ALBUM REVIEW – “Maximum Overload” by DragonForce

Much as DragonForce have suggested that their unexpectedly intrinsic presence in the Guitar Hero games stunted their career rather than propelled it, it’s hard to ignore the fact that since the franchise has ceased their stock has fallen dramatically. Having said that, the hugely underwhelming Ultra Beatdown album – the last with former vocalist ZP Theart – did them no favours at all, leading to many labelling them firmly as a one trick pony with some flashy guitar solos and little else to show. 2012’s ‘reboot’ record The Power Within, with new singer Marc Hudson in tow, hinted on a return to former glories and a renewed emphasis on songcraft. That resurrection continues on Maximum Overload, perhaps their best album in a decade.

Excitingly hinting at a more serious direction at various points, DragonForce have somewhat reined in their excesses and focused less on virtuosic wankery, more on actual riffs and coherent songs. Slashing twin guitars break out infections melodies on ‘No More’, while ‘Extraction Zone’ kicks off with a bona-fide menacing rhythm guitar part that feels fresh and exciting. Of course, there is still rapid-fire shredding and brain-melting soloing included as part of the package, but it compliments rather than dominates the songs this time around. Moreover, more pared down links featuring clean guitars and understated drum patterns add colour to tracks that could otherwise be an indistinct, monochromatic blur. Touches like this give songs like ‘Three Hammers’ an even more dramatic bent, and result in a far more accessible album for those new to the group’s souped-up take on power metal.

The least successful parts of Maximum Overload are those where the band refuse to abandon the tropes of their past. Opener and first single ‘The Game’ is an exciting taste of what’s to come, full of grounded urgency complimented by strong backing vocals from Matt Heafy. Then from out of nowhere comes a completely inappropriate major key chorus that thoroughly ruins the mood and undoes all the progression made evident. Retaining the spirit of DragonForce is no bad thing and is certainly achieved, but the more extreme elements of their typical sound clash badly with the more mature and down-to-earth techniques that they’re now drawing on, frequently resulting in an awkward compromise. Case in point is the final sequence – ‘City of Gold’ achieves all it sets out to in four minutes, rounding up things nicely in a perfectly judged closing song. Except it isn’t – that role falls to an over-the-top cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ that almost if not quite reaches parody level, and can’t help but feel a little bit silly.

Individual performances of each member remain excellent – Hudson now feels completely at home, while the skill of guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman is felt even more now that it’s crammed into smaller chunks of each song. But it’s when the group come together in a more cohesive fashion than ever before that Maximum Overload shines. In no way a complete abandonment of the excesses that characterise this unique band, it if anything feels limited by the need to include them at times. Make no mistake, this is the most relevant and interesting DragonForce album in a long time – but it feels too grounded in the past to represent the start of an entirely new journey to the top.

Rating: 7 / 10

Michael Bird

 

‘The Game’

 

DragonForce

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