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DragonForce

Thanks to Guitar Hero and the recent nostalgia for all things '80s, the shred is back. And by shred, we're talkin' 'bout the jaw-dropping guitar virtuosity characteristic of so much Reagan-era rock--from the melodic pyrotechnics of the United States' Joe Satriani to the blistering neoclassicism of Sweden's Yngwie Malmsteem.

Twenty years after these artists brazenly pushed the limits of six-string dexterity, British "extreme power metal" sextet DragonForce has released its fourth and finest work to date, Ultra Beatdown. The album's title is apt, since after enduring the eight epic tracks (the shortest clocking in at more than five minutes), one feels absolutely pummeled by the pure, unadulterated shred unleashed by lead guitarist Herman Li.

Opening track "Heroes of Our Time" quickly sets the video-game-on-meth tone with its vast mélange of fret tapping, whammy-bar yanking, synth stabbing, double-bass-drum kicking, soaringly triumphant vocal lines and vague lyrics about struggling to overcome psychological and/or spiritual obstacles.

Actually, no critic can describe this music and do it justice; it is so inhumanly technical yet formula-driven that it defies casual listening. Rare is the metal band that offers anything new, and DragonForce--especially with a song like "Heartbreak Armageddon"--offers such a slick, alien product that one can't help but wonder if it's a joke, or at least being performed with a tongue in each cheek.

Likely, it's not, which means these guys deserve even more credit for eschewing irony in favor of pleasure.

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