary to initial expectations, this 11-minute extravaganza is actually the best track and well worth a proper listen. There are elements of all sorts of subgenres thrown in here, and some unexpected yet highly convincing growled vocals, which reappear later in the album.
Perhaps ironically, the standout sections of Reaching Into Infinity are the riff sections- when the guitars take a break from their relentless twiddling and focus on some decent power chord changes. DragonForce are capable of some brilliant riffs, which would not be out of place within a much more brutal subgenre. ‘Astral Empire’ has some satisfying lower-register stuff, and ‘WAR!’ begins as pure thrash, so much so that it was a little disappointed when the bonkers keyboard and Flight of the Bumblebee guitars came in. Of course, riffs are not the main point of European-style melodic power metal, but DragonForce clearly have the potential to broaden their appeal and are perhaps missing a trick. For example, ‘Astral Empire’ includes a bass solo, which would be fantastic if we could actually hear it properly- the bass is so low in the mix. Again, this is the nature of power metal, but there are hints that DragonForce could benefit from something weightier.
If there is a new direction to be found in Reaching Into Infinity, it’s towards progressive metal. This is most obvious in the mid-section of ‘The Edge of the World’, where you could almost be listening to Dream Theater, with its subtly complex chord changes, groove-rock solos and similar vocal approach. Along with the growled vocals, this is a welcome sign that DragonForce is willing to innovate. Another sign of openness to innovation is their bonus track cover of Death’s ‘Evil Dead’. It’s a competent and suitable cover, which brings a new aspect to the song and will gain DragonForce points with ‘heavier’ metal fans; plus we get to hear more of those brutal vocals again. Whether death metal fans will like it remains to be seen, but it’s heartening to see a power metal band paying homage to old-school death.
It’s only fair to judge an album by the standards of its genre and the expectations of its fans, and in this sense Reaching Into Infinity will be a triumph – they have delivered a solid product. It’s no good complaining that the vocals are thin, or that there are too many arpeggios, or not enough bass; this is power metal. If you don’t like power metal, there’s probably no persuading you that you’re not listening to Chipmunks From Hell or Andrew Lloyd Webber On Crack. But if you’re willing to suspend your archness for a while and appreciate some genuinely brilliant musicianship, there is much to enjoy here.
1. Vocalist Marc Hudson is British; guitarists are Herman Li (Hong Kong-born) and Sam Totman (British-born, grew up in New Zealand), bassist Frederic Leclercq is French, Vadim Pruzhanov (keyboards) from Ukraine and new drummer Gee Anzalone is Italian. A truly international band.
2. Best Metal Performance 2008