Dragon Guardian – Dragonvarius – 3.5/5
Just to make sure nobody is left out of the joke on this one, their name – both band and album – is derived from already well established groups in the power metal scene; Blind Guardian, Stratovarius and Dragonforce. It comes as no surprise then that what is found here is not exactly the most original piece of music conceived, but remarkably, isn’t actually as bad as I was initially expecting. Wearing their influences on their sleeve, the sound presented is quite successfully described as a combination of those three bands, combining a heavy and riffy chord based guitar leads with no shortage of keyboards, and Dragonforce’ liberal use of fast drum beats.
But there is a fourth component to this sound, not completely abandoning their own culture, there is a notable unique element to their sound, coming in the form of almost folk-ish sounding keyboard leads (e.g. in Track 4, they make a prominent appearance, made to sound like an accordion, or again in Track 7 as a violin), as well as brief sections filled with spoken banter between the female vocalist and a male member which may as well have been lifted from some anime. It is this that lends most of the variety to the end result, but sadly feels overwhelmed. Despite the keyboards being used effectively, not only as an atmospheric backing, but also creatively during slower passages, they lend a variety that I only wish the rest of the band could live up to.
The guitar-work tends to feel rather basic, consisting largely of basic power chords, with a notable lack of solo’s, it results in a pretty lacklustre affair, too far back in the mix to really be heard, they are not only often overpowered by the keyboards, but also the drums! And particularly that last part presents a real problem, for the most part presenting little in the way of variety he keeps a constant blast-beat tempo through all but the slower passages (and even through some of them), sounding rather mechanical and lifeless they could be replaced by a drum machine with minimal depreciation of sound. Hell, a drum machine might even be an improvement – its easier to turn the volume down.
The vocals are sung entirely in Japanese (though if the album’s artwork is anything to go by, the best we could hope for is generic and cheesy fantasy lyrics), and performed fairly well. She lends a decent upper register, with a clean tone that doesn’t feel grating or annoying, only lacking in a certain sense of power that separates her from the better vocalists.
This band feels as though there is perhaps potential there, the drums occasionally show glimmers of creativity, and the few passages where the guitars are allowed loose they release a deep fury, which seems missing from the majority of the tracks. The ‘anime-like’ passages are a novel idea and for the most part executed well. They clearly take strong influences from the European Power Metal scene, but its this that often results in the feeling of them being a clone band. Good for a quick fix with a dollop of diversity, but in a genre as crowded as this, they aren’t going to be making waves any time soon.
Highlights: Track 3, Track 4, Track 7