Bloodbound - Rise of the Dragon Empire

Bloodbound Rise of the Dragon Empire cover
Rise of the Dragon Empire
AFM Records
For the most part Sweden’s Bloodbound have released some pretty good albums. Fronted by one Patrik Johansson, who took the reins from the excellent Urban Breed (ex-Tad Morose, Serious Black etc), who quite capably managed to replace such a great vocalist, the band continued releasing some fairly impressive albums since he joined them back in 2010. They did however release a dud with the cringeworthy “In the Name of Metal” and 2017’s “War of Dragons” saw a shift from more “orthodox” heavy/power metal to a more frilly Rhapsody/Dragonforce Europower variety. That album was tolerable due to the consistently great vocals but left quite a bit to be desired from a songwriting perspective and had a pretty atrocious production. “Rise of the Dragon Empire” is pretty much its spiritual successor and you can imagine where I am going with this statement, but at least it tries rather consciously to correct some of the shortcomings of its predecessor.
While the production is far from perfect, it feels more natural and balanced. The singing is great, but that was to be expected I suppose. New drummer Daniel Sjögren (Twilight Force and others) seems to feel at home, clicking seamlessly with the rest of the band.
Now the first “foul” is that “Rise of the Dragon Empire”, the title song and opener, is using “Neverending Story’s” theme melody. In its defense it rocks it up, quite considerably, but still it’s not exactly saying much about the band being inspired and not lazy.
“Slayer of Kings” is mid-era Edguy meets more epic Rhapsody like Europower and not bad.
Much better however is “Skyriders and Stormbringers”, which sounded to my ears like a perfect mix of Edguy with the bombast of Sabaton (a band which I dislike in general) around “Carolus Rex”.
“Magical Eye” is hello-guy… Edguy Ray. That sort of stuff. A tall order, but the Swedes manage to not only ape the style but give it their own slight slant. Original, it is not, but fairly nice all in all.
“Blackwater Bay” sounds like discount Sabaton/Civil War, with better vocals. Make of it what you think.
“Giants of the Heaven” seems to be cut from the same cloth that many other songs of the album were. It does little to differentiate itself, but the rather constrained vocals on this are a welcome “change”. The predictable build however doesn’t manage to pique ones interest and might have some people starting to lose theirs.
“The Warlock’s Trail” mixes the style of the previous songs with bad sounding pronounced keys in the vein of the atrocious Alestorm, with shanty like melodies. Had it not been for Patrik’s voice, I would have skipped the song, in all honesty, to avoid an allergic reaction to how cheesy it sounds.
“A Blessing in Sorcery” begins with the same premise, mercifully differentiates itself for the verses, but comes back with a chorus that’s very “early” Edguy in nature… for the past few tunes the album feels like it’s on auto-pilot mode and it certainly doesn’t help appreciating it.
“Breaking the Beast” is an audibly heavier mid-tempo, mid-era Edguy sort of tune, which does shift things in the right direction, but is not entirely able to wash away the cheesy aftertaste of the middle of the album.
“Balerion” (I think the name of some dragon) throws things in a somewhat heavier Edguy/Rhapsody direction that I find tolerable.
Final number, “Reign of Fire” goes all sympho on our asses, which I cannot say if it’s a good or bad thing, as it leaves me undecided. It sounds a bit like solo Turilli material, in all honesty.

The Japanese edition adds 3 bonuses in the form of live version of “Battle in the Sky”, “In the Name of Metal” and “Moria”, so a bit of everything I guess, from Patrik’s perspective. Welcome additions, but a little rough sounding/mixed.
For those that subscribe to the Young Tobi school of metal, with lots of nerdy Tolkien and Tolkki references, this slice of matured cheesy metal will be rather appeasing, but I did find myself secretly hoping Bloodbound would return to either a “Nosferatu” like or “Stormborn” like sound.