Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Power metal—that cheese-encrusted province of swords, sorcerers, and curiously falsetto male singers—has never been metal's subtlest offshoot, but since DragonForce's 1999 arrival, most other power-metal bands have seemed timid in comparison. With its fourth album, the transparently titled Ultra Beatdown, the English sextet again makes the most of its most-ness: One lighters-aloft ballad ("A Flame For Freedom") aside, the album just intensifies the dual-guitar fireworks, castrato caterwauling, and hyper-speed 16-bit-videogame bleeping that—thanks to the combined promotional impact of YouTube and Guitar Hero—catapulted DragonForce's 2006 single "Through The Fire And Flames" to worldwide recognition. True, the lyrics (nearly all of which offer some variation on a battle/victory cliché) are borderline brain-dead, the musicianship is all slippery soullessness, and the production is so oppressive that the instruments might as well be synthesized. But in a subgenre where understatement matters less than showing one's might, these could just as well be merits.

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