Warp Speed Warriors

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Astro Warrior Anthem
02. Power of the Triforce
03. Kingdom of Steel
04. Burning Heart
05. Space Marine Corp
06. Prelude to Darkness
07. The Killer Queen
08. Doomsday Party
09. Pixel Prison
10. Wildest Dreams (Taylor's Version) (DRAGONFORCE's Version)

Power metal has never really recovered from the abrupt and brutal upgrade that DRAGONFORCE dished out upon their unexpected arrival, way back at the turn of the millennium. Adored by some, derided by others, the Londoners have since turned the genre into what it perhaps always destined to be: a big-hearted, ultra-modernist soundtrack for the video game of life, performed with an absurd amount of polish, showbiz pizazz and technical brilliance. Yes, DRAGONFORCE have long been inherently preposterous, but they have also been dogged defenders of metal as an uplifting, super-melodic force. On their ninth studio album, they show no signs of flagging, either in terms of their creative efforts or their need for speed.

Since the recruitment of vocalist Marc Hudson a decade or so ago, DRAGONFORCE have become increasingly adventurous, albeit within certain necessary restrictions. "Warp Speed Warriors" is not going to alienate anyone who has loved this band's music in the past, and neither does it contain any real surprises, but as with 2019's "Extreme Power Metal", it offers a high-resolution expansion of all those instantly recognizable traits and trademarks. There are frantic eruptions of speed that match anything in their catalogue; there are stirring, mid-paced anthems that gleam so much they will blind oncoming traffic; and there are a few gleeful curveballs, including a furious cover version of Taylor Swift's "Wildest Dreams" that is as mad and brilliant as you might expect.

The opening "Astro Warrior Anthem" negates any need to second guess the band's intentions here. A sprawling, manic rush of power metal euphoria wrapped in a glitched-out shroud of arcade game bleeps and squelches, it could hardly be the work of anyone else, and yet DRAGONFORCE are a band with a three-dimensional vision these days. The nimble-footed and dangerously catchy likes of "Power of the Triforce" and "Doomsday Party" have been much more convincing as stand-alone singles than anything the band could have plucked from their first few albums, and here they stand out as obvious and immediate crowd-pleasers, custom-designed for future live sets. In contrast, "Kingdom of Steel" is a bright-eyed, schmaltzy showstopper with a persistent air of festive bonhomie and more sparkle than a tinsel factory; while "Space Marine Corp" is a swashbuckling, intergalactic odyssey with rowdy gang vocals ("Do or die! Kill! Kill! Kill!" ) and a huge, goofy grin on its face. Speed barriers are shattered on "Burning Heart", which leans heavily into retro-futuristic, synthwave tropes, while hammering away at a tempo that defies common sense. "The Killer Queen" takes a similar approach, weaving an irresistible melody through another blitzkrieg of upbeat punishment, but grand finale "Pixel Prison" tops them all: the DRAGONFORCE (circa 2024) experience encapsulated, it is one of the most over-the-top things they have ever recorded. An admittedly inspired "Wildest Dreams" is a neat closing touch, but "Warp Speed Warriors" doesn't really need it. The force remains strong.

Author: Dom Lawson
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