Ultra Beatdown by DragonForce
Release date : August 2008
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
Widely known as immensely gifted musicians (attempted to successfully complete “Through the Fire and Flames” via console game Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock perhaps?), DragonForce has experienced live acclaim via Ozzfest 2006, 2008's Rockstar Mayhem Energy Festival, and numerous other well-publicized tours. Occupying Ozzfest's Main Stage from July to mid August 2006, DragonForce were joined by the following acts on that North American tour; Ozzy Osbourne (during select dates), System of a Down, Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, Hatebreed, and Lacuna Coil. On a more recent note, the group toured North America as part of the Mayhem Festival from July to August 2008, figuring amongst the Main Stage lineup alongside; Slipknot, Disturbed and Mastodon.
As early as January 2007, initial ideas regarding DragonForce's fourth studio album were discussed. Studio work entered its groove by October, though a brief interlude occurred during November to accomodate The Black Crusade tour. A collection of British arena dates, The Black Crusade paired the group alongside Machine Head, Trivium, Arch Enemy and Shadows Fall. In early June 2008, Ultra Beatdown was announced as the title of DragonForce's fourth studio full length. Yet again, both guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman with the aid of Threshold's Karl Groom helmed production and mixing. The trio based themselves at both Li's BATMAM Studios in London and at Surrey's Thin Ice Studios, where Groom primarily works. In addition, Li and Groom also engineered the album. Meanwhile, mastering duties were handled by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios in Helsinki, Finland. Ultra Beatdown's artwork was designed by “Android” Jones, who's based in San Francisco, California. In addition, the album marks the studio debut of bassist Frédéric Leclercq. Vocalist ZP Theart stated that the album's lyrical content tackles everyday happenings, and nothing ancient or supernatural.
A video was filmed in support of inaugural single “Heroes of Our Time”, and became available to watch shortly following the posting of its audio track via MySpace during early July. Later that month, it was revealed that a DragonForce expansion pack in support of Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock would be released from August 21st. Available to download through the Xbox Live and Playstation Network, the expansion pack comprised the following tracks; “Heroes of Our Time”, “Revolution Deathsquad” and “Operation Ground and Pound” (both lifted from January 2006's Inhuman Rampage, the latter being its sophomore single). To further plug the full length, an in-store signing session was scheduled to take place on August 25st at London's Zavvi Megastore.
Although abundantly tongue-in-cheek, Ultra Beatdown firmly cements DragonForce's reputation as one of Rock's most powerful outfits. Visualise a fusion of both Scorpions and Dream Theater's musical stylings, and that crafts an appropriate image of what DragonForce's fourth opus resembles. Bombast forms Ultra Beatdown's primary motive, an album which boasts high volume, melody and anthemic quality. Most of all though, the songs prove insanely rapid. DragonForce doesn't view penning cuts which race slower than a hundred miles per hour as a viable option, and tracks such as “Heroes of Our Time”, “The Fire Still Burns”, “The Warrior Inside”, (even when the number's “slow part” materialises, the song still fails to sacrifice its pace) and “The Last Journey Home” underline that sentiment. Each and every featured rendition could have quite smoothly emerged as a B-side to partner any of the singles lifted from Inhuman Rampage - in all likelihood, these collected recordings are merely cuts that didn't surface upon that album's final track listing. Should Ultra Beatdown's tracks not be comprised of leftover material, then in the minds of DragonForce, encouraging the group's chosen sound to progress isn't even the slightest concern. However, lending the group the benefit of the doubt is the kinder option.
In comparison to the group's previous works, the vast majority of Ultra Beatdown's material almost wholly echoes its three predecessors. A genial pace change when critiqued against the album's other tunes, “Inside the Winter Storm”'s groove proves atypical. “Heartbreak Armageddon”, meanwhile, possesses a slow, lengthy guitar solo which evokes the soloing pretentions favoured by some lesser known eighties Hard Rock outfits (more specifically, Badlands and Gorky Park). Fortunately, the guitar solo in question doesn't seem misplaced, or cheese-laden. Granting a welcome opportunity to catch a much needed breath, the listener grows thankful towards these fleeting moments.
If you happen to be a musician, it's difficult to refute DragonForce's immense talent, irrespective of whether you particularly find joy in both the group's overall tempo and musical extravagance or not. Behind the question why music fans converse regarding DragonForce lies a great reason. In actual truth though, Ultra Beatdown's existence isn't warranted. Void of fresh stylings, the full length merely duplicates past material. If you disliked DragonForce's earlier records, then a motive to purchase this album will simply be elusive. To summarise, Ultra Beatdown is a mere extension of predecessor Inhuman Rampage. Should a DragonForce record already figure amongst your music collection, then further DragonForce recordings aren't necessary additions.