Dragonforce. Dragonforce. DRAGONFORCE! No matter how many times I say that ridiculous compound noun, it never comes out right. No matter how much intonation, volume or timbre I apply to the word, there's just not enough to convey the respect, fun and gratification I get from this band. I remember back in the throes of 2001, I was trawling the MP3.com forums to find one cocky, "extreme power metal" band tearing through the charts. Back then, they were Dragonheart, a somewhat subdued shadow of their present selves. Before I knew it, I was clamoring to get my hands on the first copy of their "groundbreaking" and intensely powerful debut album, Valley of the Damned. Years passed, and their influence and noteriety grew. It climbed higher with their frenzied and explosive blast-beat heavy album, Sonic Firestorm. Their cult of popularity reached fever pitch with the neck-snappingly fast and fretboard flaming Inhuman Rampage. (It is true - they've gone through 2 drummers in 3 albums...) It was time - almost not soon enough - for Dragonforce to slay the metal masses of Down Under, as young and unwieldy as they are. I have never before seen so many underagers at a gig (with their bemused parents in tow) to see a band. Perhaps their inspiration for climbing the heights of guitar mastery? Well, let's hope so.
After chilling ourselves to the bone and corrupting our tastebuds with one dollar slices of pizza (don't ask), we finally were allowed to shuffle into the Hi-Fi Bar, an excellent venue for the evening having already hosted The Haunted and Exodus not a month before. We drank sparingly as we weren't made of money ($7 for premium beers, $4 for domestic...well, shite) and reminisced about metal, metal and metal with some extremely lucky friends of mine. Rae (If you may remember, was the props queen at Megadeth) and her boyfriend Kris had scored a ticket literally minutes before the doors opened. Myself, Drew (a metal afficionado and guitarist in local melodeath metal act Black Like Vengeance), Matt (an in demand drummer - a talent that is destined to rival some of the greats), Kyle (80's revivalist extraordinare) and DeeDee (an eclectic, larger than life music lover and veteran of the "scene") with some of my other friends (Ian, Airin, Cia, Adam, Erin and Gus) scattered about in the mosh pit. After misidentifying some bands (Is that Helloween...or Dragonforce? - It was Angra, you fools!) out came Black Majesty, the Iron Maiden...er...traditional power metal act that has garnered considerable success overseas. They played many new tracks off their recent album, with Silvio Massaro from Vanishing Point coming out to sing the dual lead vocals for their signature track Sands of Time. (I wonder why!) They were fairly well recieved. Although, a recording of Raining Blood by Slayer got more of an impassioned response from the moshpit, who were violently thrashing and saluting to...an empty stage. It was quite a bizzare sight to see.
Then, the room inexplicably became dark, and out from behind a swathe of boppy 80's video game music and grandiose statements ("The fastest, gayest band in the fucking universe...") came DRAGONFORCE.
They burst through with lights and licks ablazing - Through the Fire and Flames roared through the hall with the galloping in of Sam Totman, drinking heavily from beers strapped to mic stands in between solos. It was frantic, it was fantastic, and oh so fun. ZP Theart was in fine voice, challenging the crowd to shout, scream and go fuckin' nuts. And they did in earnest - the mosh was the most impassioned I have ever seen it, just so happy merely be there.
They grinded through Fury of the Storm, Operation Ground and Pound (with Herman whammying his guitar - above his head!) Black Fire (of which ZP forgot the words) with some horseplay antics from the far from strait-laced Sam Totman. A definite highlight. Even through the chorus, new bassist Frederic Leclercq played a little comical ditty through the chorus with Dave (McKintosh) drumming out a "ba-doom-chh" to end the song. Everyone was in raptuous laughter while the band cranked up their powerhouse of frenetic shredding and blastlike drumming. I have never seen a man expend so much energy in order to play a guitar. The hand is quicker than the eye - and if Herman Li's guitar had eyes it would only see a blur of fingers, picks and long long windmills of hair. They got straight to it in
Body Breakdown and
Fields of Despair, until we were treated to Vadim Pruzhanov's magical, whimsical, "happy psytrance" keyboard solo.
This will be almost impossible to describe (although a sample is featured on the Dragonforce Rockumentary) but, i'll attempt to anyway. In a blaze of pure energy, Mr. Pruzhanov bursts onto stage, jumping around like a jack-terrier on speed, crack or some kind of heinous combination of the two. He addressed the crowd and started to play all manner of weird sounds, from sharp electronic beeps, weird samples (like they did in the early 90's) and pitch-shifted synth sounds complimented by some completely wild 80's style game beats. In amongst all this, as he prepares to play themes from The Rugrats and The Simpsons and some other 80's games he - get this - picks up the keyboard and played it behind his head, before holding it to his face to play it with his mouth. Insanity!
The band returned before playing Heart of A Dragon, Sam exclaimed disgustedly - "at least they didn't let Dave do a drum solo, that would have really sucked." Herman then said "This is the end of the warmup - no more breaks!" Enthralled, they slayed through
Soldiers of the Wasteland, complimented by ZP vehemently protesting that "We don't do ballads, we're 100% metal" (or something to that effect) before wearing the poofiest, most ridiculous black fedora style hat to sing Dawn Over a New World. It was simply hilarious! Before teasing us by leaving the stage to taunt us with farting, tossing noises and dick jokes, they bounded back on to play My Spirit Will Go On getting the crowd fired up within the midst of a shredfest. Breaking in between, ZP split the crowd in two to have a "shout off" between Herman and Sam's side (To which Herman's side won, not before ZP was left unimpressed by a "half asleep" crowd... "Do you guys have jet-lag or what? Let's crank it up to 12! I wanna hear you motherfuckers SHOUT!"). Valley of the Damned was definitely the highlight and the showcase of the band's electrifying talent. In the solo, we were treated to all three instrumentalists headbanging, and inexplicably - all playing one another's instruments with their arms locked in a triangle - Bass, Guitar and Guitar all played each other's solos using different hands on different fretboards and saddles. It looked almost effortless, but was simply astounding. ZP blew a kiss to his mum (Aww!) and ended on a definite high.
What an amazing show! This had to be the most fun i've ever had at a metal gig - the spectacle, the music and the atmosphere will struggle - nay, will be almost impossible to be rival. I've never laughed so hard, headbang (bung?) so fast and cried so much when it was over. Fan-FUCKING-tastic. Props? They own them all!!!
Photos taken by Drew Hanley (Guitarist, Black Like Vengeance)