[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
Metal isn't supposed to be cheerful. Metal is supposed to be brootal. As a general rule, if it's not Van Halen's “Jump,” it should not involve synthesizers. If lyrics don't tend toward evil, they should at least be depressing. Major keys should be used sparingly, at most. Vocal harmonies? Proceed with caution.
Power metal breaks all of these rules. In fact, the one rule of power metal seems to be “don't be metal.” Be as un-metal as possible. Smile as your fingers fly across the frets while your vocals soar to the heavens. Fans, wear medieval costumes and spar with swords before the show. Lock arms with your brethren and unite in a Biergarten anthem at an open-air festival somewhere in Europe. In short, be happy.
DragonForce, the London sextet that's been around since 1999, waves high the banner of power metal. But they take “epic” to a whole new level. On the metal scale of 1 to 11, they're more Tufnel than Tufnel himself.
Lead guitarist Herman Li, originally from Hong Kong, likely has the fastest hands ever to have touched an Ibanez. What he is capable of seems inhuman — so much so that there was speculation at the outset of the band's career that they were speeding up their songs in the studio and weren't able to replicate them live. (Subsequent performances have proven this rumor false.) Most DragonForce songs clock in around the seven-minute mark because Li solos for about three minutes. And we're not talking gratuitous jam band improv solos; we're talking complexly structured and fully composed.
Singer ZP Theart was replaced last year by Marc Hudson, whose first studio work with the band will appear on The Power Within, due in April. But we dig Theart because he possesses a tenor voice approximately one step below castrato. His jubilant refrain of “Fight for the truth and the freedom, Glor-i-aaaaaa!” in the song “Revolution Deathsquad” is a cross between Steve Perry and John Schlitt, lead vocalist of '80s Christian metal band Petra. Most lyrics of DragonForce songs are positive, upbeat messages. Think Shakespeare's Henry V pre-battle pep talk, and you get the idea.
DragonForce is like Dethklok on happy pills. Li's speed and precision make him the real-life Skwisgaar Skwigelf, and his video game-inspired guitar effects sound like Pac-Man munching on amphetamines. Co-founder Sam Trotman — who also plays guitar — writes most of the band's songs, every one of them a rousing, triumphant marathon. Like a Rocky training montage on fast-forward, it is all so utterly ridiculous that it becomes enjoyable.
Say what you will about power metal being un-metal; I defy anyone to listen to DragonForce and not be floored by the Olympic technical prowess. If you're in need of a pick-me-up, this is definitely your band. Just one song supplies a sonic energy blast comparable to that of 2.5 Red Bulls injected into your ears.
I listen to DragonForce. It is power metal, and I am not ashamed. We could all use a little “go forth and conquer” once in a while.