Dragonland // Under the Grey Banner
Rating: 2.5/5.0 —This Shall Not Pass!
Label: AFM Records
Websites: thegreybanner.com | myspace.com/dragonland
Release Dates: Out now!

Talk about the right album at the right time! While I was never that big a fan of the symphonic bombast and Lord of the Rings fetishism of power metal acts like Blind Guardian and Rhapsody, I was tasked with reviewing the new Dragon- land opus over the same long weekend that local movie channels played the LOTR trilogy nonstop in their full extended glory. Since Under the Grey Banner is yet another slobbering Tolkien love-fest, replete with elves, orcs, swords and sappiness (which completes their own trilogy started on their first two albums), it fit right in. Like their previous works, it’s a full-on symphonic cheese factory with enough grandiose pomposity to choke a Balrog. You know exactly what it will sound like and what will be included. Overblown keyboards, soaring vocals, choirs, frenetic neo-classical guitar wankery, it’s a big, overwrought symphonic mess. As such, it manages to work about as well as most albums of this ilk but at least it didn’t send me running for a shot of insulin until the midway point. While its nothing you haven’t heard before from the likes of Rhapsody or Labyrinth, its well done and quite entertaining at times in a too-close-to-Broadway-musical kind of way. However, it has it’s share of consistency issues and isn’t as strong as their 2004 Starfall release. That said, I’m sure fans of this type of Dungeons & Dragons music will love it like a +10 sword of sliceification. In case there was ANY doubt about the nerd-factor of this stuff, Dragonland created an interactive website with maps and narrations to help guide you on the mystic journey they planned for you. Holy nerd bait, Batman!

Since this is a royally bombastic fantasy epic, you get the obligatory overlong intro and dramatic voiceover to set the mood before the first proper song hits. Luckily, after the long wait, it’s a doozy. “Shadow of the Mithril Mountains” is a speedy, energetic power metal tune with predictably soaring, epic vocals and all the grandeur they could fling against the recording studio wall. Jonas Heidgert flexes his vocal muscles to the limit and his singing really puts the song over exceptionally well, as does the Yngwie-ish fret-work on the song’s back-end. “The Tempest” slows things down while maintaining the epic vibe and again, the vocals make the song better than it should have been. Other high points include the galloping energy of “The Black Mare,” the uber-melodic strains of “Lady of Goldenwood” and the Enya-esque closer “Ivory Shores,” courtesy of Amaranthe‘s Elize Ryd (this could have been on the LoTR soundtrack). The title track gives you the whole fantasy kitten-kaboodle and between the voiceovers and the five-hundred guest vocalists, a decent song lays partially buried and obscured.

Sadly, all is not golden in Middle Earth and tracks like “Fire and Brimstone” and “Throne of Bones” get weighed down by Fred Johanson’s deep, super dramatic, quasi-opera baritone vocals that just don’t work and seem cheese- tastic (“Throne of Bones” may be the most Broadway-ready metal song to prance along in years). Likewise, several songs, while decent, seem very generic and bland (“A Thousand Towers White” and “Durnir’s Forge”). Making matters worse, some of the better songs are saddled with voiceovers that pop in and disrupt the flow and momentum (“Lady of Goldenwood” and the title track). In the final accounting, roughly half the tracks here are weighed, measured and found wanting.

The band’s performances are all quite well done, especially the vocals and the guitars by Olof Morck (Amaranthe, Nightrage) and Jesse Lindskog (ex-Dreamland) and some of their leads and solos are impressive indeed. The symphonics are mercifully kept just shy of overdone on several songs and Elize’s vocals are solid and graceful. If they penned a few more quality tracks like “Shadow of the Mithril Mountain,” we would be looking at a potential usurper of the jewel-studded throne of Luca Turilli but it was not meant to be.

In all candor and honestly, Dragonland was never up near the levels of the best in this genre. Despite some fun moments, Under the Grey Banner doesn’t bring them much closer and I doubt it will attract the Eye of Sauron. While far more palatable than what Dragonforce is doing, this is still middle-of-the-pack fantasy power metal puffery with too much elf and not enough orc. Add a point if you know who Gary Gygax is or if you belong to a LARP guild. Nerds!!

  • No reference to their 2006 album Astronomy? That baby is probably the best thing they’ve ever put out.

    • I was more impressed with Starfall than with Astronomy.

      • Likewise. But Astronomy was still pretty amazing. I was really looking forward to their new album. Now I’m sad :(

        • Don’t be sad, you may love this. I’m not the biggest fan of this style so your opinion may differ greatly.

          • I actually picked the album up after hearing a few songs on Youtube and after reading a multitude of positive reviews and I’m really digging it. An impressive album imho.

  • Wow.. and I really really liked this album.  Compared to the Iron Savior that I thought was pathetic.  Iron Saviors older albums were good.

    • I like this better than Iron Savior any day. Listening to it now on Spotify, and I gotta say I’m enjoying it, even if the vocalist is kind of annoying.

      • Initially I didn’t pick this up because of Druhm’s review. I stumbled across all the positive reviews and praise it’s getting elsewhere and I checked the album out on Youtube and boy was I surprised! This album is amazing! I find this album much better than the Iron Savior one which Mr. Druhm rated so highly.

  • Anonymous

    Big fan of “power metal puffery” but have to agree that this album has it’s issues. Have to agree with Miller, Iron Saviors newest was a let down.

    • Personally, I think its much easier to pull off the style Iron Savior goes for than this super symphonic fantasy metal. It was never a huge draw for me but when it works it works. This only half worked for me.

  • OzanCan

    I couldnt help myself smiling while I was reading this review!! Classic Nerdy Metal! hahahahaha; just for this review I am gonna listen to this cheese metal! :D
    Master Druhm does it again!

    • Thanks Oz! Its worth a listen if you like this sort of thing. It has its moments, just not enough of them.

      • OzanCan

        Actually, you know the feeling that sometimes you’ll get a sweet tooth; you crave for something so sweet but in your mind you dont want to eat it, you shouldnt eat it and yet you cant help yourself. And finally when you get it, you dont even regret one bit, that you are sooooo happy for getting it.

        Yeah thats how I feel about Power Metal! I love it even though I know it’s not gonna satisfy me in the long run. But when I listen to it, who cares? I am just satisfied in the short run and thats what counts!

        m/ time for the flight of the DRAGONS!!! m/
        heheh :)

      • OzanCan

        oh yeah I forgot to mention…I love your reviews sir! they are smart and funny…in royal METAL way! I love it. I am still smiling while writing this little reply :))

        • Thanks again OzanCan! I appreciate the kind words and your loyal readerership! You are a gentleman and a scholar.

  • Werner Boshoff

    “In case there was ANY doubt about the nerd-factor of this stuff, Dragonland created an interactive website with maps and narrations to help guide you on the mystic  journey they planned for you. Holy nerd bait, Batman!”
    HAHAHA! This made me fall out of my chair. xD  

    • Thanks, Werner! Hope you didn’t get hurt in the fall.

  • Zadion

    What the fuck is Amaranthe doing in my epic power metal….

    • That same thought crossed my mind as well.

  • Alex Besogonov

    This album is far better than almost _everything_ in symphonic/power metal. Early/middle Rhapsody rivals it but not much else (Aina, maybe).

    Certainly much more melodic than Astronomy or Starfall.

  • Paul Thorne

    Fair review overall.  Definitely has it’s moments – Shadow of the Mithril Mountains and The Black Mare are the definite standouts but too much filler and not enough killer here I’m afraid.

  • andy26910

    shit review which is biased.

  • andy26910

    Really terrible review, you clearly don’t like the genre and you like to talk about ‘nerds’ too much. Get someone who actually knows about the genre to review this album because your opinion is wank and very biased. First of all DL has to be one of the least generic power metal bands out there (not including their first two albums as they were pretty generic). You’ll also find that on the whole your the only guy on the internet who has bashed this album, suggesting again that you don’t know shit. Don’t delete my comment again as well soppy bollocks.

    • Andy,

      I openly admitted I wasn’t the biggest fan of the genre so my preferences were clear and readers could take that into account and judge for themselves. I also gave the record a fair hearing and mentioned what I thought was good about it. I find their older albums very generic. If you don’t, good for you.

      I don’t give a rat’s ass what others said about the album. I review it based on my opinion regardless what the “popular” spin on an album is. I’m not going to bother to look but I doubt I’m the only one who had issues with this album, its just not that great.

      • andy26910

        Take a look, the lowest one I could find is 7.5. In fact there are a fair few that has given it full marks.