Dragonforce - Ultra Beatdown
Roadrunner Records
Epic / Melodic Speed Power Metal
8 songs (58:11)
Release year: 0
Dragonforce, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Ross
Album of the month
When I first heard that Dragonforce were going to call their fourth album Ultra Beatdown I had a bit of a WTF moment. I was thinking “Beatdown – does that mean they’re gonna slow it down?”, then it was “Are they going to venture into the realms of new age electronica?”, especially after I’d seen the futuristic looking album cover. So with some trepidation I loaded the promo that had just arrived into my player, pressed play and stood back. WooHoo!! All my weird thoughts were dispelled after a couple of bars into album opener Heroes Of Our Time.

Twin guitar shredding mayhem from Sam Totman and Herman Li is, as always, the core of Dragonforce sound. The familiar song structure is still there. Sam explained it to me couple of years ago when I covered one of their gigs, it’s something like – Intro, verse, bridge, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, verse, pre solo, solo, chorus, verse, chorus, outro – or something like that. That’s why the majority of Dragonforce songs are around the six to seven minute range. Their trademark duelling solos are as mind-blowing as ever and trying to figure out who’s playing when is a bit harder on this album as Sam appears to be making more use of the whammy bar, but you can still tell when Herman’s on when the really strange sounds kick in. For all you guitarist types, he also has a new toy in his arsenal, the ‘Source Audio Hot Hand’; personally, I think it’s witchcraft! You can check out the video for Heroes Of Our Time at My Space Videos.

The popular misconception, usually held by people who’ve only heard a couple of their songs, is that Dragonforce songs are all about the speed. This is a load of bollocks; speed is only part of their songs. Granted, the first thing that hits you is the velocity of everything assaulting your ears, but once you get past that you’ll discover how melodic the songs are. And it’s the melodic quality of the songs that gives them their ‘Catchiness’, for want of a better word. That and the anthemic choruses that get stuck in your head for days after you hear them. Also, the songs in Ultra Beatdown seem to have less of that ‘Mad-dash-to-the-finishing-line’ feel, the speed seems more controlled, not so keep up or get out the fucking way. Probably the best example of this new speed control can be heard in the track Reasons To Live, in particular the solo which although still extremely technical, with a boatload of guitar widdly-wankery, is rather mellow by Dragonforce standards. Heartbreak Armageddon also has a mellow slow solo part but is offset immediately by what’s probably the fastest shredding on the album.

Keeping everything all tightly packaged is Dave Mackintosh, the ‘Drumming Dynamo’. I think it has something to do with a drummer’s height, or lack thereof, that determines their playing ability; something to do with centre of gravity or height to weight ratio physics equation? Anyways, Dave is quite a compact chap which must account for the speed he attacks the kit. His footwork is just phenomenal and the speed he rattles off some of his wicked drum patterns, well, more witchcraft I say. Also, what I’ve noticed on recent live pics of the band, Dave appears to be playing a regular Tama acoustic drum-kit as opposed to the Pintech electronic kit he used to beat the shit out of. To be honest, even though he had the electric kit set up to near perfection, I prefer the more natural sounding Tama. Yes, I know he still uses triggers for the double kicks, but you still get just enough of the natural acoustic sound bleeding through to make your lungs vibrate. Helping keep the beat is relative newbie Frédéric Leclercq (Maladaptive), who replaced Adrian (Jesus) Lambert, on bass guitar. Although Fred has been with Dragonforce since late 2005 / early 2006 this is his first album with the band (Adrian had already recorded bass for Inhuman Rampage and it was well into the mixing and mastering stage before he left.)

Something else Dragonforece fans might notice in Ultra Beatdown is keyboarder Vadim Pruzhanov lets loose more often than in previous albums. Sometimes it’s a bit like a pinball machine but other times he shows what’s been hiding behind all the guitar widdley-wankery and only ever put on show at their live gigs. This is all related to the more paced style of the album and can be best heard on the track Inside The Winter Storm. And, of course, ZP Theart once again displays a voice that could be specifically designed for Dragonforce’s brand of Epic / Power Metal. His delivery of the album ballad A Flame For Freedom is just astounding. There’s one thing I’m sure nobody can deny, Dragonforce can write some awesome ballads; there may only be one on each album but by Satan each one is a definite stand out track. There always seems to be one member of Dragonforce that gets overlooked – Karl Groom. He is to Dragonforce what Jim Morris is to Iced Earth, him and Thin Ice Studios are all part and parcel of the Dragonforce sound. He has been as much a part of the band in the studio as any other full member and it’s his hands on the knobs and faders that turns each Dragonforce album from a great album to a fucking brilliant one!

If you are not a fan of the band or think they’re just a band that play fast then I very much doubt there will be anything in Ultra Beatdown that’s gonna change your mind anytime soon. However, the less po-faced of us with still a functioning sense of humour will be grabbing our air guitars and falling off the back of the sofa while playing along to it cranked up to 11! A few years ago, in another life, I reviewed Valley Of The Damned, and at the time said they had raised the bar beyond the reach of many of the other Symphonic / Epic / Hollywood Power Metal bands. Now, after listening to Ultra Beatdown I’d stick my neck out and say that Dragonforce are out there on their own, way beyond the reach of any other band in this genre of Metal music! And any band that uses a trampoline in their stage performance definitely get my vote. And if any of you are still reading and haven’t gagged yet; yes I admit to being a Dragonforce fan and proud of it!
Killing Songs :
All of 'em
Ross quoted 92 / 100
Other albums by Dragonforce that we have reviewed:
Dragonforce - Maximum Overload reviewed by Kyle and quoted 84 / 100
Dragonforce - The Power Within reviewed by Chris and quoted 85 / 100
Dragonforce - Twilight Dementia reviewed by Jake and quoted no quote
Dragonforce - Inhuman Rampage reviewed by Mike and quoted 94 / 100
Dragonforce - Sonic Firestorm reviewed by Mike and quoted 93 / 100
To see all 7 reviews click here
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