Despite having been around for almost two decades now, DRAGONFORCE are a still a band that to many can represent their genre at either its gloriously silly highest or most laughable lows, depending on perspective. Still arguably best known for their smash-hit Through The Fire And Flames some ten years ago thanks to a Guitar Hero series inclusion, the British-based power metallers have since survived that initial explosion of popularity, as well as a change of vocalists in 2010 and have gone on to continue a highly commendable career, now finding themselves at the cusp of releasing their seventh studio album, Reaching Into Infinity.
As the record begins with an title-track introduction, you’d almost be forgiven for wondering if the band had changed style altogether, as cascading synths give way to a soaring yet simple melodic guitar line reminiscent of Steve Vai, however this lasts barely over a minute and it’s soon business as usual for the London sextet. Opener proper Ashes Of The Dawn begins with an almost-orchestral build before kicking off into the signature DRAGONFORCE breakneck gallop, provided for the first time on record by drummer Gee Anzalone. Vocalist Marc Hudson instantly gives one of his strongest performances with the band to date here, effortlessly hitting high-note peaks the likes of which formed the cornerstone of the DRAGONFORCE sound, and proving the versatility of his vocal register.
Judgement Day meanwhile, is textbook DRAGONFORCE pomp and excess – packing a building-sized chorus and yet more blisteringly quick guitar riffs in a package that seems to hark back slightly more to their Ultra Beatdown era songs, particularly with the powerful choral outro. It’s also a platform for guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman to deliver some of their most impressive solos – seeming to trade back and forth in a playful manner that really shows their skill levels at their peak.
This mastery of craft is perhaps the strongest underlying theme throughout Reaching Into Infinity, as each DRAGONFORCE member gets their moment to shine across the record’s eleven tracks. Li and Totman’s guitar work is excellent throughout the entirety of the album, locking in perfectly with the machine-gun pace of Anzalone and bassist Frédéric Leclercq as seemingly every member fires on all cylinders for the majority of the album’s hour-long runtime. The latter shines perhaps most brightly during early track Astral Empire, getting to show off in an all too brief bass solo that stays the right side of showing off, whilst perfectly displaying Leclercq’s playing at its strongest and most impactful.
Of course, this being a DRAGONFORCE album, it’s somewhat surprising just how much of a change of pace comes with Silence as the album gets into the second half. Of course, the band have released ballads before, and tracks like Wings Of Liberty from 2012’s The Power Within have featured brief moments of Hudson taking the lead in such styles, but never to the extent seen here. Silence is for the most part, sees the vocalist crooning on top of a simple clean guitar background that’s catchy enough, whilst remaining far back in the mix enough to allow Hudson to become the track’s focal point. Naturally, this doesn’t last for too long though, and the powerful chorus brings back Li and Totman’s soaring guitars for a crescendo that brings to mind 80’s classic rock behemoths like JOURNEY more so than any power metal influences.
Overall, it seems that Reaching Into Infinity features significantly more experimentation across its runtime than with the band’s last few releases. One such example is WAR!, which sees the band delve into a far heavier guitar tone whilst maintaining their signature speed. Hudson’s vocals here become almost barked here, whilst keyboard player Vadim Pruzhanov gets to run wild with a series of retro-sounding sounding synth runs that almost rival Li and Totman for sheer extravagance.
Land of Shattered Dreams meanwhile, simply sounds tailor made for live shows – managing to meld all of the elements that make DRAGONFORCE great into one five minute long run. Containing maybe one of the album’s best choruses, it’s a track that brings to mind some of the band’s classic staples, with lyrics about freedom, yet more pacey guitar solos and backing harmonies that sound like a call to arms. If anything, this is one that might have been better-served running slightly longer, such is the level of fun this track brings. Whilst much of Reaching Into Infinity seems to continue the band’s recent trend of slightly less lengthy songs, penultimate track The Edge of the World throws all of that away – instead opting for just over eleven minutes worth of multi-faceted songwriting that might well be the band’s most impressive achievement to date. Managing to encompass balladry, power metal and even some harsher growled vocals, the track feels like a true journey throughout and is easily the most intriguing moment of the whole album.
Things come to a close with the aptly-named Our Final Stand, which sees the band basically going at full-speed as usual, before suddenly breaking off to bring Hudson back to the forefront, and then returning once again to the gallop. It’s a fleeting moment, but one that serves to prove DRAGONFORCE have developed a real variance in their songwriting over the last few years, and are willing to experiment more and more than with previous records.
On the whole, Reaching Into Infinity is not quite a revolutionary album, however it is easily DRAGONFORCE‘s strongest album with Hudson to date. Almost every track has memorable moments and it’s difficult not to recommend the record to anyone with even a fleeting interest in power metal. If the album title is anything to go by, DRAGONFORCE are looking to step up once more with this new release, and at this point there’s no reason to suggest why that can’t be possible.
Reaching Into Infinity is set for release on May 19th via EarMUSIC.
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