Title: Reaching Into Infinity
Genre: Power Metal/Speed Metal
Release Date: May 19, 2017
Length: 61 min.
Label: earMUSIC/Metal Blade Records
Producer: Jens Bogren
Personnel: Marc Hudson (lead and backing vocals), Herman Li (guitars, backing vocals), Sam Totman (guitars, backing vocals), Frédéric Leclercq (bass, backing vocals, lead guitar), Vadim Pruzhanov (keyboards, piano, backing vocals), Gee Anzalone (drums, backing vocals), Clive Nolan (backing vocals), Emily Alice Ovenden (backing vocals), André Alvinzi (keyboards)
Most people know DragonForce from the 2007 Guitar Hero, where their song “Through the Fire and Flames” became legendary. That is the DragonForce song that hooked me as a teen, but I didn’t hear it from Guitar Hero. A random person who knew I played guitar recommended “Through the Fire and Flames” to me, and this led to my first real entry into the metal music world and my first realization of what skilled metal can contain, more than just aggression. However, if you’re not really along for DragonForce’s ride, you will probably get bored listening to this new album, or any album, of theirs.
Sometimes DragonForce is hard to take seriously. This British band plays an extreme version of European power metal with a ton of speed metal forcefully mixed in. They are super fast, but also cheesy as heck. Like other European bands (Battle Beast, a personal favorite, comes immediately to mind), DragonForce is most obsessed with ’80s power metal. Yet, over the years, DragonForce has accrued other influences as well, including power pop, thrash metal, and technical death metal. Even so, they’ve always remained super fun and never taken themselves too seriously, despite getting more and more technically proficient. They’ve gradually made themselves into a worthy metal force.
DragonForce is at their best creating a larger-than-life, epic, good time. They’re great at crafting catchy choruses, and they’re extremely talented instrumentalists. The band has an intense love for alternating guitar solos like no other, and they have an emphasis on defined, speedy drums as well, all behind Hudson’s soaring lead vocals. The bass is, unfortunately, sacrificed some, though Leclercq’s work is solid, helping the hammering drums from newcomer Anzalone provide an essential backbone and foundation.
One thing that is both a positive and a negative for DragonForce on an album, and this one is no exception, is that their main focus is super fast timing, with guitars going at breakneck speeds, as fast as humanly possible, to the point where you feel that at any moment the entire band is going to fall onto the floor and tangle up in a twisted, metal mess. It’s a madhouse! The guitars and drums are going as fast as possible, the guitars are very prominent, the guitarists are trading solos back and forth, and there is all this crazy fretwork going on. Behind the main verses and choruses of the songs are fast-footed rhythms. Awesome as this may be, the issue comes in with the fact that, as you go throughout the runtime of the album, this craziness can, honestly, become a bit boring.
DragonForce, contemplating the meanings of life, the universe, and cheesy power metal
Reaching Into Infinity does break up the speed a little on Reaching Into Infinity, with some occasional moves toward greater heft and slowing down just a little, in a good way. There are also a few cool breakdowns that everyone in the band joins in on and even a fantastic bass solo. In addition, there are a couple songs with beautifully interwoven acoustic guitar. Hudson’s vocals are at their most aggressive here, too, even getting growly at points. Still, the boys in the band have a tough time reigning in their insane solos, vocals, sci-fi/fantasy lyrics, and song lengths. And the whole affair starts to get back to the same-same after a while. Regardless, Reaching Into Infinity does attempt to trim the fat, and DragonForce deserves points for that.
The songs themselves, the lyrics and the vocals, are like something straight out of ’80s power metal. Surprisingly, there’s some ’80s progressive metal and rock in there, as well. There are some Europe-y sounds. There are a lot of synths. You’ve got a Kansas influence going on, especially in the vocal performances. You’re going to hear some Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Dio, and Malmsteen, too. The two most unexpected influences I caught, however, were Dream Theater and Death. Maybe I should go back through the DragonForce discography, but I don’t remember catching on to those sounds before.
We’re likely seeing this diversification of the DragonForce sound because the album was primarily composed by Leclercq and Totman, and Leclercq told The Classic Metal Show that he likes early heavy metal, thrash, death, black, and prog stuff more than he does power material. There might also be some hints of Leclercq’s side band, Sinsaenum, which plays mostly blackened death metal. Beyond that, Totman has admitted to a direct Iron Maiden guidance in the past.
I won’t go track-by-track, but I will mention a few moments that stood out to me. The intro to “Judgement Day” sounds much like the synth from a modern dubstep-influenced pop or rock single, and it more or less works. There’s actually a great ballad here in “The Edge of the World,” which – unlike many of DragonForce’s earlier ballads – is powerful and not too saccharine. It even has a measure of variance and skill and a well-written chorus, presenting a legitimate case for the ballad’s presence. Death metal’s sudden appearance comes on the same song, as well, with a direct homage to Death. It’s weird and out of place, but otherwise pretty decent. There is a song in the latter half of the album, “War!,” that sounds like DragonForce bringing in some thrash influences, specifically vocals that sound like they’re influenced by Tom Arya, guitar work that could have been done by Dave Mustaine, and an Anthrax style breakdown. It’s awesome to hear in a DragonForce song, and “War!” also has an unusual heaviness to it.
I’m going to give DragonForce’s Reaching Into Infinity a 78%.
My favorite tracks are “Judgement Day,” “Astral Empire,” “Silence,” “War!,” “Land of Shattered Dreams,” and “The Edge of the World.” Just prepare yourself for sensory overload and a wonderment at how DragonForce can truly play that fast. Thanks to DragonForce’s desire to branch out and Bogren’s steady producer’s hand (Bogren also produced 2017’s excellent releases from Sepultura and Kreator), DragonForce has come a long way from Valley of the Damned, Guitar Hero, and being little more than a technically proficient joke band.