I'm all for bands experimenting and trying new influences from younger bands to keep from going stale. When however, like Bloodbound, you can boast one of Sweden's best (if not the best) heavy/power metal albums (Nosferatu, 2006), the vast stylistic change that was previous album War of Dragons (2017) doesn't come cheap. Now, In the Name of Metal (2012) was a pretty meandering piece of meh in between two great albums, so there might have been some hope War of Dragons (2017) was something similar. That is until Rise of the Dragon Empire hit and the guys have proved to double down on all that was started with a T-Rex that they tried to pass off for a dragon; the more bombastic feel in the vein of Sabaton or more recent upstarts Brothers of Metal, accessible for all the catchy choruses and big harmonies. This came mostly at the price of the once near flawless guitars of brothers Tomas and Fredrik Olsson, more inspired by NWOBHM dueling heard in Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
Obvious things first; these guys are good musicians and they have proven themselves in the past, so there’s no doubt even this album has its good sides. The title track opens the album and is the perfect example of how the style can work for them. While suffering many of its predecessor’s flaws, Rise of the Dragon Empire is still a better album. The bombastic, slightly folk inspired style feels a better fit and the keys take a more natural place in the songwriting this time around. Unfortunately, this doesn’t save it from being an uninteresting listen in the long run. Most of the material feels like songs they’ve already done, with the vocal melodies in particular being very Bloodbound-esque. A few songs in the mind begins to wander and only a few other songs prove to stick out after the first couple of very decent tracks that open the album, melodic and soaring Balerion hitting near the end being the biggest highlight, thanks to great guitars and the whole image not being overdone but used in moderation.
What I would have wanted is more diversity to the sound; how about tossing in at least something that reminisces of the olden days? A song title like Reign of Fire based on the movie of the same name, and set with some old styled dark melodies and down tuned riffing could be incredibly interesting while still fitting the theme of the album. What we get is a four minute bombastic semi ballad with little to bring to the table. And where’s that furious guitar thunder with the banshee screams Selleby does so well on Satanic Panic? Slayer of Kings has a great guitar flow to it, with some incredibly flashy lead parts and speedy harmonies, but it’s all too soft and focusing on the wrong parts. Selleby has his moments on the album, as do the guitars, but there’s not nearly enough vibrancy to them, and it’s all to obvious that it’s plodding the same shtick to stay relevant, Fredrik Bergh’s keys taking the overarching presence throughout the album to the max. Bloodbound have turned the page in their book of the dead, and doodled dragons all over the heavy metal guitar riffs.
Standout tracks: Rise of the Dragon Empire, Balerion