I’ve made it no secret over the past few years that Swedish power metal band Sabaton are one of my absolute favorites in the genre, but I’ve found myself surprised recently as offshoot band Civil War has managed to seemingly beat them at their own game, while other bands have been effectively incorporating elements of their music into their own sound to make for something a bit more unique. Which brings us to their fellow Swedes Bloodbound, a band who I’ve enjoyed a lot over the years and who especially impressed me with their 2014 release Stormborn. That release felt like a full return to the band’s classic power metal roots and on some tracks they seem to be influenced a bit by Sabaton, while still retaining their own sound. Now, not quite two and a half years later the band is back with their seventh full-length release War of Dragons, and if anything those influences are stronger this time around, with almost the entire album feeling like something I can best describe as “Sabaton on steroids.” But does this sound actually work out for the band, or are they better off going back to the drawing board and trying something different? Short answer: It works brilliantly and is easily my favorite Bloodbound release to date. For the long answer, I’ll go into more detail below.
I’ll try and avoid name dropping too much as I go along, but suffice to say on this release Bloodbound has taken the core power metal sound of Stormborn, and dialed it up to 11 on all fronts, resulting in an album full of extremely fast paced tracks, with huge anthem-like choruses, huge choral vocal sections, an increased use of symphonic elements, and of course the sound wouldn’t be complete without keyboards and that’s one area where the band has really gone all out on this release, as on past releases they played more of a minor role, where on this track they lead the way quite often and are extremely prominent throughout. But of course, one element the aforementioned band has been lacking in recent years is those heavy guitar riffs, something Bloodbound has always had. I’m sure the previous couple sentences will have some longtime fans worried that the guitars have been toned down to allow for the other elements I mentioned, but thankfully that is not the case as there are still a ton of great riffs and excellent guitar solos here, and on some tracks the guitars definitely add more of a classic metal edge, which is the one area where the band really refreshes the formula and brings something new to the table, compared to other bands who use a similar sound.
At this point, not much needs to be said about vocalist Patrik Johansson, who by now has earned his place as the voice of the band. His vocals are as powerful as ever and he can certainly deliver strongly on the heavier sections, but I find he has always excelled at the more melodic sections as he happens to be one of the best in all of metal right now when it comes to choruses, and on War of Dragons he once again delivers, singing some of the best vocal lines I’ve heard on any album in recent years. The supporting choir vocals are also extremely epic in some sections and help add to the overall symphonic feel of the album.
Songwriting is an area where the band usually does well, but up to this point, they had never released a batch of songs I’d consider perfect. That has changed with “War of Dragons”, though, as not only are there no songs I’d ever consider skipping, there aren’t any songs here I don’t absolutely love and get excited to hear every time I play the album. After a brief voice over intro, opening track “Battle in the Sky” does an excellent job of showing the listener what to expect from the album, as Patrik briefly introduces the epic chorus, before the track speeds up and the keyboards and symphonic elements quickly take over, then the guitars appear and get pretty heavy during the fast-paced verses. It’s a typically up-tempo and very fun track with a huge, instantly memorable chorus and it’s certainly a song that blew me away immediately and has stayed stuck in my head since the very first listen. Next is “Tears of a Dragonheart”, another speedy, slightly more straight-forward track where the keyboards are once again quite prominent, and it’s another really fun track overall, though its highlight comes in the middle where the choirs take over and a singer with a really deep voice briefly takes lead and the way his voice sounds makes the main inspiration for this album even more obvious.
The title track is another fast paced track, that once again delivers a great chorus and plenty of fun moments throughout, but it’s actually the slow paced, very epic lead into the chorus that stands out as the highlight, as Patrik does an especially fantastic job during this section, and the marching drums are pretty awesome. Next is “Silver Wings”, the first track that stands out as sounding a bit different, and it’s another instant winner, with its nice folk melodies leading the way, especially during the very upbeat and epic chorus, and while it’s a bit more mid-tempo compared to the first four tracks, it still moves along at a nice pace and is another very fun track. The first real mid-tempo track of the album is “Stand and Fight”, another track which wears its influences on its sleeves, as the keyboards are very prominent again and the chorus feels familiar, while still being incredibly addictive. It has another epic section with marching drums, but once again it’s the middle section that really steals the show, as first, we get a really epic vocal section, then a nice melodic solo where the pace really picks up and then we get a super speedy final run through the chorus which is just absolutely glorious and one of my favorite moments on the album.
Staying on the speedy front, “King of Swords” is probably the heaviest and most guitar driven track on the album, and its main riff has more of a raw, classic metal edge to it, though the chorus is still super melodic and catchy as always, and the keyboards are still in full force. The folk elements from “Silver Wings” are back for this track, and add a bit of extra flavor, though overall the track is definitely one of the more pure power metal tracks on the album. Likewise, “Guardians At Heaven’s Gate” is easily the most traditional power metal track on the album and probably the fastest, as well as being more guitar driven than much of the album, while once again still having a fantastic chorus, which is obviously a theme on this album. After that comes “Symphony Satana” and as that name would imply, it’s the most symphonic track on the album and the choirs are also in full force, with some very epic choral sections especially in the second half, though it’s still a very speedy track and is certainly one of the more addictive tracks on the album. Next is “Starfall”, another more mid-paced track, that again has some heavy riffs during its very enjoyable verses, while the folk elements are prominent during the chorus, which is fantastic as always. The album closes with “Dragons Are Forever”, yet another very speedy track with strong symphonic influences, though anything some of the guitar melodies here reminds me more of Dragonforce, especially during the solo section, though obviously, the song is much catchier and more straight-forward than anything by that band.
I only left out one track during that rundown, that being “Fallen Heroes”. The reason for that isn’t because I think it’s a weak link. Instead, it’s because I think it stands out, both as being the only really slow track on the album, but also as possibly my favorite. Right from the opening keyboard notes and brief tease at the chorus it becomes obvious it’s the kind of track a certain band wishes they could have written first, as the keyboards are even more prominent than on any other track on the album and while it does very much fall into the formula of the aforementioned band, everything here just feels better and more epic, with those keyboards being more epic than usual, the choirs being fantastic, the verses being fun and that chorus being just absolutely spectacular, especially during the final run through.
Overall, War of Dragons is a fantastic power metal album and while Bloodbound has clearly been influenced heavily by other bands this time around, they have managed to take those influences and fit them in perfectly with their own sound, making for easily their best and most addictive release to date. In fact, I’d say this is one of my favorite power metal albums of this decade so far, and I’d highly recommended it for any fan of the genre, especially anyone who doesn’t mind a heavy use of keyboards and symphonic elements, as all songs here are amazing and some of the vocal melodies just have to be heard.
originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/02/11/bloodbound-war-dragons-review/