The debut album from U.K. power metal giants Dragonforce is a polarizing affair. Valley of the Damned could be construed as a bloated, Spinal Tap-style tribute to early-'80s fantasy-metal, and in many ways it is; however, it's so well played and so joyously executed that it could very well reignite the entire genre. For a band that collectively cites video game music as one of its major influences -- the nine blistering tracks do, on occasion, conjure up images of greasy-haired teens huddled around a Commodore 64 playing King's Quest -- the multicultural sextet is a master of its craft. From the epic title track to the fist-pumping closer, "Heart of a Dragon," the guitar pyrotechnics of Herman Li and Sam Totman light up the sky like a third world war, bending riffs into melodic submission while never overplaying. Vocalist ZP Theart has no qualms about emulating heroes like Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Michael Kiske (Helloween), but his lupine howls have a character all their own. Dragonforce plays faster than most bands in the genre -- this may be the first speed metal pop group -- but the production is precision-tuned and never muddy, allowing the giant Slade and Andrew W.K.-style choruses the room they need to explode. Valley of the Damned may not be groundbreaking or cathartic, and lyrics like "In the land of desire with your heart filled with fire you live for the right to be free/We will sail on forever more to the land of the evening star" may cross the line into heavy metal parody, but it's undeniably entertaining, expertly played, and endlessly fun. [A Japanese version added a bonus track.] James Christopher Monger, Rovi
- Hard Rock
- Power Metal, Heavy Metal, Neo-Classical Metal
- May 17, 2003
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