Dragonforce at The Academy on September 25th 2012
I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a somewhat shaky relationship with metal over the years. System Of A Down were my first love: the truly monstrous riffs combined with an obvious element of self-parody and humour won me over. It wasn’t long, though, before I’d stepped back and found that the ‘alternative’ lifestyle was oddly uniform, and developed an overwhelming urge to attend a Brazilian black metal gig in a salmon pink t-shirt, simply so when the inevitable comments came I could scream back a few Sepultura lyrics and point out that the blackness, the flames, the studs and the long hair are as much a uniform as a football shirt.
I soon drifted into preferring manic guitar intimacy without the volume requirements; the likes of At The Drive In, their follow up act The Mars Volta, And So I Watch You From Afar and early Muse. There was even a point when I rated The Darkness’ STD-and-spandex parody higher than the music it was aping. Over time, though, metal has slowly regained its appeal for me, and Dragonforce – an act capable of quite ludicrously brilliant guitar work and heavy on the high pitched vocals – seemed like a perfect live re-entry. And so it proves.
Dragonforce are the very image of an old-school metal band: heavy on the guitars, hairy, outlandish and full of energy. While the Londoners offer exceptional axe work all round, Herman Li and Frederic LeClerq are the stand out live assets. Li, a founder member, works his chords at outrageous speed, slamming his way around the stage front and weaving around the rest of the band at a frantic pace. His style is distinctive, making heavy use of his vibrato set up, and toying with his deeper chords with Hot Hand ring addition. Herman even pings the odd note with his tongue, though we’re not entirely sure it comes through the speaker system. Partner in crime LeClerq, is if anything, even better. His stage interaction seems to extend to eyeballing individual members of the audience until they throw him some devil horns, and his bass tones are so rumblingly sharp it’s possible to zone out and focus on nothing but the edgy undercurrent.
Track wise, the set powers along, saving monsters like ‘Heroes Of Our Time’ and the name-making ‘Through The Fire and Flames’ until the close. Newbie ‘Seasons’ features acoustic guitars, but still manages to sound puzzlingly intense, especially when Vadim Pruzhanov throws in a lively keyboard contribution, and ‘Heroes Of Our Time’ picks things up to the mightiest of crescendos. Those distinctive Nintendo bleeps that occasionally add an unlikely backdrop to the album tracks are conspicuous in their absence, and while the guitar track – inarguably the main draw for such an act – is as good as any we’ve seen, Marc Hudson’s vocals are far from inspiring, and often dropped disappointingly deep into the mix. Amongst a melodically forceful delivery, his contribution stands out, impressive as it can be in its ambitiously high pitch, as a clear weak link.
Still, as far as my long-overdue return to the metal scene goes, Dragonforce succeed in being boisterously energetic, crowd pleasing and quite intensely loud and lairy. I won’t be donning a black gothic-script hoodie just yet, but you can’t argue with the raw, edgy musicality.