REVIEW: DRAGONFORCE @ TRAMSHED, CARDIFF (12.11.19)
Over their 20-odd year career, British extreme power metallers DragonForce have cultivated a reputation for serious shred, serious cheese and seriously good fun. That’s not to mention their passionate embrace of new ways of interacting with fans via their associations with the video game community and Herman Li’s regular activity on the streaming site Twitch. So, when I had the opportunity to see them live (for the first time ever, too!) at Cardiff’s brilliant Tramshed venue, I couldn’t say no to it!
Kicking off the evening was the duo of McRocklin & Hutch, a combination of Scottish virtuoso McRocklin (who handled all the guitar parts) and producer Hutch (who took charge of keyboards and backing tracks). They worked their way through a fantastic set of instrumental retrowave, with McRocklin showing off his brilliant guitar skills as Hutch laid down a solid foundation.
The two of them also did a surprisingly good job of interacting with the crowd! McRocklin made sure to talk to the crowd as much as he could between songs, whilst Hutch was able to reach out to the audience and get them to clap along during breaks and parts in the set where he could take his hands off the keyboards.
Whilst the music did get a bit repetitive at times (and it would definitely be a bit of a drag for anyone who isn't a fan at all of the synthwave/retrowave aesthetic), their more relaxed yet still technically satisfying compositions were the perfect way to warm up the crowd. McRocklin proved yet again why he is one of the best emerging guitarists around right now and hopefully we will eventually see some more material from his collaboration with Hutch.
ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10
Next up were the Japanese metal band Lovebites. I had never even heard of them before this show and I honestly didn’t know what to expect - I was very surprised to see 5 women all dressed in white take to the stage and launch into some seriously well-played technical metal!
Whilst the music did very much stick to the playbook of power metal, taking plenty of influence from bands like Stratovarius and Iron Maiden, that was no bad thing as their incredibly fast and technically demanding music was executed with almost flawless efficiency. Frontwoman Asami was an absolute natural too, executing her power vocals perfectly and making sure to keep the crowd involved every chance she got.
This, combined with their obvious insane technical ability, absolutely won the crowd over - there were definitely a few new fans, me included, in the audience that night! With their third album Electric Pentagram on the way soon too (they played a new song from that album as part of their set), it’ll certainly be very interesting to see how big Lovebites could become on a global level.
ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10
Finally, after a long period of setup, we got what we had all come here for. After a visually stunning intro sequence including plenty of laser lights, DragonForce took to the stage performing “Highway To Oblivion”, guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman standing atop the band’s larger than life-sized arcade machine props. What followed was a nothing less than fantastic set full of incredible showmanship and a proper stage show including loads of lights, smoke cannons, confetti cannons, a video wall and of course those huge arcade machines that also showed gameplay from various different classic arcade games such as OutRun and Mortal Kombat.
The vast majority of the set was taken from their latest album Extreme Power Metal, but they made sure to also include some older classics such as “Black Fire”, “Fury Of The Storm”, “Cry Thunder” and of course the infamous “Through The Fire And The Flames”. We also got a fun mid-set break that included frontman Marc Hudson picking up a guitar to play some of his favourite video game themes, followed by a hilarious rendition of the theme from Farming Simulator that included Sam Totman on banjo and Midori and Miyako from Lovebites joining in on guitar.
Of course, the elephant in the room of YouTube sensation Stevie T not playing bass with them was pointed out and they massively congratulated touring member Damian Rainaud (who also produced Extreme Power Metal, as well as being the regular bass player for Logan Mader's outfit Once Human) for stepping in at such short notice to learn the entire set - it was lovely of them to give Damian so much credit for the amount of work he’s put in for DragonForce.
Closing with a cover of “My Heart Will Go On” and the obligatory rendition of “Through The Fire And The Flames”, DragonForce left the stage in Cardiff as the all-conquering force of fun and fantastic heavy metal that they are. I definitely had fun and, judging from how everyone else was feeling, everyone else did too! With the over the top theatricality and stadium sized sound DragonForce have mastered over the years, maybe it won't be that long before they move on to bigger venues?
ROCKODILE RATING: 10/10
Words by Robert Percy