DragonForce: Maximum Overload

DragonForce doesn’t perform. It executes. It makes metal songs that sound like metal objects.


Maximum Overload

Label: Metal Blade
US Release Date: 2014-08-19
UK Release Date: 2014-08-18

There’s a moment in the video for “Through the Fire and Flames”, the 2006 Guitar Hero-fueled hit from English power metal group DragonForce, that broadcasts loud and clear what this band will never be. As guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman trade laser-perfect guitar solos, complete with a pop-up window that gives us close-ups of their acrobatic fretwork, Totman uses his downtime to methodically chug a beer. It’s an attempt to ground the band in the same punk-influenced, lunchpail ethos as its heroes in Iron Maiden. But it only belies the clinical nature of DragonForce’s approach. This group doesn’t perform. It executes. It makes metal songs that sound like metal objects. If Totman actually did have a few pints before ripping that solo, any trace of human error most definitely saw the cutting room floor.

Yet in a way, you can’t help but root for these guys. While its sixth album, Maximum Overload, makes good on its title -- stuffing 10 tracks with as many flawlessly played, Maiden-meets-Mario Kart guitar showcases as they’ll hold -- it also contains a shimmer of that Steve Harris magic, where the preposterous becomes the triumphant, and you’re reminded that melodrama is an art form. “Three Hammers” is the band at its best, with vocalist Marc Hudson (his second album after taking over for original singer ZP Theart) lustily belting out a tale of three "guardians of light" who lead a kingdom against something evil so things can get back to normal and “the dragons will rise once again”. The music is appropriately over the top, with a solemn, finger-picked intro and plenty of choral synth patches. Storytelling problems like whether or not protagonists are actually the villains -- what kingdom would want the dragons back? -- just make the listening experience that much more fun.

“The Sun is Dead” is another delightfully unspecific tale of how we need to “fight till the end”. The riffage chugs along merrily until the towering hair metal chorus reassures us, “But with the prayers of the dead / Now a new light will ascend from the stars.” Once again, the questions abound. The people who are already dead will be praying? If something ascends from the stars, doesn’t that mean it’s going in the opposite direction of Earth? This is the kind of serious-but-unpretentious songwriting that gives life to airless productions. It makes DragonForce fun.

Alas, the band only hits this sweet spot a few other times on Maximum Overload. A more accurate representation of its aesthetic would be “The Game”, the abysmal speed metal self-help seminar that kicks off the record. “Ten thousand ways to say sorry / But life writes its own tragic story,” sings Hudson over drummer Dave Mackintosh’s relentless pummeling, one of several half-assed clichés about living with guilt that passes for insight here.

Then there’s “No More”, which asks the question, “Should DragonForce write a breakup song?” By the time Hughes sings his first couplet, we have our answer: “The light is shining / Still I’m not so surprised / One thousand voicemails / For one thousand lies.” Maybe she’s not nice to you because you never pick up the phone, dude.

And the cover of “Ring of Fire” that closes the album? Let’s just say that it exists, and that it shouldn’t. DragonForce should know what it is by now -- a metal band that’s at its best when it toes the line between novelty act and Iron Maiden opening act. Let’s hope it throws back a few beers and calls its next album Awesome Fantastical Bullshit.




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.