DragonForce: Inhuman Rampage

Are these guys serious?! Oh, screw it. "Cry for eee-TERNITYYYY!"


Inhuman Rampage

Label: Roadrunner
US Release Date: 2006-06-20
UK Release Date: 2006-01-09

If you were a teen headbanger during the early to mid-1980s, you probably read the two best-selling metal rags at the time, Circus and Hit Parader. Inside the pages of those magazines, nestled in between slick concert photos of sweaty, mousse-abused bands and "articles" that did little more than reprint bands' press releases, were plenty of mail order advertisements telling you that even the lowliest back patch-wearing smalltown dirtbag can be a metal god. The full-page Metal Method ad, featuring a photo of an Aqua Net assault victim named Doug Marks who dubiously claimed to be a rock star, bore a bold statement that drew the attention of pubescent wannabes: "IF YOU HAD STARTED TAKING THESE LESSONS WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD OF THEM, YOU WOULD BE ON STAGE INSTEAD OF IN THE CROWD." Another ad promised its readers that if they sent away for lessons, not only would they be able to shred like the great Michael Angelo Batio (whoever the hell he was), but they'd be able to scream like the great Jim Gillette (whoever the hell he was), members of the quote-unquote famous Nitro (whoever the hell that was). Gullible kids must have spent their allowances on such offers, because those ads were always in the magazines, as ubiquitous as Neil Zlozower-shot band photos.

The trouble was, when we did eventually hear Nitro's debut album in 1989 (four or five years after those ads appeared), to put it bluntly, it sucked royally. Sure, Batio could let loose notes faster than Yngwie Malmsteen, and yeah, Gillette could scream high enough to shatter glass, but the songwriting was laughable, their ostentatious glam image marking the nadir of LA pop metal, and in the minds of many, the grunge era couldn't arrive soon enough. Today, the video for "Freight Train", archived on YouTube, is the butt of jokes, an embarrassing snapshot of a musical style many considered long dead. Or so they thought.

Hair metal is obsolete, but power metal has thrived since the 90s, especially in Europe, as bands like Gamma Ray, Edguy, and Hammerfall have followed the example set by Helloween, Dream Theater, and Fates Warning a decade earlier, carrying on the tradition of melody, accessibility, and pure unadulterated bombast in modern metal. It was only a matter of time before a band took power metal in the same extreme direction as death metal and black metal have gone in, and not only has London's DragonForce gone completely over the top just like Nitro did way back when (minus the hair spray), but they back it up with songwriting that, for all its goofiness, is often shockingly good.

And let me forewarn you out there, "goofy" is the operative word when describing DragonForce. Everything about Inhuman Rampage is over the top. The band's name is ridiculous. The title makes no sense. The band photos, in which they're photographed in mid-air, are tacky. The video for "Through the Fire and the Flames" is so beyond ludicrous, you don't know whether to laugh, cry, or cheer. The songs boast laughably Epic Titles like "Storming the Burning Fields" and "Revolution Deathsquad", and carry on for seven or eight minutes. Hell, even the lyrics achieve absurd, Manowar-like levels of self-parody: "Rise over shadow mountains blazing with power / Crossing valleys endless tears in unity we stand / Far and wide across the land the victory is ours / On towards the gates of reason / Fight for the truth and the freedom / Gloria!" And that's just a chorus, folks.

Then there's the music itself, a sonic assault unmatched in conventional power metal, everyone going full-speed at the same time. Guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman display astonishing prowess, trading speedy riffs and leads with incredible precision (and like the Judas Priest records of old, the liner notes make sure to tell which guy's going, "wheedly wheedly" on his axe…as if it matters). Drummer Dave Mackintosh combines the double-time drumming of Helloween with death and black metal blastbeats and plenty of triggered effects. Keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov twiddles away on keyboards like Mozart on crystal meth, while the brilliantly named, curly maned singer ZP Theart howls away like an early-80s Steve Perry. Pity bassist Adrian Lambert; as the other five guys are having so much fun with their collective circle jerk, the poor guy isn't included in the self-indulgent hijinks, left like a dutiful designated driver, providing a sober bottom end for all the mayhem going on. It's no wonder the poor sod left the band.

Inhuman Rampage is certainly a busy album, with so much going on at once, but when you strip the music of all it's adornments, what's left is a fairly respectable Helloween/Gamma Ray clone, songwriters Li and Totman showing an impressive knack for hooks to go along with the technical dexterity. The best songs build dramatically, culminating in the kind of grandiose, soaring choruses that ignite arena crowds, not to mention plenty of "whoa-oh" sing-alongs. "Through the Fire and the Flames", video and all, is tremendously catchy, containing a phenomenal guitar duel midway through, but it's "Operation Ground and Pound" that has everything coming together the best, from Mackintosh's blasting, to the brilliant Helloween homage during the breakdown, to the rousing refrain, which sounds swiped from a lavish Broadway musical. Only does the maudlin ballad "Trail of Broken Hearts" falter; this album is at its best when everyone's in high gear, and to have a slow, sappy ballad kill the momentum is distracting.

As metalcore acts like Avenged Sevenfold and Trivium continue to dip into melodic metal, and new bands like Omaha's Cellador bring power metal to Middle America, it's becoming clearer that the sound is ready to bust out in a big way among younger audiences, and Inhuman Rampage looks to win over both the young metal kids and the older folks who remember air guitaring to Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 1. It's not the best power metal album of the year (Edguy's charismatic Rocket Ride is the clear winner of 2006), but it certainly will be the most influential. Doug Marks and Michael Angelo Batio had better bring those old ads back, because DragonForce is going to have a new crop of teens ready to shred like it's 1985.

DragonForce - Through the Fire and the Flames


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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