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.