Reviewers here at It Djents sometimes need to mince their words when it comes to sub-genres. Deathcore or metalcore or djent? The myriad of influences many modern metal merchants mobilize make modalities about them a monstrous mission. Rest assured that the seventh full-length DragonForce album, Reaching Into Infinity (scheduled for release on May 19, 2017), presented us with no such problems. DragonForce play power metal. Whether “power metal” is your snarl term for music that has clean singing, no breakdowns, and too many guitar solos, or it refers to “traditional” 1980s heavy metal with a bit of early Metallica speed and an uplifting tone, the British sextet are pretty much the modern face of that sub-genre. Reaching Into Infinity shows the band bearing that standard like a magic sword held proudly high over their heads.
Off Into Battle
Reaching Into Infinity leads off with its title track, a faux-acoustic instrumental passage that gradually builds up to an epic segue into the real opening track, “Ashes Of The Dawn.” That song sums up the album’s sound: fast tempos, fast guitar solos, sweeping epic vocal melodies, and the keyboard serving as an accessory to both of these things rather than carrying the music in its own right (more on that later).
Things stay on this level for the whole album. Some songs like “Judgment Day” and “Midnight Madness” have over-the-top vocal melodies that invite and justify the most damning criticisms of power metal. Listeners take note and keep the Lactaid™ close by, because these songs’ choruses pack a lot of cheese. Then there is “WAR” (yes, they put the title in all caps), the biggest hunk on the DragonForce cheese platter.
Common for DragonForce is to put a ballad in the middle. On Reaching Into Infinity, that would be “Silence,” a song with (thankfully) no resemblance to the song of the same name on the eponymous Suicide Silence album. “Silence” is a worthy tune to raise one’s Zippo™ lighter up and sway along to.
Other strong tracks include “Land of Shattered Dreams” and “Edge of the World,” where the cheese factor is dialed back a bit so that the vocals do not detract from the guitar solos that every DragonForce fan listens to the band for in the first place. Of special note would be the album’s closer, “Evil Dead,” its heaviest song; the track also makes use of another of the band’s signature moves, the inclusion of a mish-mash of 8-bit video game sound effects.
The presence of keyboards on a metal album will always cause controversy. Prog metal bands can get away with using them, especially when the keyboardist has a lot of skill and plays a leading role. DragonForce do not play prog. This would be why the keyboards on Reaching Into Infinity seem superfluous. All keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov does is soften the potential heaviness of DragonForce and provide a bit of extra timbre to sit under Herman Li’s virtuosity.
After the Battle
Summarizing and rating an album like Reaching Into Infinity means assessing it in terms defined by its own subgenre and not by some universal yardstick. Power metal thrives on a larger than life feel. An album with a title like Reaching Into Infinity better deliver on that score, and while it does not quite reach infinity per se, it oozes with leather bluster. The album has the general optimistic and uplifting feel associated with the subgenre too. Fans of shred guitar cannot in any way be disappointed by Herman Li’s performance on Reaching Into Infinity. Even people who hate shred guitar cannot deny the mastery he displays on this album. If the solos are Reaching Into Infinity’s centerpiece, then his performance can carry the album on its own.
The only place where Reaching Into Infinity falls short of the power metal yardstick would be in the vocals. Marc Hudson does not reach even in the general direction of infinity. The vocal melodies themselves might be grandiose, but the performance is not. Power metal fans expect elongated shrieking high pitched screams at dramatic moments or at the very least in a song’s first 30 seconds. This album has none of that. Longtime DragonForce fans who pine for the ways of original vocalist ZP Theart will find no satisfaction on Reaching Into Infinity.
DragonForce in Reaching Into Infinity have done nothing more than create an album that everyone would have expected them to make. And by its own standards, it might not be excellent, but it rates high enough to be a “must-hear” for power metal fans.
Notable Tracks: “Curse Of Darkness”; “Evil Dead”; “Astral Empire”; “The Edge of the World”
FFO: Kamelot, Agent Steel, Yngwie Malmsteen