I’ve often thought Lady Gaga missed her true calling. Every single time I see her she looks completely different and virtually unrecognizable compared to prior exposures. Something about her face seems unusually pliant and amorphous, allowing her to achieve radically different looks. This makes her the near perfect assassin for those super secret guilds and enclaves we know exist thanks to Assassin’s Creed. No matter how many witnesses saw her smoke some fool, none would recognize her an hour later at the local Taco Shack, even if she took their order and spilled Monster Energy in their laps. That’s true power, my friends. Bloodbound, wield a similar though far less effective enigma cloak – altering their approach from album to album in an attempt to find some mythological metallic sweet spot. Starting life as a cracking traditional metal group, they subsequently drifted into borderline Euro-power and back several times with varied results. On 2014s Stormborn they took things quite deep into D&D Euro-puffery territory with a threadbare Game of Thrones concept. While far from stellar, it worked after a fashion and offered a few fun moments. As is obvious from the title and LARPilicious cover, War of Dragons takes that style and simply rocks right into Mordor with it. Does this foretell of their demise via critical fire or rebirth via Rhapsody OF Fire? It’s a fine, fine line.
After a throwaway intro, “Battle in the Sky” drops a 5-ton rind of gooey cheddar on you with such a shamelessly over-the-top Rhapsody meets Sabaton shtick that even Gloryhammer would caution restraint, decorum and astral-self awareness. Seriously, when the chorus hits with all its symphonic operatic bombast and more keys than that weird little dude in The Matrix sequel, you’ll either bust out laughing or be completely spellbound depending on your relative tolerance for orc products. As much as I want to mock and ridicule it, I can’t deny the song is pretty Gouda. And somehow, there are more like it.
“Tears of the Dragonheart” (really, guys?) is an equally ridiculous yet fun, anthemic slice of Euro-pop-power with just enough grit to make it palatable. “Silver Wings” is the best song Bloodbound has written in years, infusing a folksy Celtic swing for something that sounds like Ensiferum with power metal vocals. It’s almost impossible to dislike and shows these cats can write really infectious tunes when the moon is in the right quadrant of the celestial zenith during its dark apogee. Songs like “Stand and Fight,” “Fallen Heroes” and “Symphony Satana” all make free and open use of the classic Sabaton sound to good effect, and “War of Dragons” is overblown in the way good Euro-power must be. Even the disastrously titled “Dragons Are Forever” (really, guys?: Part Deux) will have you singing along after a cautious glance over your shoulder to ensure you’re all alone.
There are no bad songs and all dwell in that mysterious middle ground between catchy and stupid. the 45-minute runtime is wise, as the slightest hint of additional dairy might cause this whole thing to explode like a Dragon Bomb Z. The production is much less brickwalled than last time, but that Sabaton-esque wall of noise is still present when things get overly busy. The one major issue is the tendency of the keys to overpower the guitars. This results in a diminution of overall heaviness at times when a crunching riff would make a big impact.
While I’ve always thought Patrick “Pata” Johansson was an able vocalist, he had the misfortune of replacing the legendary Urban Breed (ex-Tad Morose, ex-Serious Black) and he always seemed a bit generic by unfair comparison. Now five albums in as the main man, he doesn’t seem quite so generic and I genuinely enjoy his performance here. He may be the prototypical Euro-power singer, but he has enough testicular fortitude to exude the necessary machismo and he can hit the high notes quite well1. The rest of the band is equally competent, with keyboard warrior Fredrik Bergh winning the album-long war for domination over Olsson brothers Tomas and Henrik on guitars. This is mostly due to the aforementioned mix bias, as the Olsson boys can certainly play and enliven the material with zippy, in-your-face riff-work.
War of the Dragons is a sizable step up from Stormborn and one of those albums you don’t really want to admit liking. If power metal came with a calorie counter, this would be quarantined by Weight Watchers as Oprah contacted the Insulin Council and a wet-works squad. It’s overdone, over-the-top and at times, over the line, but fun is fun and this is certainly that. Get your dragon saddle and strap yourself in tight. This will be a bumpy ride for your metal pride.