It can be hard to know whether to take DragonForce seriously. The songs on the British power-metal-throwback band’s fourth album, Ultra Beatdown, mostly push the seven- or eight-minute mark, and have titles like “A Flame for Freedom” and “Inside the Winter Storm.” Guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman give Yngwie Malmsteen a run for his money when it comes to speed and intricacy, and aside from the occasional flourish that sounds like something from a video-game soundtrack, Ultra Beatdown is a dead ringer for an album released in 1983.
As opposed to, say, The Darkness, DragonForce aren’t mocking the classic, bombastic metal influences like Helloween and Manowar that they cop from here, but there’s never an oppressive seriousness on display, either. The songs, which essentially all sound the same, are tight, melodic and upbeat. Lyrics like “Rise through the lost ages, hope they will bring/Free forever more, and the dream will never die” make for a perfect soundtrack to vanquishing bad guys on your Xbox.
DragonForce may in fact be the first band of the Guitar Hero age; their breakthrough hit “Through the Fire and Flames” came to prominence through its inclusion in the game, and their extreme technical proficiency recalls the complex button-pushing of game-playing. Like video games, DragonForce’s music may be a little schematic, but it’s a surefire way to get your blood pumping, and perhaps even cause some new synapses to start firing in your brain.
The bottom line: ***