Dragonland - Under The Grey Banner
AFM Records
Symphonic Power Metal
12 songs (55'55)
Release year: 2011
Dragonland, AFM Records
Reviewed by Chris
Album of the Year V2

For those who knows me a little, they know I'm a huge fan of this band. I wasn't sure where the band was going with either Starfall and Astronomy (best of the two), but one thing is sure : the direction of Under The Grey Banner is clear ! Could this be the best Dragonland release ever ? You bet it is !

One thing that was clear from the previous album, was the production values added to the Dragonland sound, some moments were pure Hollywoodian soundtrack and dare I say a pinch of genius too ! So, when I learned that the new album would pick up and continue where Holy War ended, I was ecstatic, but also concerned that the band had changed their sound to much to pull it off. Boy was I wrong ! Under the Grey Banner is actually the concluding album of the trilogy that started with the first two albums, Battle of the Ivory Plains and Holy War (until now my favorite record of the band and one of my all-time Speed / Power Metal album). I tell you right now : This third Dragonland Chronicles might have it all ! Epic fantasy mixed with orchestrations that makes it sound like a soundtrack for a Lord of the Rings like blockbuster. It takes some of the best of old Dragonland and ingeniously mixes it with the best Astronomy had to offer. On the vocals side, Dragonland offers us their best album yet, while I still think some of the best vocal melodies are found on Holy War, the quality is better here, there is no doubt Jonas Heidgert as become a better vocalist with each new album, and he is showing us the progress here once more, bravo Jonas ! I've listened to the album a good ten times to make sure that my first impression wasn't just fanboyism for one of my favorite bands, and while it grabbed me (by the freaking balls) from the first listen, I'm happy to report that the album is as good if not better with each replays. And replays it will get, for a long long time ! Maybe those operatic / symphonic intros, reminding me of the work of Hollywoodian score master Hans Zimmer (It is clear the band has to like him, on Fire and Brimstone first few seconds, as well as the intro track, as well as other moments in the album really breathes Hans Zimmer in my opinion, but in a good way, inspired, never copied), mixed with strong, perfectly produced Power Metal (Jacob Hansen, you're the man !!) is a sweet pleasure I intend to enjoy for years to come. Guitars are melodic and powerful, alternating strong riffing and majestic melodies. This album feels as much a concept and as operatic as Avantasia's first two releases, and I must applaud the band for managing such a tour-de-force ! They managed to come back to their roots in terms of general feeling while updating the sound to a new level. I must insist on how good everything sounds, there is no overproduction here, everything is mixed perfectly to deliver one of the best epic fantasy metal sound you have heard to this day. The female vocals on a few songs are up to the task, it's nice to finally hear an absolutely great female singer that really adds value to the song. The other vocals, almost baritone like low vocal lines here and there, as well as the few grawls and the other minor roles (all three Amaranthe's vocalist have some lines here and there), add to the variety that awaits you on your journey of discovery of Under the Grey Banner. And what a journey this is, varied, mixing the speed and pound of old with the new, more progressive side the band displayed with Astronomy, and somehow, this crossover is where Dragonland's true sound belongs, right there in the middle ! Delivering fast and furious with more mid-tempos, a more complex song-writing and a bombastic sound with an operatic twist that will literally transport you to the realms of Dragonland, right into the heart of the battle, like very few albums can ! I feel like I'm part of the quests and battles when I listen to the album, and the only other album that was bringing me this feeling was Holy War, and now it's been updated with a sound and production that brings this feeling to new heights.

I get the feeling that I could write for hours and detail every song but that would be robbing the listeners from the surprise that awaits them. So let's get to the point, if you like Power Metal in general, and if you like Epic bands (think Rhapsody for the hollywoodian twists, or Blind Guardian for the taste of Fantasy), like concept albums and wish Avantasia had released a third metal opera (in the same veins as the first two that is), then you gotta love Dragonland's last offering, Under the Grey Banner. This album is a thrill ride of pure epicness from beginning to end. I used to think the band would never top Holy War, but after the deflagration that this album is, I can barely listen to it anymore. Don't get me wrong, Holy War is a grandiose album, but once you have tasted such accomplished song-writing, absolutely perfect production that brings every little detail in the sound to bloom for a balance between classical score and power metal never attained before in my opinion. I did try, putting Holy War right after this album, it had lost so much of it's flavor, simply because it sounded so empty compared to its new sibling and bombastic conclusion. Dragonland were once a challenger band, that must have had a niche fanbase, but today they deliver an album that stands tall in this category, showing the big names in the genre that there is a new contender for the crown of Symphonic / Hollywoodian Metal. If only Dragonland could re-record the first two albums with this level of production, that would be something !! I had long abandonned this category truth be told, Rhapsody of Fire had me bored since their third or fourth album, never catching my attention for more than 1-2 listens to their albums until they went to collect dust in a collection that has no place for them I guess. Dragonland's new masterpiece is one of the best, if not the best Power Metal release of 2011 for me. I bow to Dragonland and their amazing conclusion to the dragonland chronicles trilogy. (The album of the year of course applies to 2011).

Killing Songs :
Absolutely all of them !
Chris quoted 96 / 100
Other albums by Dragonland that we have reviewed:
Dragonland - Astronomy reviewed by Andrew and quoted 99 / 100
Dragonland - Starfall reviewed by Marty and quoted 79 / 100
Dragonland - Holy War reviewed by Chris and quoted 92 / 100
Dragonland - The Battle Of The Ivory Plains reviewed by Chris and quoted 88 / 100
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