DragonForce - Inhuman Rampage (2006)Release ID: 9475
Shoved Into the Fiery Spotlight
DragonForce aren't exactly a terrible band.
Now that I have your attention, I can't deny that they're easy to dislike. In many ways DragonForce probably shouldn't be as popular or widely known as they are, given their slightly rocky discography, but the hands of fate gave them the chance of a lifetime when their pinnacle song "Through the Fire and Flames" ("TTFAF") off of 2006's Inhuman Rampage was included as the ultimate test of skill in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Suddenly DragonForce were catapulted into the spotlight as the gods of shred by kids and adults alike thanks to Guitar Hero's popularity at the time. As someone who found Buckethead pretty early on thanks to Guitar Hero II I knew, even back then, that there were tons of other amazing guitarists and bands pushing the technicality of their instruments in way more interesting ways than DragonForce, but since the song was so impressively hard it has gone down in somewhat infamous history as a one-hit-wonder spawned from a rhythm game. With the success of "TTFAF" I'm sure there were quite a few people interesting to see what else DragonForce had up their sleeve, and that's where things start to get a bit messy.
DragonForce play high-octane and technical Power Metal with an emphasis on speed and aggression, fueled by Speed Metal inspired riffing, blast-beat heavy drumming, and extremely extended guitar solo and instrumental sections. "TTFAF" exemplifies all these elements in top form, with the track being instantly recognizable thanks to its technically impressive and various riffs and insane 3 minute solo section. Since "TTFAF" is the first song on the album Inhuman Rampage starts out on an expected high note, but DragonForce's major flaw in their early career becomes immediately apparent soon afterwards. "Revolution Deathsquad" is a speedy, aggressive, blast-beat heavy track filled with slightly cheesy backing synths and various guitar squeals and an extended solo section. That should sound pretty familiar because "Operation Ground and Pound" is very much the same thing, along with "Storming The Burning Fields" and "The Flame Of Youth". A lot of Metal can sound incredibly similar though, so that doesn't instantly make this album a dud, right? Well, the similarities between the tracks go beyond the normal or accepted amount, especially since these songs are so long. All of Inhuman Rampage's tracks seem to just be made up of the same few pieces all shuffled around, with almost none of them having their own specific identity. It really feels like each riff, guitar solo, or lyric could be cut out and replaced with another and sound exactly the same without helping or hurting the song at all. All of DragonForce's writing is so segmented and nonspecific that the aggressiveness and technicality they're able to showcase quickly becomes an absolute slog.
It's such a shame that Inhuman Rampage turned out this way since all of these musicians are incredibly skilled in their own right. Their drummer is an absolute machine given the high tempos that DragonForce tend to play, all of their guitarists have some incredibly cool solo moments, their vocalist has the pipes to keep up with the rest of the band, and sadly the bassist only gets some limited time to shine during "Body Breakdown". As impressive as they are, I can't believe how many times they play the exact same thing. The drummer seems to only utilize one or two beats throughout the entire album, almost every guitar solo is a slightly remixed version of "TTFAF", every riff is speedy 16th note picking with some squeals thrown in, and the vocals and lyrics are completely forgettable except for "TTFAF" and "Cry For Eternity". Plus, when Inhuman Rampage is made up of a full 20+ minutes of straight guitar solos, all the crazy scales and squeals start to lose their luster a bit. The worst part is when DragonForce attempts to break free from their monotonous prison. They make a ton of jarring decisions that just don’t sound great, whether it’s the poorly mixed harsh vocals or the overly pompous synth parts. The background harshes especially rubbed me the wrong way, since they sound so out of place and make every part they show up in sound flat out worse.
However, as monotonous and rough as Inhuman Rampage can be, it’s still a bit unfair how DragonForce got shoved into a spotlight that the band wasn’t really ready for. They shouldn’t necessarily be immediately dismissed because they unknowingly hit it big on a single since their overall sound is actually pretty unique and interesting compared to some of the other run-of-the-mill Power Metal bands out there. In fact, the band started to really up their quality starting with 2012’s The Power Within thanks to tracks like “Cry Thunder” and “Seasons”. 2014’s Maximum Overload saw them continue their trend with “Symphony of the Night”, “Defenders”, and “Extraction Zone” being decent enough cuts and 2017’s Reaching Into Infinity being a pretty decent album through and through. 2019’s Extreme Power Metal was certainly a bit of a misstep but at least the band is leaning into their corny and bombastic tendencies with full force, making it more fun to listen to than something like Inhuman Rampage. So, even though this album doesn’t hold up against its infamous single, I’ve come to my senses a bit over the years and realized that DragonForce actually has some more than decent aspects to their career amidst all the other boring, bland, and forgettable Power Metal bands out there. Just…not on this album.
When you establish a tried and tested formula to your sound it is hard to break from that and allow variation and experimentation in. Some would argue that there's no need for Dragonforce to do that as they enjoy a healthy fanbase already who lap up their rampant power metal in the thousands. The point is though that I kind of knew what this record was going to sound like before I heard it all the way through and the regurgitation of ideas is almost like a washing machine stuck on the same cycle.
The fact is that DF are catchy as fuck! If I take three things away from Inhuman Rampage as positives it is the energy of the artist transposes brilliantly on to the recorded format, this is truly hi-octane stuff. Secondly, the capability levels of the musicians (yes, especially the guitarists) cannot be denied and they apply a very clear level of sophistication and flair to proceedings. The third and final thing I take is the high memorability factor of the record. It is accessible and engaging most certainly.
These three positives however are its biggest downfalls also as they do all of the above to death. Yes, the pace dips on some songs but all I remember still are those rampant, galloping and charging riff patterns that inhabit the majority of the record. It feels like a sprint but over an incredibly long distance and as I listener I just don't have the legs for it to keep up. Notwithstanding the fact that the guitarists are maestros of their art, I still don't need this much earshot of them. Surely a couple of solos are enough in a track to showcase the talents of the guitarists without my feeling like I am being force-fed lead work? Similarly, the memorability factor is so high because the vast majority of the album sounds exactly the same. The attempts to mix it up with different use of keys/synths just come across as amateurish and almost feel forced, as if the band knew that things were shaping up to be samey and made some vain attempts to compensate.
As a result, I find Inhuman Rampage to be really tiring; draining in fact. That tried and tested formula I mentioned at the start of the review works for about three songs max and then it just becomes one-dimensional. I get why this album has problem sold in bucket loads, I really do. However, this is just not for me.
Well, here we are, the album that began my metal path. Without it, my metal interest wouldn't have existed...unless it starts different. Inhuman Rampage!! Despite being out of my earlier epic power metal taste that includes this band, DragonForce is a band I would always love in my heart and appreciate. It's really cool how they're called "extreme power metal" even though they're power metal but not extreme metal. The label makes sense because of the band's extremely cheesy lyrics (the type of cheese I like), extremely fast guitars, and extremely fun choruses. If you're not a power metal fan, then...why are you here?! If you are, then scr*w the haters and check this band out!
The haters think DragonForce make the same d*mn song over and over, but I don't think so. The songs only sound same-ish, which doesn't bother me. This is the first album where the band experimented with a nice touch of harsh vocals, performed Lindsay Dawson of Demoniac (the former band of guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman before DragonForce). There's nothing else different about the album, but that's fine because it still rules, slightly better than the slightly generic Sonic Firestorm.
The album kicks off with their most popular song, and the complete start of my entire metal interest... "Through the Fire and Flames"!! If it wasn't for this song, or for my dad and brother both finding it, I wouldn't have been interested in metal, or maybe I would via a different song. Yes, this is indeed my own metal "big bang" (NOT the K-pop boy band, the universal beginning I mean). From the intricate guitar lines and solo plus strange Pac-Man noises to the amazing vocals and fantasy lyrics, this song burned away my horrid radio-pop future and replaced it with a glorious metal one. And I can't believe it was just 8 years ago when it all started. So thank you DragonForce, along with my dad and brother! Then we have another awesome song "Revolution Deathsquad", though this one is a bit generic. It's got catchy verses and a glorious chorus, along with background harsh vocals. However, the long guitar soloing could've been better shorter. I still f***ing love it though. "Storming the Burning Fields" has more cheese but still something to love, especially the guitar intro and soloing, the latter being followed by a beautiful "whoa-oa-oah" choir.
"Operation Ground and Pound" is another single and would probably be my 3rd favorite song of the album and the band (behind the first 2 songs). It has excellent verses, an amazing chorus, incredible soloing, and even the music video is awesome! "Body Breakdown" is another cool highlight. A lot of the different instruments play together and apart, sounding weird while staying awesome. The verses start quiet before picking up the heaviness, all while staying fast. That's probably one of the most unique songs of the bunch. Nicely done! While all the songs are awesome, "Cry For Eternity" I'm not so big on. While it has speedy intensity and catchiness, it's just not as much as the other ones. It's also slightly longer at over 8 minutes, but just not as long and epic as the 10-minute epic from Sonic Firestorm. All the 8-minute length does is make this mediocre song more draggy. It's not a horribly bad song in any way (that's why the perfect 5-star rating is still here), but it doesn't have the greatness of the others.
"The Flame of Youth" sounds a bit weird in some parts, but it has a catchy chorus, and the band still shines as always. "Trail of Broken Hearts" is a nice closing ballad for the standard edition of the album. To be honest, that's what they should've done in their previous albums; save their ballads for last. I still like those album's ballads as they are, and slightly better than the one in this album. If you think you've experienced everything in the standard edition, there's more in the bonus track of the special edition that you should definitely get, "Lost Souls in Endless Time"! It's a different uplifting song but still one of my favorites. There's a nice keyboard solo which you don't usually hear from a guitar-solo-dominant band like DragonForce. The higher vocals sing hilariously cheesy lyrics that I still like, along with an awesome chorus. Brilliant!
That pretty much sums up my first ever journey as a metalhead. I can recommend Inhuman Rampage to any power metal fan. It can hypnotize anyone who doesn't like metal to enjoy that genre, at least from my experience. And even though their best albums are with ZP Theart, I enjoy the later albums with Marc Hudson. I love you, DragonForce!
Favorites: "Through the Fire and Flames", "Revolution Deathsquad", "Operation Ground and Pound", "Body Breakdown", "The Flame of Youth", "Lost Souls in Endless Time"