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Dragonforce - "Valley of the Damned (reissue)" (CD)

Dragonforce - "Valley of the Damned (reissue)" CD cover image

"Valley of the Damned (reissue)" track listing:

1. Invocation of Apocalyptic Evil (0:13)
2. Valley of the Damned (6:55)
3. Black Fire (5:46)
4. Black Winter Night (6:19)
5. Starfire (5:44)
6. Disciples of Babylon (7:06)
7. Revelations (6:57)
8. Evening Star (6:39)
9. Heart of a Dragon (5:26)

Reviewed by on April 24, 2010

"DragonForce took a brave new step for traditional metal - something that hadn't been done to the tried and true formula since the 80s bands like Helloween took what Priest invented and turned it to 11."

"Valley of the Damned" comes from a place in time when DragonForce took their first steps away from the demo band that was the previous incarnation named "Dragon Heart." Much more interesting however is that, way back in that year of 2003, it was an album lauded by power metal fans on its release long before Guitar Hero, infantile allegations about live youtube videos or running a songwriting formula into the ground. While the rest of the planet seemed intent on filling it's ears with fusion genres, DragonForce took a brave new step for traditional metal - something that hadn't been done to the tried and true formula since the 80s bands like Helloween took what Priest invented and turned it to 11.

This review is of the super remixed and remastered reissue of "Valley of the Damned." Chances are if you're reading this you've already heard the band before, because every man and his dog in and outside of the great metal sphere seems to know what DragonForce is about: blistering fast solos, bombastic keyboards, blastbeats, epic themes and operatic vocals. We are in power metal city folks. Being their first album, the band's classic songwriting formula is in force here, but unlike a lot of their music to come, "Valley of the Damned" stands out as the most traditional effort in sticking with classic power metal tricks. It's an interesting album in comparison to their full catalog for recent departed vocalist ZP Theart's vocals that are really pushed to the limit. His voice reaches subtly different places than on later material, but he still holds the power and hits the high ranges.

To be honest, I have to give credit to a band who has the balls to line up three tracks called "Black Fire," "Black Winter," and "Starfire" beside each other in the tracklisting. They also throw in a track called "Evening Star" later on to round it up the ridiculously fantasy focused nature of post-80s power metal. On the other hand, the lyrics make no intelligible sense when read as anything other than an endless stream of barely related epic nuggets of thought that you'll either love or hate.

How does the remix/master compare to original tracks? Is it worth your time to check it out? There is a noticeable difference in the sound that should please people who prefer high quality recordings to rough around the edges material. Solos are clear and laser-like, and unsurprisingly the band has tried to map the sound of later studio efforts onto "Valley Of The Damned" - guitarist Herman Lee noting "that's how we always wanted the original songs to sound."

This album hits it at pace from the beginning. The title track, "Valley of the Damned," is easily one of DragonForce's best tracks and is a good reason for fans to check out this album. The pace keeps up with a string of great songs until "Starfire" rolls up to slow us down. Despite wanting to turn boring, the chorus keeps it alive and shows that even on their debut the band had their melodic chops in full swing. Later on in the album, the band experiments with some more musical elements like jazzy piano breaks and clean guitar that, while not detrimental, are essentially average Joe Satriani material tacked into songs that could otherwise be strong. The solos, of course, keep the interest piqued and, while not as original as the openers, they're strong enough to hold up in the face of any other power metal competition.

If you fly the flag of hate for all things dragons and force like, this will just be another album for the furnace. However, if you're a fan of any other DragonForce albums and are wary of dodgy debuts, then fear not - this is one of their classics that should be part of your collection. There's also a swag of bonus material on the bonus DVD to enjoy, and though it's not going to replace "Keeper Of The Seven Keys" any time soon, it is a very solid power metal album that cemented the genres biggest star of the last decade.

Highs: Strong material which stands up to later efforts and the classic title track.

Lows: Lulls towards the end when the formula loses steam.

Bottom line: If you're a fan of the band, it would be a crime not to hear some of their best material, and the remix should give you the incentive to do so.

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)