DRAGONFORCE
"Extreme Power Metal"

(Metal Blade)

01. Highway to Oblivion
02. Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shred Machine
03. The Last Dragonborn
04. Heart Demolition
05. Troopers of the Stars
06. Razorblade Meltdown
07. Strangers
08. In a Skyforged Dream
09. Remembrance Day
10. My Heart Will Go On

RATING: 8.5/10

It had to happen eventually. Tucked away at the end of "Extreme Power Metal", not so much as an afterthought as a mischievous sting in the tail, is an absolutely hysterical and very, very DRAGONFORCE version of Celine Dion's immortal "My Heart Will Go On". Played at the band's trademark top speed, it's over and done in just over three minutes and yet, within this explosion of knowing silliness and exuberant cheese lies the entire secret to this band's enduring appeal. While also confirming that DRAGONFORCE are having a fantastic time right now, "My Heart Will Go On" is a perfect fit for power metal's premiere velocity warriors. With those soaring melodies and its underlying, misty-eyed but uplifting sentiment, it's basically a DRAGONFORCE song anyway, albeit with fewer guitar solos and lyrics that actually make some vague sense.

In reality, novelty codas notwithstanding, the most interesting thing about "Extreme Power Metal" is the fact that it is so obviously and undeniably stronger than anything the band have released since 2006's "Inhuman Rampage". Not that the three albums DRAGONFORCE have made with vocalist Marc Hudson were in any way substandard, but where the likes of 2017's "Reaching into Infinity" ticked all the boxes without delivering any new information, their eighth full-length is instantly recognizable as DRAGONFORCE in real-time upgrade mode. From its preposterous but irresistible cover art to the record's title, this feels like some kind of bold but cheeky statement of intent: a goofily futuristic re-setting and reassertion of values, both musical and aesthetic.

But maybe that's analyzing DRAGONFORCE a bit too much. What really matters is whether these songs (a) tear your face off and use it as a frisbee, and (b) make you grin like you're being fellated on a rollercoaster. There were plenty of songs on this album's immediate predecessors that fit that bill, but the unconfined joy and metallic braggadocio were never quite sustained for an entire record. The great news about "Extreme Power Metal" is that it hangs together like metal records should, flowing seamlessly from the explosive kick-off of "Highway to Oblivion" to the teary grandeur of "Remembrance Day", delivering a steady stream of intense melodic thrills along the way. With countless bombastic crescendos, (very occasional) moments of elegant restraint and enough synapse-tweaking fret gymnastics to satisfy even the most ardent shredhead, this is clearly not a radical departure. It's just that DRAGONFORCE haven't touched upon these levels of mad-eyed intensity since the glory days of "Through the Fire and Flames" and they haven't really ever produced such characterful, dynamic songs before. Even more mid-paced material like "The Last Dragonborn" and "Strangers", once an anomaly but now an essential part of the band's armory, feels punchier and more muscular than past efforts. Hudson has never sounded better, either: still an unsung hero to a great extent, he thoroughly deserves to be hailed as one of power metal's most distinctive singers, with a towering performance (wild multi-part harmonies included) on the crystal-meth-AOR of "Heart Demolition" providing particularly compelling evidence.

If you've never enjoyed DRAGONFORCE before, there is nothing here that will change your mind, but for the rest of us, new anthems like "Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shred Machine" and "Troopers of the Stars" will be as instantly addictive as anything in their creators' now substantial canon. Easily the band's heaviest record yet, it's also impressively diverse by modern power metal standards. And yes, as the blastbeats at the start of the subtly blackened "Troopers of the Stars" and the pummeling gallop of "In a Skyforged Dream" confirm, this is definitely extreme power metal, with balls the size of Jupiter and melody delivered like a dropkick to the jaw.

Throw in that Celine Dion cover as a truly inspired bonus and it's hard to imagine how any metalhead could come away from "Extreme Power Metal" without feeling considerably better about life in general. The force is with us. Enjoy it.

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