Its 15 years since I first caught Dragonforce live at this very venue and although tonight is sold out we are still in a fairly small hall so what, if anything, does this tell us about the band’s career? For me it tells me that the music business is a fickle place and that Dragonforce have carved out a niche market for themselves. Those in the know however were out in force to welcome back the kings of fast and furious power metal, let the (video) games commence!
Opening tonight’s show and creating one hell of a racket when I finally got in were McRocklin Hutch. You may remember Thomas McRocklin from the Eighties when he was a child prodigy showing off his extraordinary fretboard dexterity at every occasion possible, including opening up for Ozzy Osbourne at one point. He was then taken on and coached by none other than Steve Vai and spent a lot of time in the states. He is now back and has formed this duo playing what they describe as mix of Eighties rock, cult movies and 21st century tech and listening to their output I can see what they mean.
Tonight however poor sound and technical glitches meant that mostly we got the very bass heavy techno part which blasted the crowd with a relentless wall of noise. McRocklin’s guitar work was buried well down in the mix but it did surface every now and again and when it did he impressed, but these moments were all too brief. Finally the tech side of things let them down completely and we were left with a deafening blast beat on repeat until someone thankfully pulled the plug!
Next up we had Lovebites who were a new name to me and one I hadn’t researched prior to the show. My heart did sink a little when I saw the all-female band coming on, all dressed in white and looking like extras from a Vixen video. It’s not that I mind a bit of 80’s classic rock it’s just not what I was expecting prior to Dragonforce hitting the stage.
However this was a classic case of judging a book by its cover as the girls are more influenced by the NWOBHM rather than fluffy mid-eighties rock. The twin thrash guitar attack of opening number ‘Hammer Of Wrath’ took me and few others around me by surprise. Vocalist Asami has a good voice but is probably the weaker link in the band, but that is only because the musicianship was top notch.
The twin guitar work of Midori and Miyako was excellent, with dual harmonies reminiscent of Maiden at their finest. The rhythm section of Miho on bass and Haruna on drums kept the breakneck pace up throughout the short set which included a new song from their forthcoming album ‘Electric Pentagram’ due for release in early 2020. The band left the stage to cries for more from an appreciative crowd but due to time constraints they were unfortunately left wanting more.
When it comes to musical skill and dexterity only one band could top the bill and Dragonforce did it in style. Due to the size of the stage the band couldn’t use all their set that they are carting around on this tour, so the 8 foot arcade game machines had to stay in the van! However, with lasers, dry ice cannons, confetti and a large video screen at the rear of the stage I don’t think anyone felt short changed.
After a short intro where the lasers were put to good use, the guys took to the stage and drove us down the ‘Highway To Oblivion’ on a wave of pummelling double bass drumming from Gee Anzalone. Marc Hudson was in good voice and his soaring vocals cut through the mix well.
The line up on this tour has changed with the recent departure of longtime members, bassist Frederic Leclercq and keyboard player Vadim Pruzhanov. Frederic has been replaced on the tour by Damien Rainaud who had to learn the full set within 2 weeks prior to joining the band and with Dragonforce that’s a lot of notes! There was no keyboard player on stage however which was probably just as well as the Liquid Room stage is not the largest!
‘Fury Of The Storm’ was up next and got the crowd singing along before we returned to the latest album ‘Extreme Power Metal’ with ‘The Last Dragonborn’ which is based on Marc’s favourite video game ‘The Elder Scrolls’. The new material filled out the bulk of the set tonight complete with many other gaming references thrown in for good measure especially on ‘Heart Demolition’ which was preceded with old Sega ads being shown on the video screen.
The heart of Dragonforce though is the breathtaking guitar work of Sam Totman and Herman Li. The interplay between the two is stunning to watch and the way they can rip through solo after solo without breaking sweat is mind boggling. The guys also never take themselves too seriously and there were laughs throughout the set with a few choice chants thrown in from the crowd for good measure!
Of the older material played ‘Black Fire’ and ‘Valley Of The Damned’ from the band’s first album went down a storm whilst ‘Cry Thunder’ had everyone singing along. It was the first encore of the night though which got the biggest response as Marc introduced the band’s cover of the Celine Dion hit ‘My Heart Will Go On’. The circle pit opened up and there was moshing aplenty as the Titanic favourite was blasted out in Dragonforce’s own inimitable style which brought a smile to my face.
Things were then rounded off by a song which Marc clearly wishes they didn’t have to do every night but as ‘Through The Fire And The Flames’ is a firm fan favourite (although I am with Marc on this one) he doesn’t have much choice. The guys blasted through the Guitar Hero endorsed track and ended the night on a high with more confetti and dry ice blasting.
Dragonforce may not be filling arenas around the country but they have a loyal fanbase who appreciate the musicianship and humour of the band, possibly two traits that put others off. I have seen them many times over the last 15 years and, hopefully, I will continue to do so for the next 15 because at the end of the day they put a smile on my face and produce some of the finest power metal going, what’s not to like??
Review and photos by Dave Wilson
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
Featured Albums w/c 20 January (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 AUTUMN’S CHILD Autumn’s Child (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 THE RAGGED SAINTS Sonic Playground Revisited (AOR Heaven)
14:00-16:00 AMBERLY CHALBERG Hi-Line (indie)
Power Plays w/c 20 January (Mon-Fri)
THUNDERSTICK Go Sleep With The Enemy (Roulette Records)
BUFFALO SUMMER Everybody’s Out For No.1 (Silver Lining Music)
ANCHOR LANE Dead Run (R7 Records)
MOLLY KARLOFF She Said (indie)
H.E.A.T. Come Clean (Frontiers)
THE KENDALL COLLECTION Staring Back At Me (indie)
VOODOO RAMBLE Midnight Train (indie)
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