Review: Dragonforce at Manning Bar

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Dragonforce

@ Manning Bar

Power-prog metal giants Dragonforce arrive at the penultimate stop of the Australian leg of their world tour to as much celebration and anticipation as you would expect from a distinctly ‘metal’ Manning crowd. And there is much to celebrate in this community of metal-heads, who’ve arrived simply as loyal fans of the band or as zealous and aspiring musicians themselves. This tour not only embodies the release of Dragonforce’s latest effort Reaching into Infinity but it also marks 15 years since their 2002 freshman album Valley of the Damned.Since then, the band has been catapulted into the mainstream for their Nordic-prog power odyssey Through the Fire and Flame’s feature on Guitar Hero III and have reliably released a total of 7 studio albums including Reaching into Infinity.

However, the technical flamboyance and mind-melting pace which have earned the band their fame has also subjected them to the scrutiny of the Internet hate machine. Like anyone that’s been in the game for 15 years, there is a lot about Dragonforce’s distinct style to rip into. Doubtless, frustrated Guitar-Hero players and disgruntled bedroom guitarists enjoy mounting accusations of studio trickery to explain Herman Li’s ridiculous speed. Envious drummers scoff at the patent triple bass drum pedal employed by the band which gives the impression of a dozen galloping horses charging behind the melody of every song.

Indeed, the very genre of progressive or power metal which Dragonforce so canonically embodies – in all its testosterone-frenzied Nordic nostalgia and other easily attack-able clichés - hasn’t fared well in our current age of hyper self-aware, post-post ironic, cultural appetite for schadenfreude. But there’s something so unabashedly sincere and triumphant about the performance of tonight’s power metal bands which comes off as peculiarly endearing and thoroughly enjoyable, even for someone typically outside the community.

Wollongong heavy metal rockers Lord, kick off the night (with surprising punctuality for a metal band) to exuberant and energetic cheers from the Manning floor. These guys have been around the scene for as long as Dragonforce and appear comfortable and in-the-pocket on stage. Lord is everything you’d want and expect in a solid metal power/heavy metal band with good diversity and contagious showmanship. Their songs are a crafty blend of Motorhead drive, Metallica precision and Iron Maiden vocal-power. As a four-piece, the band possesses a sonic simplicity which renders each member’s parts distinct and impactful.

The two guitarists interchange their lead and rhythm roles and you can tell that over the years they’ve learnt to perfect their pieces with reservation and taste over grandiose technique and speed (although there was plenty of that if that’s your thing). The band also demonstrates their command of the stage through their poise and showmanship. Synchronised guitar curtsying, whammy-bar squealies into mid-solo power fists and every now and then, Lord Tim (lead guitar/vocals) and Mark Furtner (guitarist/vocals) were spinning mad yarns with each other during some solos.

Every now and then one of the members would throw some merch into the crowd (the deadset legends). Lord is also not shy of paying homage to the greats before them, sneaking in a few cheeky Metallica riffs in between the hooks of their biggest banger Betrayal Blindand even ending their set with a cover of Creeping Death.

Now it’s about 10 or so and the dust has settled from the opening act, Lord, who in my view, offered an ample display of what a solid heavy-power metal band should be - full of triumphant grunt, masculine flamboyance and excessive guitar showmanship. Manning begins to fill with the black and denim clad apostles of metal from all walks of life and my mate and I seek to round up our beer count to try and blend in. Dragonforce comes on just shy of 10.30, greeted with raucous cheers and fist pumps, the band return the gesture with their own fist pump, picks cocked at the ready… ready to rock.

Hermann Li thrusts the first power chords to the opening Operation Ground and Pound and Sam Totman starts layering the melody of the intro above. Marc Hudson on lead vocals gets off to an airy start but soon finds his pitch and the band is off to a grand start, setting the pace with the symphonic and orchestral motifs characteristic of their most recent albums.

I’m particularly impressed by the ones performed in Ashes to Dawn – about maybe 5 or 6 songs in – where the main riff is already a chopping legato melody but is broken down into a legato rundown of a scale (no clue what scale though… my bad) into a few sweep picked arpeggios, a legato run-up that same scale and then back into the main riff. However, I hardly consider my appreciation for Hermann’s stylistic soloing to be a musical one, with so much technique and speed concentrated into every bar and second of every solo you begin to lose a sense of melodic quality.

The entire first act of the Dragonforce performance thereby consisted of material from their latest release Reaching into Infinity with some notable songs from their penultimate 2015 album In the Line of Fire. Every now and then Hermann would indulge the crowd in a little Guitar Hero acrobatics, slide-bombing the neck and licking the strings - which I can only assume must be some kind of advanced guitarist auto-fellatio. On the dancefloor, a moshpit materialises just as the choral and synth-heavy intro of Judgement Day segments into the main chopping riff, played so rapidly it seems indistinguishable from droning.

The energy in the mosh intensifies as the band brings one older classic Fury of the Storm. Marc Hudson here appears the most confident and comfortable in his delivery especially given that the song was his debut hit with the band in 2011. The conclusion of the song heralds an interlude as the band walks off stage, inviting solo jams on the guitar from bass-player Fred and a 5 minute long drum solo which gave punters time to head to the bar for a drink.

Finally, the band returns to churn out some singles from their past albums as well as jams from Reaching into Infinity. You got the impression throughout the performance that, especially regarding songs from Reaching into Infinity, that the band was struggling to reach the same standard of studio and technical perfection which is amplified by the intricate synth and orchestral work in the album. This could also be due to Manning’s notoriously poor performing sound system which distributes layers unevenly throughout the venue, in effect hampering the efforts of most technically driven rock bands.

The length and duration of some of the songs and parts began to make the gig feel like it was dragging on, turning it into a tedious experience. Dragonforce seems to feel the obligation to keep everything constantly at 11, with no mind to variation in intensity, pace or atmosphere (thank god for that interlude). The show concludes with a long anticipated and well deserved encore of the band’s most eminent song Through the Fire and Flames which saw the moshpit at the centre erupt in violent frenzy and Hermann Li lick the entire length of his guitar.

Overall, I think this is a great start to the band’s world tour promoting Reaching into Infinity. The sheer technical demands of the latest album created some difficulties for the band on stage but it didn’t seem to bother many in the crowd. At times, the tedium of listening to 3 minute long guitar solos began to wear down on the overall enjoyment and even the energy in the moshpit but that’s to be expected of a band whose average song length is about 8 minutes. I would say that even if you’re not a massive fan of metal, Dragonforce is still an act worthy of seeing, purely for the spectacle of showmanship exhibited by the seasoned band.