Picture this: You’re walking your dog. It’s a cool, misty night, in that utterly unremarkable way that Spring nights in the Northeastern United States happen to be, and your dog is doing nothing more than he ever is. He’s lifting his leg on a telephone pole, he’s prancing along like he owns the neighborhood, he’s trying to jar that leash out of your hands at the first sight of an oddly nocturnal bunny rabbit. It’s the third time you’ve walked him that day, and you’re just trying to get this particular errand out of the way so that you can finally go to bed. You’re bored, you’re tired, and you kind of resent Fido juuuuust a little bit for making you leave the house.
And then you push play, and the music comes rushing through the headphones you happen to be wearing, and you’re a bloody Viking.
Yes, you are a Viking, and that animal on the leash is your steed. Your dragon steed. You are in Scandinavia rather than suburban nowheresville. Your heart beats with the thrill of hard-won victory. that mist you feel, that’s the blood of your enemies, slowly settling into the earth.
This is what DragonForce aims for. For the most part, this is what DragonForce achieves.
The Power Within is noteworthy for the new vocalist that DragonForce has along for the ride, one Marc Hudson, whose presence in the band seems to mean more than a simple replacement for the ear-demolishing melodies of ZP Theart. Hudson’s vocals are precise and pristine — necessary when the band is looking for melodic vocals at the speed of light — but he’s a little bit rough around the edges, too, particularly when he’s in that place where it’s not quite the lower range but also not quite male-equivalent-of-Mariah-Carey range. There’s a little bit of Axl Rose mixed in with Hudson’s Steve-Perry-meets-Bruce-Dickinson tenor, giving all the intensity a rough edge that makes the vocals more than whipped cream on a two-guitar sundae. Some might prefer Theart’s cleaner, sometimes operatic tone, but Hudson fits right in to the mix throughout The Power Within.
At its best, The Power Within is heavier than DragonForce has ever been. “Give Me the Night” is breakneck even by DragonForce standards, and the little stop-start guitar thing that happens just before every chorus is incredibly effective. “Cry Thunder” is in 6/8 time, which means that it almost necessarily has to be a little slower than most of the other songs, but it’s also one of the biggest songs on the album. It is the great anthem to (Marvel’s version of) Thor that hadn’t yet been written, complete with the catchiest chorus they’ve ever managed. “Wings of Liberty” opens with a little bit of ill-advised piano balladry, but once it gets going with a ridiculous little bass lick, its guitar work is clean, well thought-out, and thoroughly enjoyable. The drums even stop the machine gun thing for four bars at a time, settling into a traditional rock beat, allowing for an almost shocking four bars of caught breath. DragonForce is only experimenting for small stretches here, but much of it works.
There are times, though, when the cheese overwhelms; the thin layer of Velveeta covering everything gets thick and a little bit rank. “Seasons” is a metaphor taken too far, and there are two versions of it — the acoustic version, at least, offers evidence that DragonForce could do a killer cover of Extreme’s “More Than Words”, but is otherwise unnecessary. Elsewhere, despite eventually working its way to some of the album’s best soloing, “Last Man Stands” begins with an awful attempt at synth-heavy lighter waving.
For the most part, though, The Power Within is everything you would expect and hope for from a band whose notoriety and fame began with an appearance in a video game. DragonForce knows its niche, and even as the band’s sonic palette expands ever so slightly, these guys sound comfortable and confident doing what they do best.
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