By Carl Begai
Mention UK-based power metal speedsters DragonForce in group conversation and somebody is bound to shriek or mumble “Guitar Hero” depending on their feelings towards the band’s unique brand of metal. It’s almost a bad cliché at this point, as some folks routinely bash DragonForce for “Through The Fire And Flames” becoming a video game hit that ultimately made them a big deal around the world. They’ve released three albums since Inhuman Rampage (2006) gave us their chart-approved hit, the latest being Maximum Overload featuring not-so-new vocalist Marc Hudson. It’s unlikely fans will be disappointed with the album, but the diehards should be prepared a few sonic changes going in. Maximum Overload ranks as DragonForce’s heaviest album to date, all at the frenzied yet capable hands of guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman.
BraveWords: You guys have been magnets for criticism from day one because you dared to be different – what some people consider obnoxious – by going completely over-the-top. Taking a classic song (“Ring Of Fire”) from a legend like Johnny Cash and re-working it the way you have on Maximum Overload, you’re throwing yourselves to the wolves to a degree. Some people love it, other people hate you for it. Big, seething hate.
Li: “I think after Guitar Hero things can’t get any worse when it comes to insults (laughs). We can handle anything now.”
BraveWords: So that Guitar Hero stigma still follows you around?
Li: “Sometimes one of us meets a girl in a bar and the only reason she might know of us is because of Guitar Hero, which is kind of cool (laughs). But we hear it all the time: ‘DragonForce? They’re that shitty band from Guitar Hero…’ We also hear good things from that too, though, because people got into the band thanks to the game. We have a weird sense of humour anyway, so it’s all cool with us.”
BraveWords: Maximum Overload is heavier than expected for a DragonForce album, and it’s the first time you worked with an outside producer. Jens Bogren has worked with Soilwork, Devin Townsend, Amon Amarth and Symphony X. How much of an influence did he have on the heavier direction?
Totman: “All the songs were written before we went to Jens. He didn’t really push the songs in that way.”
Li: “The mix on this album is different from the previous album. His production really worked to get the right guitar tones for these songs. He has a really good ear. The musical direction, we just wanted to be more diverse and added more and more influences, putting our own twist on them….”
Totman: “…And without losing the elements we had before. We still really like playing fast songs, but we want to try and do other things now because we’ve made so many records full of fast songs.”
BraveWords: At some point you have to re-invent yourself to a certain degree, otherwise people are going to start saying “We don’t need this band anymore, they have nothing new to say.”
Totman: “Exactly. At the end of the day we’re still playing the music we like, and that’s really what it comes down to. I still like playing songs at 200 bpm, and there are still three or four of those on Maximum Overload because I still really like that style. We don’t want people to get the idea that we’ve slowed down and put out something like Metallica’s Black album or something, because it’s definitely not that at all. There are still more fast songs than slow songs, for sure.”
Li: “When Ultra Beatdown came out (in 2008), for me even now it’s still the most over-the-top record. We made that album in that style, but we don’t want to try and copy it. I think we had to go in a different direction.”
BraveWords: Was there a lot of discussion involved as far as changing things up in the band’s sound, or did you more or less just end up with a different animal?
Totman: “In the past I would just go away and write six or seven songs, and they were usually all fast, and then the other guys would write two or three. That would be the bulk of it because I’d do what I felt like. Before we even started Maximum Overload we actually decided we’d have four songs at 200 bpm, one mid-tempo song and so on, just to lay out the structure even though we didn’t know what they were going to sound like. That’s the cool thing about making music; you never know what the result is going to be until you’re at the end.”
BraveWords: It’s one thing to write this kind of music, but I don’t believe a producer of Jens Bogren’s caliber is going to keep his mouth shut if he thinks something would work better on a song. Did he have that kind of input?
Totman: “Definitely. When we first sent him the demos he did pull them apart here and there. Just because I’m used to been in control for so long, it doesn’t mean I’m going to say ‘Nope, sorry mate, we’re not doing that.’ There were a few times where we actually said that Jens’ ideas were better that what we’d come up with. In the end we both agreed there are some ideas you can let go of, and others you can’t. And that’s from both points of view. For example, on the chorus of ‘The Game’ that goes into what Jens calls the ‘happy part,’ Jens thought it was stupid. He felt it would be enough to just have the first section, but I told him that it wasn’t a DragonForce chorus without the happy bit. But, there were other songs where I let certain things go because he felt he had a better idea, even though I would have preferred things my way. If you can’t do that sort of thing there’s no point in going out and getting yourself a producer.”
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