Saturday, August 15, 2009

On Dragonforce.




It's time to talk about probably the most unexpectedly controversial topic I've come across in metal. I can't tell you how surprised I was when speaking with a fellow metal fan, and first seeing the grimace on his face when I stated, "Oh yeah, and Dragonforce is the ultimate metal band." Then, as now, I really couldn't understand how someone could NOT like Dragonforce. Or, at least, appreciate their complete compositional mastery of the genre. Let me back up a bit and review the path that brought me to this opinion.

The story begins all the way back to my first introductions to heavy metal. Other than early dabblings with Ride the Lightning, Megadeth and King Diamond were the first metal bands I really listened to. Every aspect of metal appealed to me, but it seemed the thing that really got me off was how brutally fast it could be. Some King Diamond songs were decently paced, but not nearly as fast as Megadeth could get. And by the time I finally got my hands on Rust In Peace, I went apeshit at how relentless it was. At that point, I was completely hooked. I was hopelessly addicted to speed and needed my metal to be as fast as possible.

Anthrax wasn't bad, Motohead did it for me most of the time, Megadeth did it for me a bit more, and by the time I found Slayer my hunger was slaked for a little while. Eventually, though, only the fastest, most brutal Slayer songs could truly fulfill my lust for speed; Poison Was The Cure was the only Megadeth song that made me feel alive; and the first four Metallica records didn't even make it off my shelf anymore.

So, in a quest for faster metal, I turned to the most powerful music distribution tool of the time: Napster. Piecing together clues from message boards, I found a few songs that were close to what I was looking for. Songs like Manowar's Ride the Dragon were pretty decent, but collectively they didn't come close to the quantity of material I craved.

Eventually I found my way to more extreme metal. After buying a Cannibal Corpse record, I found some early Dying Fetus mp3's on Napster, and eventually found myself at the hands of The Berzerker. For a 12 year old with no previous introduction to extreme metal, grindcore or hardcore, I had to stop a moment and rethink my life. What was it I was really after? What kind of metal did I really want? I was desperate for a band that didn't fuck around. Desperate for a band that wrote blazingly fast songs, stayed in standard tuning, and actually sang. I was desperate for the band of my fucking dreams.

It took a few more years to finally find my saviors of speed.

On a dark night in the spring of 2004 I received a message from my good friend Chris informing me of a relatively new band out of Britain that played pretty righteous power metal. When I first listened to Valley of the Damned and Black Winter Night I couldn't contain my elation. It was so incredibly fast, and after the intros they didn't let up for a fucking minute. Combined with the speed of the music, the solos were the most insane thing I'd heard. Not necessarily the most virtuosic, but certainly the most impressively frantic lead guitar I'd ever heard.

At that moment did I realize that I had found my holy grail? Did I know that I had completed my quest for the most agressive, yet melodic and totally singable metal known to man...?

...no, not yet.

It wasn't until about a year later. Listening to Sonic Firestorm in my car, I found myself completely overwhelmed by the music in a way that I hadn't experienced before. The brutality of neverending 32nd notes, and the extreme treble of the unbelievable solos cut deep into my subconscious, unearthing those sleepless nights scouring the internet to find the band of my dreams. I began to weep tears of joy, realizing that this was the band I had been waiting to hear since I was 11 years old.

Ever since I have been an unashamed Dragonforce fan. Andrew and I saw them in Philadelphia on their first US tour, and I've been pleased with the fame they have since gained.

So now I've brought you up to speed on my complete infatuation with the band. Now I want to go over the reason people wouldn't like Dragonforce (I know, it sounds unbelievable to me too).

1. BAD LIVE BAND

Ok, this is probably the most controversial, maybe even forgivable, but still completely unacceptable criticism of the band. First of all, when I saw Dragonforce they were amazing. So, I already know from personal experience that they can be a good live band. The biggest problems are their general inconsistency and nonchalant attitude to their own difficult material. While one of the best, they are also one of the most irresponsible live bands I've ever seen. They'll fuck up their songs, their solos and anything else all for the sake of going crazy. But let it be known that I find this completely acceptable (being in a few punk and hardcore bands over the years, I've learned that going crazy goes a long way).

But most of what laymen see as "talent issues" are actually sound issues. In every professional live video (and those are the only ones I'll comment on) I've seen, the rhythm guitars are mixed way too low and lack any mid range punch. The biggest problem, however, is the dual lead issue. The bass is left alone to hold the root notes while the guitars sail off undersupported by the rhythm section. What Dragonforce really needs to complete their live show is a third guitar to fill in the holes in the dual leads. Its not unheard of, and it doesn't even have to be a full-on new member. Maybe even one of their guitar techs could do it.

2. TOO GIMICKY, NOT A SERIOUS METAL BAND

This is something I've struggled against almost since day one with Dragonforce. They got big at a time when I knew a few people in college radio who played them all the time. But most were only "into" them as an ironic pop culture curiosity. Some metal fans have unfortunately lached onto this view. They don't think of Dragonforce as a serious metal band. But let me just ask; what's not serious about them? They write extremely difficult music, make flawless records and have performed their material at a professional level on several world tours. They seem pretty fucking serious about their music to me. Too often fans discount the sheer dedication and hard work it takes to be a professional musician who write, record and perform their own music.

At the root of it all, people are forgetting the basic ideology of heavy metal: grow your hair real fucking long, play real fucking heavy, and write your songs about completely ridiculous, whimsical, and absurd topics. I mean, when Bruce sang "Tell me why I have to be a Powerslave," I was like, "Yeah, why the fuck does he have to be a Powerslave?!" When Ozzy told me I was killing myself to live I thought, "Yeah, that shit makes sense in a weird kind of way." And when Dragonforce tells me that "oceans collide inside of us all," I'm saying, "Fuck yeah, its like the perfect storm beneath my fucking skin."

Basically, lets take a step back and look at metal as a genre and reevaluate our personal boundaries of "seriousness."

3. SINGER SUCKS

Alright. You got me. He's a little weak. But the melodies are good, the hooks are memorable, and if nothing else, its hard to find a good metal singer anymore because they've all killed their voices screaming for black and death metal bands!

There's really nothing I can say to this complaint. If you don't like him, you don't like him. However, the ratio of music quality to vocalist quality is far more balanced than in a band like Nevermore.

4. ALL THEIR SONGS SOUND THE SAME

People say this about any band with a strongly unique style. People say that Iron Maiden released the same record for about 15 to 20 years. In some ways its true, in others not. Maiden has a very strong style, as well as several compositional "moves" and structures that are reused often in their records. But if you listen closely you can see a definite curve of complexity and overall quality peaking at Powerslave, Somewhere in Time, and Seventh Son; then declining to the end of the first Bruce Dickenson era. Dragonforce is very similar to Iron Maiden in this respect. They have released four albums that are stylistically and structurally very similar. However the band's evolution in material, performance and production are at least on par with Iron Maiden's progress by the time of their fourth record, Piece of Mind.

I also have a much less objective explanation for the band's lack of variety. For me, Dragonforce is the be all end all of heavy metal and I'm not afraid to say it. And as far as I'm concerned, we could step into Plato's realm of ideals, put on a heavy metal record, and a Dragonforce song would come through the speakers. I believe that Dragonforce has achieved the closest thing to a perfect heavy metal song as anyone since the inception of the genre. Because of this, there can be no significant variance from this perfect form. Dragonforce's continuing quest is to keep writing the best heavy metal song over and over again.

Johann Sebastian Bach perfected the form of Baroque music, Van Halen perfected rock and roll/rhythm and blues, and Dragonforce is perfecting the genre of heavy metal.

There's not much left to say really. Dragonforce is my ultimate metal band. Not necessarily my favorite, or the most talented, but the utlimate. They have achieved the most aggressive music that still fits the classic form of heavy metal. If you don't agree with me, that's fine. If you don't really like Dragonforce for reasons other than the four I listed, that's ok, I guess. But there's really no good reason to ignore their mastery of the genre. They've taken it to its limit. There may be better, more interesting and musically adventurous heavy metal acts, but no one as brutal and aggressive in the same way as Dragonforce.

This post may be full of opinion, but I think I presented some good, objective reason not to write off this band completely. But, when it all comes down to it, if you're into metal, and you don't appreciate Dragonforce, you can go to hell.


8 comments:

  1. As someone who's been in and out of love with Dragonforce, I definitely think they have really hit a peak in their sub-genre. I think you addressed the major issues, I guess my only comment is that everyone gets bored with Mozart eventually? Mozart is just my stand in for compositional and technical excellence in a specific style; I think it's appropriate in this case. I guess I'm willing to go as far as to say Dragonforce is the Mozart of metal, but sometimes I'm longing for that Beethoven.

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  2. I agree completely. I don't really enjoy listening to Mozart very much, but it is undeniable that he is the apex of traditional western tonal harmony/composition. Perfectly analogous to Dragonforce.

    Who would be the Beethoven of metal? Or the Wagner?

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  3. LATE PASS

    It seems like the critiques against Dragonforce all bundle up to being "Well they're not an ABSOLUTELY PERFECT band" which you know, is hardly a critique.

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  4. I saw them on Saturday, and I think they actually are a good live band.

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  5. My older brother introduced me to Dragonforce, and I have fallen completely in love with it! Although, one look at me in person and you would wonder how on earth I could possibly fit into the stereotype of someone that enjoys metal.

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  7. Metalheads can't take Dragonforce seriously because they sing about stupid shit like flying over the mountains on a unicorn to battle the evil wizard to restore freedom to humanity. I can't take them seriously it's like metal for 14 year olds who drink a 6 pack of Red Bull to stay up all night and play Legend of Zelda. Sorry man, they're just not brutal enough. They can play really fast guitar, but the novelty wears off after a while :/

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  8. I have to say that this has been the best overview of Dragonforce that I have found. I have been listening to them for only over a year now but I love their music, despite the disapproval of my hardcore, heavy metal friends :)Emerald Sword is my top song of theirs.

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