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Dragonforce - "Ultra Beatdown" (CD)

Dragonforce - "Ultra Beatdown" CD cover image

"Ultra Beatdown" track listing:

1. Heroes Of Our Time (7:15)
2. The Fire Still Burns (7:52)
3. Reasons To Live (6:25)
4. Heartbreak Armageddon (7:42)
5. The Last Journey Home (8:15)
6. A Flame For Freedom (5:20)
7. Inside The Winter Storm (8:11)
8. The Warrior’s Side (7:14)

Reviewed by on January 17, 2009

"Each track on 'Ultra Beatdown' is like listening to a separate symphony, with crescendos and decrescendos, vocals that sound like one of the finest European choirs, and a constantly changing tempo."

DragonForce achieved virtual overnight success thanks to Guitar Hero’s feature of their epic ballad “Through the Fire and Flames.” Their newest album, “Ultra Beatdown,” pays homage to the video game industry with a few Mario-inspired synthesizers, while maintaining their signature furious guitar riffs, frantic drumbeats and clean vocals.

Studies have been done that claim metal fans have a lot in common with listeners of classical music. DragonForce serves as a prime example of how some of the elements of classical music can be utilized and transformed into a sound that is at the heart of heavy metal. Each track on “Ultra Beatdown” is like listening to a separate symphony, with crescendos and decrescendos, vocals that sound like one of the finest European choirs, and a constantly changing tempo.

“Heartbreak Armageddon” is the best example of the band’s varied style. The track is rare in that it opens with vocals, the instruments serving as backup rather than the focal point. It then transitions seamlessly into a heartbreaking guitar solo that is much slower than their usual fare, before speeding up into a more traditional thrash style rhythm.

This blending of musical elements is also highlighted in “Heroes Of Our Time,” which opens with a thrashing, ultra fast guitar and precise, melodic vocals and keyboards. Keyboards are also focused in “The Warrior Inside,” which begins with a video game sound the band has been criticized for, before evolving into a classic monster ballad. Another great ballad on the album is “A Flame For Freedom,” which at a little over 5 minutes, is notably shorter than the standard DragonForce tune. Journey fans should appreciate this track, which crescendos into an ending that sounds like an early 80’s rock anthem.

Synthesizers play a big role in DragonForce’s music. In “The Fire Still Burns,” the listener can almost visualize the pyrotechnics during the synthesizer solo. “Reasons To Live” opens with space age synthesizers with a definite video game sound, but the melody helps redeem the track with a tune that begs for listeners to sing along. A hint of gaming can also be heard on “The Last Journey Home,” although to its credit there is also a brief Celtic guitar riff noted.

What DragonForce has become famous for is their speed. “Heroes Of Our Time,” “The Fire Still Burns,” and “Inside The Winter Storm” all feature ultra fast speed and frantic shreds. In fact, the drumbeat in “The Fire Still Burns” is almost too fast for the vocals to keep pace. Fans of “Through The Fire And Flames” will love “Inside The Winter Storm.” This piece is very reminiscent of the Guitar Hero hit, but with harder transitions.

DragonForce has hit the mark with “Ultra Beatdown,” managing to blend a variety of musical elements and styles without sounding like anyone else. Criticism of a video game quality to “Ultra Beatdown” may be legitimate, but the band’s hopefully subconscious attempt to pay tribute to the industry that made them a success is warranted.

Highs: Thrashing guitar riffs and vocals that can only be called beautiful.

Lows: Space age and video game inspired synthesizers.

Bottom line: A solid album that fans of monster ballads and power metal will enjoy.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)