The second album since Bloodbound’s questionable metamorphosis from that of a traditional anthemic heavy metal act to that of full-on symphonic power metal, I also find myself not exactly impressed with this release. The band’s previous effort Stormborn (2014) did not impress me either, with this eighth release being only a little bit better. You see, I used to really love this band back in it’s earlier days, and found ’12s In The Name Of Metal to be a real blast. But the bombastic soundscapes and orchestral affairs of this and the previous release seem to put them a little closer to one of AFM’s largest acts, the almighty symphonic power metal powerhouse by the name of Rhapsody Of Fire. Now to be fair, Bloodbound aren’t truly playing the same game as Rhapsody Of Fire, but there’s still a bold similarity that fans won’t be able to shake-off. If you liked the band’s old style better, this will not be a record that you’ll be fond of; but if you prefer a more-lighthearted and chipper approach to your music, then you’ll love this. It’s all just too flamboyant for me – but it’ll definitely help them gain ground with symphonic power metal enthusiasts, as it does manage to do this genre justice. So despite it not being quite to my palette, I’m going to judge the record based on it’s artistic merit.
The album itself isn’t all that long, coming in at a brisk forty-five minutes. That’s a pretty fair length for an LP and I can’t really consider it too long or short, even though the track lengths barely encroach four or five minutes. However, that might be a good thing as this more simplified approach makes for a more digestible and less overbearing performance. After a slight intro, a rather triumphant moment takes the stage in “Battle In The Sky” which of course is not unlike that of Blind Guardian, Helloween, or Rhapsody Of Fire. It comes packed with a rather potent chorus and a decidedly epic bridge. “Tears Of A Dragonheart” seems to feature a little of the band’s chug-heavy past, yet still sprinkles with theatrics and keyboards. A solo effort is also made, which I find quite pleasing. The title track thunders in much the same way, with a chorus that sounds rather close to one I’ve heard from Avantastia, or perhaps it was a another act. It’s nothing all that major and quite common in theatrical power metal acts like this one, so I’ll ignore it. There was a nice bit of instrumentation midway through the song, but nothing incredible. “Silver Wings” boasts a bit of folk music influence, as well as a more straight-forward and less bombastic approach that I feel comes as a good sign. It’s good to see these guys dialing down the keys just a bit, so that the folk influences can really shine. As with the past couple of songs, this one also features a bit of a solo. “Stand and Fight” is another cut that brings us a little closer to the band’s work of the past, showing us that Bloodbound haven’t completely forgotten their roots in classic heavy metal. A few nodes of flute are utilized ala Sabaton, which doesn’t surprise me as the band was able to become a major household name in power metal with no one really becoming any the wiser.
On the next half of the disc, “Kingdom Of Swords” starts unexpectedly fierce, nearly reminding me of Symphony X during their mid-era. A Helloween/early-Avantasia style chorus decorates the piece as a slight bit of neoclassicism enters the solo. By now you can almost be assured that there’s a solo on every single track here, but that isn’t a real problem as very few of them ever feel like filler. “Fallen Heroes” fills with triumphant thump, almost like a more glittery Manowar. When we enter into verse, I feel that I’m getting a hugely classic vibe from the backing bass and that makes me smile. If you removed the keyboards from this one, you would have the barebones of a classic heavy metal anthem, which is what they’re trying to achieve with this one. It works too. Though a bit pomp, this one’s quite a hit. It’s good stuff and you can raise your fist to it. If ever a classic Helloween influence was to be made from this disc, it is definitely “Guardians At Heaven’s Gate.” This song not only embodies the classic speed metal of some of their earlier and most noted albums, it also features a high-flying chorus with equal axework. This is an example of a power metal band showing that they can play classic power/speed metal just as well as any of the other styles that they’ve fooled with here. By the time “Symphony Satana” has come in, I’m not really feeling anything and it seems that they might be overstaying their welcome in this territory already. Although a classy solo appears as well as a grandiose bridge, I’m not left with much here. “Starfall” fortunately comes in to pump up the tempo and get my head banging just a bit. That’s a good feeling, as it seems to carry that heavy metal thunder that I love about this genre. At first the chorus doesn’t seem to be that great until about the second half, when the notes really pick up and you realize how quickly it can seep into your head. (Oh, damn – Now I’m going to have this one stuck in my head tomorrow.) As I noted, this is a slightly heavier and much crunchier cut than most of the material here. But that’s just fine with me. The last track on the album is “Dragons Are Forever” which is another sparkling cut, with an equally sparkling chorus. A great way to end the record, even though it is curiously the exact same length as the previous number, “Starfall.” I’m not quite sure why, but both are standout cuts in my opinion.
So in the end, even though it’s still a bit flowery, War Of Dragons is definitely not a bad release. It’s quite solid and worth a spin, especially for fans of virtually all the acts I’ve named in this review. Though not quite as dark as some of the band’s earlier material has been, it’s a definite step up from the nearly forgettable pomp of the previous and sees the band decorating traditional forms of heavy metal with an array of keyboard sprinklings, flute pieces and of course, dragons. My version of the record came with a bonus “Songs From The Vault” in which several various demo versions of classic and new Bloodbound tracks were performed.This disc comes in at nearly a full hour of music, which is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan. Though be warned, as the demo versions do sound a little bit under-produced and decidedly different from the studio cuts. But that’s expectable as they are demos. The bonus disc will also give you an idea of the band’s early sound, which is worth digging into if this is your first Bloodbound experience.
(12 Tracks, 45:00)