Whether you describe them as power metal, speed metal or extreme metal, one thing is certain: the Grammy-nominated, melodiously frantic sound of DragonForce defies being shelved under any one label. For 13 years the London-based act have worked hard, played hard, and have remained a formidable force in the metal domain. Next week they arrive Down Under to play Soundwave, and in a coup for die-hard Aussie fans, Sidewave headliners in both Melbourne and Sydney.
“Australia is certainly one of the most fun countries we have toured anywhere in the world and one of the first to ever pick up on DragonForce,” says one half of the band’s distinguished guitar duo, Herman Li. The last time DragonForce performed in Oz was in 2009, but this tour will be their fourth, and Li speaks of Australians with a certain familiarity and fondness.
“We have made a lot of friends there and we can’t wait to get back to play for the Soundwave crowd – and yes, it’s been too long. We really get on with the Aussies, we are on the same page when it comes to the humour right through to the love of the occasional cold alcoholic beverage (coughs).”
DragonForce boasts two of modern metal’s most skilled and theatrical guitarists in Li and Sam Totman, who Guitar World magazine proclaimed as “the new guitar Gods”. The duo are revered for astonishingly fast and long melodic solos that have proven impossible to replicate, as has their exuberance for playing live, exemplified by their on-stage shenanigans.
Recent footage of Li performing a solo in a hot tub during the band’s set on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise became a social media sensation. I had to ask Li what it was like playing a solo partially submerged in water, and if it was the craziest thing he had ever done while performing. “Yeah! People thought I was insane and everyone was freaking out at the show,” he recalls.
“I was actually a bit nervous just prior to that Jacuzzi incident happening, wondering what I would do if the guitar stopped working before the song finished. I was there for the whole second half of “Through the Fire and Flames” and that’s a lot of solos to play in the Jacuzzi!” After the song had finished, Li says he thought to himself, “Oh, what the hell, I’ll just jump into the Jacuzzi with my guitar and see what happens!”
The image of Li plunging into a hot tub with his signature Ibanez E-GEN3 guitar (to the rapture of fans who were already in it) typifies DragonForce as a live act: having fun while playing the music they love. “For anyone wondering,” Li adds, “my axe is totally fine after getting out of the water. It is ready for battle at Soundwave!”
After parting ways with long-time vocalist ZP Theart in 2010, DragonForce held open auditions for his replacement. The job went to Marc Hudson from Oxford, England in 2011. In April last year they released their fifth record, The Power Within, and DragonForce will perform songs from the album, as well as showcase their new frontman, to Aussie audiences for the first time.
I asked Hudson, who recently completed a four-month tour with the band throughout the UK, North and South America, if the nerves he initially had when he first began performing still lingered. “Of course, I think it’s natural to feel nervous before you go on stage, but that gets the adrenalin going and that’s a good thing,” he says. “I’ve spoken to other singers and they’ve said that the nervous feeling never completely goes away, but as I’m playing to an audience that’s never seen me live before, and I’m well aware that Australia was one of the first countries in the world to pick up on DragonForce and are very important to the band, I’m obviously determined to do a good job!”
While writing The Power Within, DragonForce experimented with different tempos and once more looked to themselves and the world around them to inspire the lyrics that would inspire their fans. The album’s first single, the triumphant and Celtic-influenced Cry Thunder, has a slower tempo than typical DragonForce tracks, and I asked Li if composing a song at a slower speed enabled them to come up with something so fresh and original.
“Changing song tempos on an album definitely lets us show the different sides of our musical abilities and surprise people who thought DragonForce were only about fast songs,” he says. “Of course, we love the fast songs but thought ‘why not do something a little different while still sounding totally DragonForce?’ The reaction we’ve received from fans elsewhere in the world proved it was worth doing!”
The only song on The Power Within that extends past seven minutes is Wings of Liberty – a striking composition that has proven a favourite among fans. I asked Li for some background on the elaborate track.
“It was one of the hardest songs on the album to get right and finish. At one point in the recording process we all got pretty frustrated and thought it wouldn’t even make the final album tracklisting! Suddenly, and somehow, it all came together and dropped into place at the end of the recording. I guess you can’t force music!”
The album also features DragonForce’s fastest song to date, Fallen World as well as an acoustic version of Seasons that shows a side to DragonForce that must be heard to be believed. It is truly their most diverse record and one Li is extremely proud of. “To me every song on each album has something magic that makes the hair on my arms stand up. For example, the chorus in Fallen World always makes me wanna grab my fist when feeling that epicness!”
Although the songs for The Power Within had already been written when Hudson took over singing duties, they were adapted to suit his dynamic vocals and extremely versatile range. I asked Hudson which track was his favourite to perform live from The Power Within. “It’s definitely Seasons. I think it’s a melodic and upbeat song but with some subtle, sad undertones, and I think the fans can relate to it,” he says. “From the DragonForce catalogue I enjoy singing Last Journey Home from Ultra Beatdown because I think it is perfect for my voice.”
I asked if any songs had proven difficult for Hudson to master, to which he replied: “None of the DragonForce songs are a walk in the park, but if I was forced to choose a real tough one I would maybe go for Fury of the Storm – that’s not easy!”
Aside from performing with DragonForce at each Soundwave, Li will also give five lucky competition winners private guitar lessons backstage. The competition will not only see one winner from each state sit down with Li to learn a DragonForce song of their choice, but one will also walk away with their very own Ibanez Herman Li signature guitar. Li conducts guitar clinics all over the world that attract massive crowds, and I asked him what he enjoyed most about teaching others, and how the competition came about for Soundwave.
“We did something similar last year on the European leg of the World Tour and I really had fun teaching guitar and chatting to the fans before the show. All the fans were really appreciative and it’s great to be able to hear what got them into playing guitar and the music that inspires them. I am looking forward to it at Soundwave. The very best of luck to everyone who entered the competition!”
For Hudson it will be his first trip Down Under and he is looking forward to escaping the bad weather he says they’ve had in the UK when they finally arrive in Queensland next week. “I’m very excited about the visit and really looking forward to getting there! When we arrive, we are staying in apartments just outside Brisbane overlooking the Pacific and are there for a few days.”
As to what Hudson isn’t looking forward to: “If I get time to go swimming I’ll be keen NOT to get bitten, stung or generally become lunch for some of those aquatic nasties you guys have and we see on TV at home!” What about non-deadly Australian animals? Are there any Hudson would like to see or cuddle during his trip? “Animals I want to cuddle? I see where this is going… How about a huntsman spider, I’ve heard they’re cuddly little fellas, right?”
Hudson has certainly proven himself a worthy frontman for the epic metallers. His poignant and powerful voice shines throughout The Power Within and he holds his own on stage alongside five uniquely talented and flamboyant musicians who’ve been at it for years.
“DragonForce is stronger and better than we have ever been before,” attests Li. “The fans are in for a killer show!”
Dragonforce & The Sword – Sidewave Australian Tour Dates
Monday, 25th February
Billboard, Melbourne – 18+
www.oztix.com.au / www.ticketek.com.au / www.moshtix.com.au
Thursday, 28th February
The Metro, Sydney – Licensed All Ages