I thought it might be fun to take a stab at defending a band that was launched into popularity with lightning fast guitar virtuosity, video game inspired sounds, and the most arguably ridiculous power metal lyrics ever. I, of course, speak of none other than DragonForce. Bet you haven’t heard that name in a while, eh? It’s true that the popularity surrounding the band has dwindled a little bit in a post-Guitar Hero world, but there was a time when people who weren’t even into metal were yelling along to “Through the Fire and Flames.” Of course, there were many metalheads not so into the band for various reasons, but there are two big ones that come to mind: that the band’s music is cheesy and gimmicky and that the band can’t actually play the songs live. So, does DragonForce deserve such scrutiny? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if the answer were “yes”, so let’s have at it.
Much of DragonForce’s music is built upon Dave Mackintosh beating the living crap out the drums with vocalist Marc Hudson (formerly ZP Theart back in 2006) singing about glory and battle for an extended period of time while Herman Li and Sam Totman put on a series of guitar pyrotechnics that occasionally sound like an NES on crack. The criticism is targeted at, well, basically this whole structure, especially the guitar playing. Now, regarding lyrics, I won’t tell you that DragonForce deserve an award for writing about profound subject manner and that it does sound rather silly to sing about things that are “so far away” after a while. But you know who else has silly, glory inspired lyrics? Every power metal band ever. It’s just part of the genre, like lyrics about blood and guts in death metal (and those can be silly, too). So, while the lyrics are a bit cheesy at times, it’s not a criticism unique to DragonForce. Plus, it all ends up sounding so catchy anyway, and you know it.
As for the guitar gimmick, it’s exactly what it is: a gimmick. It’s the band’s main shtick and they know it. I mean, just watch this clip from the band’s music video for “Operation Ground And Pound”:
The band knows how crazy it is that most of their songs sound like 7-minute guitar solos and they have a good sense of humor about it. Can you really harp on the band for making ridiculous guitar playing the center of their music when there are musicians like Yngwie Malmsteen who have been doing that for years in a much more serious manner? Or what about the mass amount technical death metal bands who basically create music to show off the musicianship of every member of the band? As with the lyrics argument, DragonForce weren’t and aren’t doing anything new in terms of showing off their guitarists. Of course, the question is can they actually play this stuff live? In a word: yes.
Accusations that the band couldn’t actually play their music live came around sometime after the band hit it big with Inhuman Rampage in 2006 due to technical difficulties at the band’s live shows, most notably Graspop Metal Meeting 2006. Herman Li has comment on the show:
“Graspop Metal Meeting of 2006 was [a] total disaster. The technician we had back then didn’t even tune the guitar, and no monitoring was done properly. We didn’t hear anything…”
I’m sure there are many rolling their eyes and suggesting that Li is blaming the sound guys when in actuality the band can’t play. Hell, I might have done the same once upon a time. But I did end up seeing DragonForce with fellow Metal Insider contributors Zach Shaw and Kodi McKinney at New England Metal and Hardcore Festival in 2012, and I’m sure they’ll vouch for me (please) when I say that the band surpassed our expectations live. Sure, there was still a technical glitch or two, but overall the band sounded pretty good for one that I didn’t have much expectation of in the first place. If you want to hear for yourself, here’s the band playing “Through The Fire And Flames” in Japan at Loud Park 2012:
I might not be able to fully convince any self-proclaimed guitar geniuses that the guitars actually aren’t synced, but going by my own live experience with the band as well as this video, I’m telling you that’s the real deal.
Are DragonForce ridiculous? Sure. Reliant on guitars? A little, yeah. Talentless British power metal band that can’t play for shit? Not at all. DragonForce was able to reach to an audience beyond metal when the hit it big and now they’ve not only improved live, but have progress in terms of songwriting. I’m serious; listen to “Cry Thunder” from The Power Within. It’s slower with a more traditional song structure in terms of power metal. Personally, I’m interested in seeing where the band heads next.