Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dragonforce – Reaching Into Infinity

Since recruiting Marc Hudson as their new lead vocalist, Dragonforce has forged a path worthy of major respect. They were essentially left for dead by a considerable portion of their non-metal fanbase after the Guitar Hero fame died down, and they were coming off of a disappointing album. Despite losing a beloved singer, they found someone equally talented who wasn’t just a carbon copy of the band’s old singer. More importantly, however, they started writing good songs again. In general, the last two albums were more succinct, with only slight amounts of experimentation from the classic Dragonforce sound. Just as they began to settle into a comfortable spot, the band has released “Reaching Into Infinity”, which is probably their most diverse effort to date.

Make no mistake: this is a Dragonforce record. It is filled with high-energy tunes that rely on soaring choruses and excessive shredding. Consistent with the band’s last couple of records, they’ve abandoned the 3+ minute guitar sections in favour of something more palatable (though I’d be the first person to welcome back the old sound as well), but the guitar playing is still mind-boggling. Unlike a few of the licks on “Maximum Overload”, there is nothing on this album that feels like it may have been lifted from a previous record, which is a testament to the creativity of Herman Li and Sam Totman, given how many thousands of notes they shred on each album.

The unique element of “Reaching Into Infinity” is Hudson’s vocals. In general, he continues with his high-pitched melodic wailing, but there are several songs where he utilizes harsher vocals. This ranges from simply delivering clean singing in a more forceful way (both “Curse of Darkness” and “War!” display this well) to full on growling (“The Edge of the World” and the Death cover of “Evil Dead” being the two primary examples). The former is particularly compelling because it adds some slight variety without feeling like a drastic change in sound for the band. The more brutal vocals are executed to perfection, which is actually a bit of a surprise given that we’ve never heard them before from Marc on a Dragonforce record. Nevertheless, this is one of the few instances of a band doing both types of singing in a positive way.

This naturally leads us to “The Edge of the World”, which is the 11-minute epic on the record. Unlike the band’s previous longest effort (“Soldiers of the Wasteland”), this track doesn’t simply feel like an extended version of a normal song of theirs. Instead, it is split into two distinct parts: the first half, which is a more typical Dragonforce tune, and the latter half, which turns into a complete death/black metal song. Hudson’s aggressive vocals, combined with high-speed tremolo picking make for a very different sound from anything else on a Dragonforce record to date. This is a nice change of pace, but doesn’t actually rank amongst the record’s strongest efforts.

Highlights on “Reaching Into Infinity” are numerous, but are especially prominent at the beginning of the record. “Astral Empire” stands out for being by far the speediest number on the record. If your primary motivation for listening to this band is to get a kick of energy, this will undoubtedly be your favourite track. Both of the singles, “Judgement Day” and “Curse of Darkness”, stand out as having two of the stronger choruses. “Judgement Day” in particular has a huge sing-along section towards the end of the song. Even though it’s a bit slower than what the band might normally do, it is something they sound experienced at writing. The track also opens with a pop-like keyboard intro, which is very out of place on a metal record, but likely won’t bother you by the third or fourth listen.

Following these strong efforts is the ballad, “Silence”, which is a bit heavier than most of the band’s other more typical ballads. In fact, aside from the acoustic versions of “Seasons”, Dragonforce hasn’t done an old-school ballad (“Trail of Broken Hearts”, “Starfire”, etc.) with Hudson, so this song is yet another instance of him showing his diversity and range. After this point, however, the album takes a bit of an unfortunate turn.

Put simply, this is the longest Dragonforce album to date, and that means it is most susceptible to filler. Aside from the more extreme half of “The Edge of the World”, everything from track 7 onwards follows a similar power metal formula. There are slight deviations, such as the chorus of “Midnight Madness” where the guitars drop out, or the more assertive tune “War!”, but few of these tracks stand out as well as the first few efforts. Both of the Marc-era albums before this hovered around 50 minutes, and this one nearly cracks 70 with the two bonus tracks. None of these songs are bad at all, but they also don’t stand out the way a lot of the band’s stronger material does. All of “War!”, “Land of Shattered Dreams”, and especially both “Our Final Stand” and “Hatred and Revenge” could be cut with no ill effects. 

This leaves “Reaching Into Infinity” in a unique spot in Dragonforce’s catalogue. It has some of their strongest work for sure, but is also the weakest of the three albums since their rebirth. It also ranks above some of the weaker ZP era material (which absolutely was susceptible to having filler as well, particularly in the later years). As a major Dragonforce fan, it already has garnered plenty of listens, but the band would definitely be better served by cutting things a bit shorter next time. Nevertheless, this remains an essential purchase for all fans of high-flying power metal!

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"Judgement Day"
"Astral Empire"
"Curse of Darkness"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott

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