Thursday, June 11, 2009

CD Review: Ultra Beatdown

[This review was written about in September of last year, on one night when I got really bored.]

Yes, you read that title right. I'm finally going to burn the midnight oil and spend about an hour writing and listening to a CD. But first, I talk about other stuff.

I got a WoW comic today, which is quite possibly the worst thing for me if I plan to work at all in the next month. It's called Ashbringer, and I may write about it if I get through the piles of other work I've collected by slacking off.

Now then, on to the review of:

Ultra Beatdown by Dragonforce

Now then, if you don't know about Dragonforce, here's a little background: They're in the genre of Power Metal, which basically means really fast and somewhat orchestral metal where the lyrics usually have to do with the fantasy genre. This means most power metal ends up fitting well with things like... World of Warcraft. (Warning: Playing World of Warcraft while listening to Dragonforce is a potent combination and should not be attempted. Once you turn on the music, you will wake up as if from a trance hours, nay, days later, surrounded by empty cans of Mountain Dew, with your fingers covered in a fine orange powder smelling of nacho cheese. Your previously level 20 character will be level 70, with epic gear. You will look at your chat logs, and be abhorred at your sudden lack of grammar and knowledge of the english language.)

Anyway, Dragonforce gets most of its criticism in the form of two arguments; 1. It's too fast to process most of the notes in their solos, and 2. All their songs sound the same. Point 1 I disagree with, but I guess I'm just hyper or something, and point 2 actually is a valid point. Many of Dragonforce's songs seem reminiscent of their older songs, and sometimes they reuse the same themes (I.e. Moon, Fire, Night, Riding, Black, etc.) so it's possible to confuse the songs. Anyway, now that you're all edumacted on the band, let's start with the songs!

(Note: I will be keeping a log in parenthesis throughout the songs, so I can preserve my sanity through this incredibly long album.)

1. Heroes of Our Time: This is a solid opening song, as well as the only single they made from this CD. I usually have a to try quite hard to keep from air guitaring through most of it, but that's just me. It has a few sound effects that sound a bit... video game-ish, and that turns out to be a trend for this CD. I mean, just look at the album cover:

It sounds different enough from other songs that it earns merit. They actually have some, well, pauses in the music, presumably to give me time to recouperate from the furious air guitaring. In this song, I can tell when other band members other than the lead singer pitch in for some background vocals. For some reason, in the chorus, the main line seems to be when they stop for a second, then all say "Starchaser!" and the song seems to have no mention of heroes of any time. Oh, I forgot to mention, that's another problem Dragonforce has, the titles of the songs usually has nothing to do with the song itself. Just call the song Starchaser! It's in the lyrics for God's sake! The solo is standard fare for Dragonforce, with Herman Lee and... that other guy switching off between who's soloing for maximum efficiency. Or something. They made good use of this weird effect where they fade in really fast, so it sounds all spoooky. That's all I can really think of for this song. Moving right along...

2. The Fire Still Burns: The beginning of the song annoys me, because they seem to stop the music randomly a few times, for a weird sound effect, and and it's just not fun when I'm trying to headbang. They actually held back on the guitar for some of the lyrics, which surprised me. The drummer is more apparent in this one, and speaking of which, the drummer for Dragonforce must either be a computer or someone different for every song, because he drums really damn fast. Like, I can believe how a human can drum that fast. It's crazy. This song is also pleasantly surprizing, in that they actually say "The Fire Still Burns" in the chorus. I can only hope this trend will return. (Walter's log: Oh God, this is going to take me allll night. These songs are wicked long! AH.) Around 4 minutes in, they slow things down with a little piano and singing, then gradually bring it into one of their signature solos. Then they take it away with their favorite lyric, an entire chorus of "Woah" in different tones. It's not bad, but still, it's like Keanu Reeves wrote that part! What's next, the next album is called Excellent TimeMachine?

3. Reasons to Live: Starts out with the video game sounds again. I mean, like, I thought I was playing a Mega Man level there in the beginning. Luckily, that's over with pretty quickly, and we get some riffs. Most people like this song the best, since it's probably the most different from the other songs, but it really reminds me of Black Winter Night from their first album. It's really different in that in the middle, they do something completely different from what they've ever done, with a kind of slow piano/guitar duet thing. Which then goes into a surprizingly slow guitar solo. I can see why people like this song the best, it lends some much needed variety into the CD. Then I think, like, the keyboard gets a solo? It starts to sound video gamey for a little bit, so I think that's the case. The lyrics in this one are still the same as usual, what with "trying to understand" and stuff. They do, however, say in the chorus, "Reasons to survive" which I suppose is enough to give the song the name it has. I hope this trend continues!

4. Heartbreak Armageddon: What? Heartbreak Arma... What? This is the title to a song? Seriously? It sounds like what some over-dramatic high schooler would call his breakup. "She said she didn't love me anymore, so I started crying! It was a heartbreak armageddon!" I mean, it is about someone who finds out they aren't loved while a meteor heads towards the earth? I do not like this title. Though it is fun to make fun of. The song itself is not bad. One of Dragonforce's power ballads about something or other. I noticed they're starting to overdo the whole "stop everything but the vocals for a verse" thing that was so new and refreshing in the beginning. To be honest, this is probably the most typical of Dragonforce song on the CD. (Log: I'm only on song 4? God help me! I have work tomorrow!) What is true about this song, and strangely most Dragonforce songs is that they lull me to sleep. I'm not entirely sure why, but listening to Dragonforce makes me tired. They do something similar to the last song, where they slow it down for a the solo and whatnot, which now that I'm really paying attention makes me think less of this song. It's even got the keyboard solo again! This is probably my least favorite song on the CD, though still rock out-able.

5. The Last Journey Home: This song starts off with a driving guitar chord, along with some trumpet. Not sure how that got there. Hm. Anyway, it's got a good forward motion about it. They have another "Woah" verse, with other words between. At one point, an acoustic guitar alone plays under the lead vocalist. Which differenciates this piece from the now standard "singer time" section this album seems to have produced. This song gets stuck in my head a lot. Yay! They mention "The last journey home" in the chorus! I'm so proud of you Dragonforce! This may make up for Heartbreak Armageddon! (But probably not.) What's good that I noticed is that it's got a real motivating beat for it, and it's about one last journey home, so things match! The solo is practically perfect, fun for air guitaring. Since the first "Woah" chorus was too short in the beginning, they have another breif one. Seriously, Woah is their favorite lyric. Ever. They have a little video game solo thing, but I'm used to it now, so I don't even care. (Log: Yes! Halfway there!)

6. A Flame for Freedom: This song pretty much starts out like every other song. it's also a lot like Trail of Broken Hearts from Inhuman Rampage. It's a slower song, and puts me to sleep. I don't know, I don't really have strong feelings one way or the other for this song. It's... average. That, and it precedes what is probably my favorite song on the entire album. So I don't really have that much to say about it. It's... short? 5 minutes is short right?

7. Inside the Winter Storm: Starts almost exactly like Heroes of Our Time, but quickly changes pace, and I've grown to love this song. This is quite possibly the most epic sounding song of the CD, and I love that. Epic = Good. They change up a lot of the routine in this song, which is of course, nice. They even manage to make the "Woah" chorus epic! It's awesome! We get a little piano/vocals thing in there at one point, which is good. I also enjoy the chorus "Marching on, inside of our lonelyness, still searching for all that remains." They say "Inside the Winter Storm" so that wins them bonus points. Though I suppose that's a little sad, when a song gets points just for relating to its title. Oh well, that's Dragonforce for ya. Anyway, we break down a little, and there's an awesome buildup with a great force behind it, fun for headbanging. Just when it seems the only solo will be solo one, a giant gale force of guitar riffs heads in, kicking major ass. In short, this is my personal favorite, just because it's so epic.One of the longer songs on the album at 8:12.

8. The Warrior Inside: Starts out rather weird, with a little tune from some instrument I am at a loss to describe. Then the guitar comes in with an upbeat tune to it, and all is made well again. The drummer shines on this song too, what with his solos and things. Despite coming after my favorite, which you would think would make this one seem worse in comparison, this is on my upper tiers for Dragonforce. That little tune from the beginning shows up again, just to change it up, which Dragonforce needs. (Log: You know what I noticed? The lead singer looks like Weird Al... Woah man, that's crazy...) If you bought the normal plain-jane CD, this the last song for the album, and it's a pretty nice closer.

9. Strike of the Ninja: First of all, this is one of the two bonus songs on the CD, which I paid an extra 2 bucks for, and also came with a DVD and an extra little cover thing that does nothing.

Second of all, Strike of the Ninja? What? Is this about Naruto? Well, actually, despite the techno beginning, this is a really good song. It's catchy, it's about ninjas, and it's only 3 minutes long. Yes, a Dragonforce song less than 5 minutes long! It does exist! Needless to say, with its decreased time, the solos are shorter, but this is a good change of pace, where I don't need to cancel any appointments or plans for sleeping when I want to listen to a song. If only more were like this...

10. Scars of Yesterday: Last song! Starts out with a guitar tune, which becomes sort of the motif of the rest of the song, staying in the background through the rest. This is another one of the better songs, and actually, it's a rather long time before the singing starts. At first I thought it was vocal-less, but eventually it kicks in. Something fancy about this song is the the layered singing they try out, where some members start out with a note, some more pitch in, then the main vocal jumps in, and it's a good time. Although sometimes I think this song might actually be about World of Warcraft, since in its chorus, it has the sentence "A waste of time!" and then talks about not being able to understand and pain. Anyway. Given this song and the previous one, I can say the extra for the bonus songs is well worth it, since the bonus songs are among the best on the CD. Actually, I don't recall ever hearing the end of this song. I guess I never had the patience to do so before. Well, I don't think I missed too much. Yeah, it's a normal solo, except for a little bass solo type thing. The song ends with the most video game-ish music of all. In fact, it doesn't even sound like music. It's just the sounds from Pong!

In closing, I have to say this CD is up to par with the rest. Thing is, it's not better or worse. It's the same. That's Dragonforce's main obstacle in their song creation. It seems to get too formulaic and less music. Although they are consistent, I'll give them that. At this point I would give them a number score, but I don't see the point for CD's, since it's all up to music preference anyway.

Well, that's that, and it only took me almost two hours to listen to and write! Yay! I'm going to bed! Goodnight all.

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