Several thoughts go through my head prior to DragonForce’s album launch event as I journey my way through the back alleys of London to find the city’s hidden gem: The Black Heart. Firstly, will the venue withstand the flattening sonic power we’ve come to expect from DragonForce? How will the global metal act fare in a venue half the size of their bus? Lastly, I’ve found it quite easy to turn off when listening to a DragonForce record – will this be true of them live or will the immediacy of the musicianship prove captivating?
Safely I can say that these fears are smashed to pieces as the evening is filled with craning necks to get a glimpse of the blur of guitarists Sam Totman and Herman Li’s hands, people losing their shit when Li lifts his guitar by the whammy bar and vocalist Marc Hudson’s ball-squeezing screams. In other words, a fairly standard show from the power metal standard bearers.
Cramming on stage, they open with “Operation Ground and Pound” to great reception and some of the heartiest crowd singing the dive bar has ever seen. We are told several songs into the set that this is a particularly special evening for them as their manager is ill and couldn’t be here tonight, right on cue a platter of shots appear from backstage. Hudson grins as shots are passed through the crowd, “Let’s make this a real party”.
As vocalists go, Marc goes above and beyond tonight not only with his own incredible performance but to hold one’s own against the dual attack that is Li and Totman’s shredding is remarkable. Such a feat does not go unnoticed by the relatively intoxicated crowd. This is what Totman is referring to when he says “people will be surprised at his brutality”.
Soon enough the band launch into “Fury Of The Storm” to the crowd’s joy. The place opens up and people go ape to the whirlwind of notes and tales of glories long ago, such is where DragonForce excel. Hudson leads the band into DragonForce’s fastest song and tonight’s “change of pace” that is “The Game”. Unfortunately, no Heafy appears but the crowd is in such a euphoria that this passes unnoticed.
The relaxed nature of the night is reflected in the jazz interludes gifted by bassist Frédéric Leclercq. When heckled to play some Manowar, the good time bassist plonks into “Hail and Kill”. Hudson says this is “the weirdest fucking gig we’ve ever done. People come to see DragonForce and hear jazzy Manowar!”. To be fair, I don’t think anyone saw their Wednesday evening taking such a turn either!
Other highlights of the set include the inappropriately massive “Cry Thunder” that levels the room and two already released songs from forthcoming album Reaching Into Infinity. “Judgement Day” is already a classic in some fans’ eyes who belt out every word despite being released only three weeks ago. It’s the live premiere of “Curse Of Darkness” that really gets people going. Released earlier that day, this is why people are here tonight.
Also piled into the set is a metal-ed up version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire”, off 2014’s Maximum Overload. How can anyone disagree with that? The evening cannot be over without the bonafide “Through The Fire And Flames” to which people cast all eyes to Li’s right hand till he picks up his axe with the whammy bar. Every lyric is screamed back and guitar melodies emulated, just how it was meant to be experienced.
Finishing at a modest 10:15 the band wander off stage for 5 minutes before joining the crowd out front and down in the bar. A myriad of diverse fans flock to their domain, some asking questions, some signing setlists, some getting pictures, others drunkenly dribbling in their faces. Ultimately the band knew what they were in for but as a result, they made this a really special night for the fans.
Having packed that much power into the venue, they have left their mark. Whilst it may not have been the most spectacular or dazzling DragonForce show, they’ve made do with the night’s setting. Naturally their sound lends itself to grand and glorious battlefields and stages though the evening is by no means spoiled by that. As far as speed metal and power metal goes, these guys are leading the charge and are at the top of their game. I have no doubt Reaching Into Infinity will take that further.
Reaching Into Infinity is out on May 19th via EarMusic