British metal sextet DragonForce owes its mainstream breakthrough to Guitar Hero III. Including 2006’s “Through the Fire and Flames” as an exhausting victory lap during GHIII’s end credits was a coup for the band, whose Internet-based and underground success had yet to translate to the mainstream.
Someone on the DragonForce team is a genius of timing. Their newly-minted fans have had just enough post-GHIII time to dig their way through the DragonForce back catalog and begin to clamor for more. DragonForce’s response, Ultra Beatdown, is a triumphant mission statement of a band whose eyes are on conquering the genre.
Ultra Beatdown is the unlikely love child of Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast and Rush’s 2112. Vocalist ZP Theart’s voice is that of Geddy Lee in wartime, trading in Lee’s lilting tendencies for a tautly wound melodic battle cry that uses the call to arms of songs like “Heroes of Our Time” to practically force the listener’s chin up and shoulders back.
That mindset is a necessity to the experience, as every recorded second of guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman is a finely tuned balletic frenzy. Their guitars rarely growl, as both prefer a picture-perfect mathematical approach to the form in which each of their thousands of notes is clearly distinguishable from the last. As Ultra Beatdown’s songs average in the seven-minute range, this makes long-term listening something of a marathon.
A metal album that unrepentantly evokes the better nature of its listeners is a strange animal. Like everything else DragonForce, it’s a calculated move—as a thrash-free collection of heroic anthems in a genre rife with tone-deaf odes to indiscriminate slaughter, Ultra Beatdown kicks its own form and function into high gear by kicking the tropes of its contemporaries to the curb.