There was a period back in my early high school days where I listened to DragonForce almost exclusively. I learned guitar so I could (badly) play “Through the Fire and Flames,” I wore one of the most atrocious band tees I’ve ever seen with pride, and I even made an unbelievably embarrassing PowerPoint presentation on the band’s history for a class assignment. I’m pretty sure my obsession with them stemmed from misdirected teenage hormones, which, with me being a DragonForce fan, definitely weren’t being aimed where human biology intended. That was over a decade ago, and while I don’t get the same thrill from listening to England’s premier power metal wanksters today, I still enjoy and look forward to their albums. Reaching into Infinity is no different, and while longtime fans will find much to like, its inconsistencies make it a harder sell to pretty much anyone else1.
Reaching into Infinity is, when firing on all cylinders, the best example of DragonForce at their most gloriously overblown since 2008’s Ultra Beatdown. The guitar work in particular hearkens back to the ludicrous fretboard acrobatics the band was known for at the height of their popularity. While DF’s guitar instrumentation on their last couple of albums was a bit more restrained, the mechanically executed lead guitar embellishes this time around are ever-present and ensure that there’s almost always something interesting to tune into. I’d argue that the solos on RiT are among the band’s best, fusing the ostentatious technicality of Inhuman Rampage with the uplifting harmonies of Sonic Firestorm to create the record’s best moments. In keeping with their most recent work, DragonForce presents all of this in a respectable variety of contexts, experimenting with various tempos and metal subgenres to keep things from feeling monotonous. For much of its hour long run time, Reaching into Infinity is a ton of fun.
As much as I enjoy the nostalgic thrills that wash over me in RiT’s best moments, it’s truthfully only two thirds of a good album. Starting at its halfway point, its quality begins to slip. “Silence” is a useless and extremely out of place ballad about suicide that doesn’t treat its subject matter with half the seriousness it deserves, and I can’t think of a single reason why this track exists, let alone thirteen. “War!” is a baffling excursion into straight up thrash metal featuring the lamest lyrics I’ve heard all year, while the bloated penultimate track “The Edge of the World” is plodding and joyless despite featuring an intriguing tangent into death metal at its mid-point. There are still good songs to be found in the second half, but those three tracks feel like earnest yet ultimately botched attempts to break from the band’s established formula. As the best songs from the band’s prior album Maximum Overload were the ones that sounded distinctly un-DragonForce (“The Game,” “Three Hammers”), these failures are particularly disappointing.
Aside from the experimental blunders, RiT’s best compositions are some of the most emotionally charged since vocalist Marc Hudson joined their ranks. “Midnight Madness” is unquestionably my favorite track, featuring a huge, two-part chorus and one of the band’s better “woah-oh-oh” bridges to cap off its excellent solo section. Closing number “Our Final Stand,” conversely, has a refreshingly restrained refrain that shows DragonForce capable of showing flashes of nuance. Not all of the vocal performances hit the mark, though. “Curse of Darkness” in particular, while more than a miserable little pile of Castlevania references thanks to its moody guitar lines, feels like Marc is really phoning in his performance, and overall his vocals sound weaker than they did on Maximum Overload. Production-wise this is business as usual with a questionable amount of studio manipulation going on behind the scenes. I’ve always felt this sound is an appropriate fit for the band’s bombastic approach, and as a result I find it fairly tolerable.
If the ludicrous cover art (which looks like Michael Bay shit into a can of blue paint) didn’t tip you off, Reaching into Infinity is pretty much just another DragonForce record, yet it comes across as their most inconsistent effort to date thanks to a handful of bad-to-mediocre songs. That leaves about forty minutes worth of music where the band is operating at their most technically impressive and over-the-top, and if you still find yourself charmed by their signature sound, that may just be enough to warrant a purchase. To everyone else: plug your nose and move along.