Review by Xephyr for DragonForce - Inhuman Rampage (2006)
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.