2017's Reaching Into Infinity marked the end of an era for Great Britain's DragonForce. Founding keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov sat out its world tour for family reasons, and ultimately left the band in 2018. DragonForce haven't yet formally replaced him, but they did enlist the assistance of Epica's keyman Coen Janssen for Extreme Power Metal. Despite the personnel change, DragonForce have never sounded more like themselves than they do here. From the wonderfully cheesy album art to Herman Li's and Sam Totman's guitar pyrotechnics, to their blazing cover of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" that closes the set, there is no mistaking who this is. On his third album with the band, lead vocalist Marc Hudson is finally revealed as one of metal's truly great frontmen with startling dynamic and tonal ranges and a commanding presence that absorbs and focuses all the musical heat around him. DF recorded parts of this live on Li's Twitch channel, while the majority was cut in a Los Angeles studio with producer Damien Rainaud.
All the classic tenets are here: Singalong choruses that recall classic '80s rock are framed in anthemic, fist-pumping melodies complete with fantasy and sci-fi lyrics and the overdriven sounds of retro video games. (The latter is as it should be: No other band has approached the guitar god athleticism of "Through the Fire and Flames," the most challenging song on Guitar Hero III or perhaps any other volume.) Opener "Highway to Oblivion" is ushered in by Janssen's gated synth, with a majestic intro vocal from Hudson before the guitars and drums gallop in. At just under seven minutes, it's a mini suite with bombastic crescendos and announces the flavor of the rest of the album. Regal, twinned lead guitars announce glorious storytelling and visceral power in "The Last Dragonborn," where power metal and thrash go head to head without sacrificing DF's innate lyricism. "Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shred Machine" is as over the top as its title. Using unrelenting speed and near-steroidal physicality, the guitarists take one another on, yet manage to unite with the keyboards and kinetic drumming. The nearly chanted vocal choruses in the epic "The Last Dragonborn" are thunderous and hooky. "Troopers of the Sun"'s adrenaline-fueled bassline intro gives way first to thrash, then to an orgiastic conflagration of hooks, guitar solos, and Hudson's astonishing vocals. The album's title is actually defined by the muscular freneticism in "Razorblade Dream," while "In a Skyforged Dream" is one of the most impeccably constructed and brutal songs DF have ever recorded. Only "Remembrance Day," with its bagpipe and marching snare intro, slows the arc of the proceedings. It's a power metal hymn framed in Celtic melody and victorious battlefield pomp. Extreme Power Metal is classic DragonForce. They sound revitalized and refreshed, as if they have something to prove. All told, the music and attitude on this date are defined by a lone adjective: Epic.