Is it cool to like Dragonforce again? I dunno, I never stopped liking them. My last review of theirs was for Ultra Beatdown, the last album with original vocalist ZP Theart, and I was kind of losing my love for them a little because the songwriting just wasn't there. They were locked into their own formula and it was getting stale. After Theart left the band, a worldwide search turned up Marc Hudson, who proved to be a formidable replacement on the next album The Power Within. I didn't review that album, but it was really good. By then, though, it seems that the Guitar Hero crowd had forgotten about Dragonforce. The power metal resurgence was over and there was no trend to carry them anymore. They were even off my radar until I saw that Maximum Overload had been released. I decided to give it a go.

I'm glad I did. The opening track, The Game, comes roaring out of the gate with downtuned guitars and riffing that sounds more like old Soilwork than anything they've written before. Trivium's Matt Heafy lends his screamy voice here in parts, giving the heavier music a little more harshness. Well, it's hard for something so polished to sound harsh, but the growls and lower key sort of darken the mood a little bit, and if you like your metal fast, this song will get you going. The album continues tearing through furious, purposeful guitar work nailed down by the non-stop rhythm team of Dave Mackintosh and Frédéric LeClerq. Sam Totman and Herman Li have never sounded better, and they manage to keep their old solo chops fresh by blending them with some new acrobatics. Vadim Pruzhanov's keyboards are understated but give a nice atmosphere at times.

There's much on Maximum Overload that is right in line with old Dragonforce, but there is progression and expansion here that builds on their last album. Marc Hunter is a much more dynamic vocalist with a greater range than ZP Theart, and his ability opens up greater musical possibilities. There's a much greater diversity in tempo as well, which opens up a lot of possibilities that just weren't there on the older albums.

I think they finally listened to me, because there isn't a ballad on this record, at least not on the regular version. The expanded bonus edition has it, and it's actually the best ballad they've ever done. The regular edition finishes up with a rendition of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire, which actually made me laugh out loud, literally. Dragonforce has always been in on their own joke, that's why I don't mind how ridiculously over-the-top they can be at times. As silly and typically "power metal" as their lyrics and themes are, they've always goofed on themselves, and that's a good thing, especially when they really could be all serious business like other bands who have comparable levels of skill and talent.

Welcome back, guys.