City Paper is not for tourists
When DragonForce formed in 1999, the band’s apparent self-awareness was refreshing. Here was a group of funny guys pushing the boundaries of power metal and making a diplomatic attempt at broader appeal by playing up the genre’s absurdities—virtuoso musicianship, wussy singers, dorky fantasy motifs, and really, really long guitar solos. With its fourth album, Ultra Beatdown, DragonForce’s joke is getting old. Take away the absurdly fast tempos, the wacky solos, and the glam-metal attitude, and you’re left with old-fashioned butt rock. And didn’t we all collectively purge ourselves of butt rock two decades ago? Of course, there’s a reason DragonForce is still under discussion. On the three albums it’s released since 2003, DragonForce kept inflating the formula, until 2006’s Inhuman Rampage added enough guitar-generated woop-woop-woops to the group’s usual mix of double-bass drumming, fantasy lyrics, and parody-length solos to catch the attention of videogame programmers, who included the album’s first track on the mega-hit game Guitar Hero III. “Through the Fire and Flames”—or TTFAF, as it’s known to the thousands of YouTube users who’ve uploaded videos of themselves mashing out the song on plastic guitars—is the game’s most difficult song. That’s one way to penetrate the mainstream, and for fanboys who simply want more of the same, Ultra Beatdown delivers. The first track, “Heroes of Our Time,” offers what all the rest do: a shredfest intro, a series of obligatory verses and choruses linked by mini solos, then a full minute and a half of dueling guitars near the close. Singer ZP Theart all but admitted the lyrics were an afterthought in a recent interview with MetalSucks.net: “The lyrics pretty much come on right at the end; words get picked so it fits in properly,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t make much sense, but you have to read it in the general context of the song.” Or don’t bother. The songs always reference some kind of epic journey, the universe, the winter season, storms, wastelands, or the “blackened sky” (a term that recurs in at least three songs). Luckily, Theart spares us the dwarves, elves, and enchanted forests that pop up in so many power-metal songs. But he’s still got the leather pants and that long poodle hair. When will DragonForce get tired of being an ironic sideshow? Fact is, it would be a formidable band if it put together songs that are more than thin gruel with fancy guitarwork on top. As it stands, it’s the fastest band in a wasteland, going nowhere.