Midway through Valley of the Damned, the debut album from London's DragonForce, comes a stunning ballad called "Starfire." It starts out with a pretty piano solo and escalates to majestic and cinematic proportions, recalling Rhapsody and Stratovarius. It's a welcome respite from an album that, with the exception of a cool instrumental break in "Disciples of Babylon," is full-steam-ahead power metal – the likes of which you would expect from Germans or Italians, but not Englishmen.
All the clichés are here, beginning with the band's name, the album title and the scantily clad mistress from an enchanted world on the cover, surrounded by a pair of black stallions rising up from icy-blue waters. The music is fast and epic, the guitars are loud and over the top, and vocalist ZP Theart (seriously, that's his name) sings as if his life depends on it.
But original or not, this is extremely well-crafted power metal that embodies why fans either love the genre or hate it. If you love it – and can accept the fact that some bands simply don't set out to break new ground – it doesn't get much better than DragonForce. If, however, you find the whole premise of power metal a tad hokey, you'll really feel damned in this valley.