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Valley of the Damned
Released: 2003, Sanctuary/Noise Records
Originally named DragonHeart, this band surprisingly comes from London, England. In 2001 the band changed their name to DragonForce to avoid confusion with the movie and other bands/albums. Me thinks they could have dropped the “dragon” part of their name entirely as dragons are kind of being overdone in power metal to the point of ridiculousness. The band kept the “dragon” and has now released their first full-length album VALLEY OF THE DAMNED.
I heard the band under their original moniker a couple years ago thanks to them being on the top of the power / speed metal charts on MP3.com. They sounded good even back then so I had high hopes that this album would blow me away. However, that didn’t quite happen. The guitar playing on here is close to mind blowing in places, so if you are a fan of high octane metal with ripping guitars, then you might want to investigate this band further! I do like this album, and band, but to be honest it doesn’t much stand out from the horde of other metal bands trying to carve out their niche in an increasingly crowded scene. After several listens, the only track that really stood out is the title track “Valley of the Damned.” There are no real stinkers on the album, the musicianship is there and the lead guitar playing, as I mentioned, is great. The music is melodic, heavy and often leans towards speed metal with some material. You’d think from the musical description that this would be something totally up my alley. All the trappings of a great speed/power metal album are here: high & clear vocals, fast songs, double kicks a plenty, ripping guitars, producer Tommy Hansen (Helloween), and album cover art and logo leaves little to the imagination as to what style of metal they play. The whole is not greater than the sum of it’s parts, in fact it seems that it’s a little less than. All the ingredients are in place, but stronger hooks and better songs just don’t emerge to the point where I’d recommend this album to a causal fan of this kind of metal.
With a 3/5 rating I think this is still a good album, but unless you are a fanatic for this type of metal (or you live in England and finally want to brag that something worthwhile musical has come out of your country in recent years hehe) than you might want to pass on VALLEY OF THE DAMNED. For me, I’ll be spinning this CD a few more times before shelving it. If something miraculous dawns on me regarding the CD in the next few weeks perhaps I’ll re-visit this review. For now, I’ll look forward to the bands next album with hopes of more memorable material. They have the right stuff in place, so there is still optimism!!!
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Valley of the Damned
Released: 2003, Noise Records
Reviewer: Night of the Realm
Holy damn! I can hardly believe that this album has finally come to light. I was introduced to Dragonforce nearly three years ago when the band, then called Dragonheart, put up their demo, also titled VALLEY OF THE DAMNED, on MP3.com. Changing their name in 2001 from Dragonheart to Dragonforce so as not to be confused with the film and Brazillian band by the same name. After whas seemed like eternity, this talented group of British power metallers finally struck a deal with Noise records to release their debut album.
Power metal...now wait a minute here. Dragonforce has many of the song and chorus structures of a power metal band, but the true core of the band is rooted strongly in the speed metal genre. The drums of Didier Almouzni truly are excellent, pounding with ferocity and intensity that does not relent, and the solos, oh the solos. The amazing guitar work of Sam Totman and Herman Li (who has some of the longest hair in all of metal) is what hooked me on the band three years ago from their demo. Between the two axemen, VALLEY OF THE DAMNED contains more technical shredding and melodic solos (especially the title track) than any metalhead could ask for. It’s obvious that Dragonforce is built up around the mastery of these two musicians. Dragonforce also recruited Ukraine-born Vadim Pruzhanov into their ranks to handle the keys, and he does his job quite well; the keyboards are integrated well into the songs without stepping on anybody’s toes. With Diccon Harper filling the role of bass as a “contributing artist” and not a full time member, that brings us to vocalist ZP Theart. ZP really can sing. His voice screams easily into the highest notes, and he sounds technically proficient. The only drawback, however, is that his voice would benefit from some more power and depth.
As I mentioned before, Dragonforce favor the speed end of the power-speed spectrum, as evidenced by the opening track (after a very brief, and useless intro), “Valley of the Damned.” This is where my initiation to Dragonforce began, as well as for many others. The album version is not much different than the demo, with the exception of more polish applied in the production department. The song just flat-out rules for all the reasons mentioned above. The drumming is absolutely insane, and the solos fly from all angles. In addition, the chorus is excellent. Clearly, this is how power metal should be done.
With an opener this good, how can the rest of the album possibly compare? Well, although the title track is the strongest of the disc, each of the other songs hold their own as well. Consider “Black Fire,” the next track up. This new song carries on with just as much fury as the previous. It’s obvious that these guys know how to write. I love the little bass/riff breakdown starting at the 2:31 mark. “Black Winter Night” features a kicked-up keyboard section, making it more bombastic than the other songs on the disc. Of course, it wouldn’t be a power metal album without the obligatory ballad. Stuck exactly in the middle is “Starfire,” which reminds me, in a good way, of course, of an 80s monster ballad. The album bogs down for a couple tracks as “Disciples of Babylon” starts off with some really tight riffing, but suffers from a weak, repetitive chorus. Incidentally, this was my least favourite track from the demo, and still remains my least favourite Dragonforce track. Even it is not without redeeming value as the middle acoustic/piano breakdown at 3:58 made me sit up and take note. “Revelations” is a decent track, but is very similar in sound and structure to the title track. Closing out the album on a high and happy note is “Heart of a Dragon,” an upbeat, catchy tune that is very Freedom Call-ish.
The verdict? VALLEY OF THE DAMNED hits with enough force to make the three year span between demo and debut well worth the weight. Combining technical shred and melody with plenty of speed and heaviness, Dragonforce have definitely delivered a winner. This fresh and talented band have started their career off very well.
01.Invocation Of Apocalyptic Evil (intro)
02.Valley Of The Damned
04.Black Winter Nights
06.Disciples Of Babylon
09.Heart Of A Dragon
Herman Li – lead, rythm, and acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Sam Totman – lead and rhythm guitars
ZP Theart – lead and backing vocals
Vadim Pruzhanov – keyboards
Didier Almouzni – drums
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