Friday, September 14, 2012

Dragonforce - The Power Within (2012)

It seems as though Dragonforce have been listening to the voices of the people. Unfortunately, the loudest and most penetrating of these seem to have been the detractors, as The Power Within, in an attempt to appease the jaded rockers who likely wouldn’t like them in any event, have decided to sacrifice any semblance of individuality in a quest of acceptance. Now, to be fair, I’d been getting a bit tired of their spastic plastic fantastic formula following the release of Ultra Beatdown, but it still contained plenty of reason to love the band. Essentially, this boils down to the solos, generally 3-4 minutes of twiddle-tastic insanity that set the band apart from the hordes of samey, ho-hum happy-rainbow power metal bands the world over. In the old days (on the excellent Valley of the Damned and Sonic Firestorm), when the band was exciting and fresh, the choruses were also a huge draw, but the bands actual songwriting of late has declined into predictable fluff. Still, gotta love that insane guitar work. Hell, that aspect alone made Inhuman Rampage a smashing success.

Well, The Power Within has sacrificed the last interesting aspect in the world of Dragonforce, fully embracing the genre average 4-5 minute song length, likely in an attempt to reinvent themselves in the eyes of a metal world that insists they are growing stale. The monumentally fantastic solos are gone. Just up and vanished, along with long time singer ZP Theart. I always liked the guy, but oh well. Marc Hudson is certainly acceptable as a replacement, even if he lacks a distinct personality, but his contribution here is really of minor consequence in the long run, as his performance is crippled by the insincerity of the music, and its awful, awful lyrics. It’s puzzling to write that, since we all know Dragonforce have never been poet laureates, but they aren’t even trying anymore. Perhaps it is Hudson, as there is certainly a lack of conviction in his delivery. More likely, though, it’s a combination, a band attempting to bring back the magic of its glory days without the essential burning spirit to do so. The entire package feels like a third rate caricature of what the band can do, and has done, spiritually akin to the brand new failure from the mighty Ensiferum, though that’s a bit unfair to them, in truth. It’s quite disheartening, as the band can still clearly not suck, if only they so desired. There’s a huge amount of talent here, but it’s completely wasted on this fluffy, generic swill.

To be blunt, this is perhaps the most middling album I’ve heard all year, and a completely unacceptable release from a group as admittedly capable as Dragonforce. With the absolute dirth of guitar bridge creativity, the songs must now stand completely on the strength of their verses and choruses, and the supporting riffs. I will concede that there are some delicious leads and short solos to be found, scattered along the way, but in the face of this unbridled, sparkly mediocrity, they do little to dissuade my resignation. My complaint is quite simple, really: I find these songs to be unrepentantly boring, flowery and sugary to the max, and completely lacking the cheese-addled power of yesteryear. The choruses are not glorious or uplifting, at least not in a way I can relate to, being older than 12, and the verses lack any legitimate creativity or passion. And again, those lyrics… ugh. Holding On could be the new Pokemon theme song and I wouldn’t bat a fucking eye.

Honestly, I’m not a dick, I promise. Ok, maybe I am, but I don’t feel like I’m asking for much here. I really don’t require a lot to enjoy Dragonforce. Even with the disappearance of the glorious, heart-warming choruses that were so mightily prevalent on the first few records, I was satisfied with bombastic guitar heroics, but now those have been removed. This is not a reinvention, or a reaffirmation, despite what the puzzlingly positive fan response The Power Within has gotten. What it is, is one of those hollow, chocolate Easter bunnies: A mere sugary shell of a once-potent concept, perhaps mildly tasty at first, but wholly unfulfilling, and even a bit sickening, at length. I realize I’m usually far more descriptive concerning musical passages, but there is almost nothing to say about this album, so devoid is it of anything substantial. Despite (or perhaps because of) how obviously tailored these songs are to be as concise and catchy as possible, they feel devoid of any feeling, not dissimilar to the local pop music flavor of the week. Sugary, infectious, happy chorus, melodic lead, short solo, sappy child-anime lyrics, rinse, repeat, and gag once for the drowning, gurgling concepts of art and innovation. This is power metal for 5 year olds, Blind Guardian distilled by the diabetes-inducing likes of My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite. The Power Within is the audible equivalent of fluffing up your pink unicorn pillow. Baby’s First Gamma Ray! Whereas once I was proud and elated to gorge upon this heaping treasure of dragon cheese, the stores have spoiled past recognition, leaving naught but a solitary dribble of Keebler jizz. For the love of metal, avoid this stomach-churning travesty.

3 / 10 - Oh Please, You, Like, Sneeze Glitter...