If you're big on impassioned warbling, fluttering keyboards and perma-galloping rhythms, the question is why go for DRAGONFORCE's second album specifically? Can it bring fresh joys to your record collection? The answer is, well, yes, although not — in the spirit of this breed of dramatic metal — a resounding yes to be trumpeted from the rooftops.
As bands go, the London-based sextet are hugely multinational (hailing from Hong Kong, South Africa, the Ukraine and indeed England), but they might as well be all- Italian or Finnish. Because "Sonic Firestorm" is RHAPSODY, LABYRINTH, STRATOVARIUS and all that jazz, albeit played with their own discernibly feisty spirit.
For the opening three tracks here, DRAGONFORCE manage to bundle such comparisons to the back of your conscience and let their quality do the talking. The seven-minutes-fifty-three opening track "My Spirit Will Go On" (mp3) is pure melodic honey in the speed metal sense, with some very cool and lofty keyboard duelling at the midway point and prominent verse/chorus harmonies from vocalist Z.P. Teart. Follow-on "Fury Of The Storm" seems to spark off guitar fireworks of an even more audacious nature, and immediately after there's "Fields Of Despair", which is in simple terms an amalgamation of the previous two. So far, so good, so epic.
Then it's all brought crashing rudely back down to earth by that which riddles the corpses of so many albums across the rock/metal spectrum: the ill-advised power ballad. Admittedly there have been some passable ones down the years, but DRAGONFORCE's "Dawn Over A New World" is far from being one of them. In the softer mid-range Theart's voice is as bland as cardboard, and the wistful piano behind him as grey as a Siberian winter.
They do pick up the reins again with the flashy "Soldiers Of The Wasteland" (another keyboard-thrashing flash of speed), to name but one, but none of what follows is quite up to the mark of the galloping pre-ballad tracks. That they again throw in yet another soupy ballad just before the end ("Prepare For War") almost throws a pail of water on the band at their rampant best.
Clearly DRAGONFORCE are leagues above some of the squealing dross that lurks in the lower reaches of the melodic power metal scene. But they could do no worse than lay off the soft stuff.