Dragonforce - Twilight Dementia
Roadrunner Records
Power Metal
Disc 1: 7 songs (53 minutes) Disc 2: 6 songs (44 minutes)
Release year: 2010
Dragonforce, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Jake
Major event

Everybody's got an opinion about DragonForce, and everybody really wants to tell you about it. It's inevitable when a band achieves the level of popularity that DragonForce have enjoyed for most of their career, especially when a big part of that success is crossover support from outside the world of dedicated metalheads. If you've been in high school or college (or on YouTube) at any point during DF's reign—especially after the 2006 release of their hugely successful third album, Inhuman Rampage, which included what's become their signature song, Through the Fire and the Flames—chances are you've heard some short-haired Killers fan going on and on with his friends about how DragonForce write the most “epic” songs he's ever heard, and if you're like me, you quietly gritted your teeth and reminded yourself that these people had never heard of Angra, Helloween, Symphony X or any of the true masters of epic metal from whom DragonForce had so liberally borrowed. You've heard someone rant about how Herman Li and Sam Totman are the best and fastest guitarists in the world, but you have to remember—these kids have no idea who Jeff Hanneman, Michael Romeo, Trey Azagthoth, Glen Tipton or Alexi Laiho even are.

That's what breeds the animosity behind the DragonForce conversation: the band's fans just want to have a good time with fairy-tale lyrics and insanely fast shred guitar, but it's understandably hard for many seasoned metalheads not to be a little offended by their success, when we can name any number of bands and guitarists that essentially do the same thing (better, of course, since we're the arbiters of these things), most of whom aren't nearly as popular. It's a shame, too; DragonForce isn't a great band by a long shot, but they've got some decent songs, some damn good ones even, and a fun aesthetic that we could all just enjoy together if metalheads (myself definitely included) were better at getting the sticks out of our asses about this sort of thing. As it is, though, the band—especially Li and Totman—get so aggressively deified by one faction that the other jumps at any chance to tear them down. That's how you get things like the rumors that started circulating after the band's reportedly disastrous 2006 Inhuman Rampage Tour. The band members claim the poor quality of the shows was due to to faulty equipment and incompetent technicians, while witnesses have told tales, in person and all over the internet, of the band members showing up on stage embarrassingly drunk and generally seeming unable to duplicate their studio playing live. Some have gone as far as to suggest that the ultra-produced sheen of the albums' sound was evidence that DragonForce record their material at half-tempo, then speed up the tracks. It took DragonForce until this year to release a live album, but doing so probably seemed like a good idea: a chance to dispel those rumors in the minds of detractors who would never have come to an actual show. Unfortunately, Twilight Dementia doesn't do everything it needed to if it was going to vindicate the band as a live act.

Let's not be ridiculous; DragonForce can play their instruments. They can even play them well. The performances on TD aren't great, but at the very least they demonstrate the ability to get through the songs, at the tempos you've heard them, so you can stop now, internet. That said, the album is pretty lackluster. The big problem here is energy. Opening cut Heroes of Our Time sounds acceptably enthusiastic, but the guys seem to drain as the performance goes on, and by the time we close with Through the Fire and the Flames it couldn't sound less like anyone involved gives a shit. The worst offender throughout is vocalist ZP Theart—he goes through the motions, hitting the notes but mostly not even going for the warbling wail that's all-important in power metal, and it makes you wonder whether boredom played a role in his departure from the band shortly before TD's release. Another big issue has to do with the way Li and Totman play guitar. Without the heavy production of the albums, you can really see them for what they are—competent but unremarkable guitarists who simply know their way around the shredder's bag of tricks. What's more apparent on Twilight Dementia than it's ever been is just how much they rely on stunt finger-tapping to achieve their storied speed. There's nothing wrong with tapping as a technique or a tool, but Li and Totman depend on it to get through most of their speed runs, which robs them of the chance to use the attack of the pick to lend some variety and much-needed intensity to their sound; the sheer number of those speed runs also gets in the way, since string bends, vibrato and other ways to wring color out of extended notes are pretty much out of the picture. Take away the studio aids and the final product is a monotonous, upsettingly soft guitar sound that gets incredibly boring quite quickly. Add to that the poor sound mix—you can barely hear bassist Frederic Leclerq, drummer Dave Mackintosh and keytarist/keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov behind them—and you've got one dull hour-and-a-half of a record. Lest it sound like I'm simply trashing the album because I don't like the band, I should stress that fans won't get much out of TD either; the songs are played exactly as they are on the albums, but without the sound tweaks, and often forsaking vital rhythm guitar parts in favor of frankly unnecessary harmonies—it sounds like neither Li nor Totman likes the idea of giving up the lead long enough to provide the meat of the song.

So what have we learned? Well, the truth about the Inhuman Rampage Tour probably lies somewhere between the band's story and the rumors. Twilight Dementia doesn't show us a bunch of drunken incompetent hacks, but it does demonstrate why such a large portion of DragonForce's fanbase seems to be people who don't really like metal: the band know how to distill the most sensational elements of the genre, in their simplest form, but they either don't know how or don't care enough to infuse them with battle-ready passion—and it's that kind of passion, not the squeedly-meedly guitar parts, that's ultimately what metal's about.

Killing Songs :
Nothing that doesn't sound better in the studio.
Jake quoted no quote
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 - Ultra Beatdown reviewed by Ross and quoted 92 / 100
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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