Saturday, 14 October 2017

DragonForce - Cardiff Review

While power metal is not exactly something the UK is known for, one of the biggest modern exponents of the genre, DragonForce, have made the country their home. Despite being a multi-national band, DragonForce have settled in London, and are considered a homegrown band by many UK fans. Despite at one point truly threatening to break into the big leagues, the last few years have seen the band treading a more modest, but still very successful, path. More diversity in the songwriting, particularly on the past couple of studio albums, has widened the band's potential fanbase and DragonForce are now less likely to be seen as the one-trick pony 'joke' band that they were sometimes seen as previously. I first saw the band live back in 2009 at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro while the band were promoting the Ultra Beatdown album. I have seen the band three more times, with the most recent being a rather truncated set at last year's Bloodstock Open Air. Initially, due to other gigging commitments, I thought that I would not be able to make any of the shows on the band's latest UK headline run, supporting seventh studio album Reaching Into Infinity, but some more careful though and planning made the Cardiff date doable. Cardiff is always a great place for a gig, and The Globe venue on the edge of the city centre is a great small club. I had previously seen Anathema take the place by storm last November, and I fully expected DragonForce to do the same. The show was sold out long before the day of the show rolled around and, as expected, the place was packed with metalheads all night.

Opening up the show were Power Quest, who were on the eve of releasing their latest album Sixth Dimension after regrouping last year. Despite only having a relatively short time on stage, they made the time count with a winning performance that mainly showcased the band's older songs, with one new one thrown in for good measure. Steve Williams (keyboards/vocals), himself an early member of DragonForce, is the band's only constant member, but he led his largely new band through their paces with ease from behind his stack of keyboards. The two standout performers however were Glyn Williams (guitar/vocals), who handled the vast majority of the band's solos, and frontman Ashley Edison who's smooth and high pitched vocals really helped bring the band to life. All of the songs were soaring and melodic slabs of metal, and I thoroughly enjoyed their set. I am very much looking forward to exploring Sixth Dimension fully now that it is out. The setlist was:

Wings of Forever
Temple of Fire
Kings and Glory
For Evermore
Magic Never Dies
Far Away

It was not long after Power Quest's gear was cleared from the stage that the house lights went down and DragonForce took to the stage with Ashes of the Dawn from their latest album. As with their other more recent material, many of the song on Reaching into Infinity are less based around speed than their more classic output, but Ashes of the Dawn ensured thing began on a high. Guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman immediately showed their chops with a great harmony guitar intro as frontman Marc Hudson took to the stage for the first of many flawless vocal performances. He is improving in his role as the band's frontman each time I see him, and this was easily the best I have seen him live. Older material was interspersed throughout the set, and Operation Ground and Pound was brought out of the vaults and predictably went down a storm with the crowd. The band, who are currently touring as a five piece without keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov, definitely sounded rawer and heavier than usual. While Pruzhanov's keyboards were replaced with a backing track, this was quite low in the mix and allowed the guitars, as well as Frédéric Leclercq's bass, to really shine through. Judgement Day and Seasons followed, both of which really held the crowd captive, but it was the oldie Fury of the Storm at the around the halfway point of the set that really saw the biggest reaction from the crowd up until that point. That song has an extended instrumental section partway through, and saw both Li and Totman really shredding their hearts out with some of the best solos of the night. Another instrumental section followed, with Leclercq taking up a guitar to shred away but he was soon joined by Hudson on the bass and drummer Gee Anzalone to run through some old video game soundtracks. Anzalone also had a quick drum solo, so everyone on the stage really had a good chance to show off. There were three songs left in the main set after this little interlude, and the golden oldie Heart of a Dragon saw a rare outing, before the ten minute plus epic from the new album The Edge of the World wowed the crowd. While the initial cheer for the song was very muted, by the end I think everyone was on board. It is easily the band's most progressive piece, with lots of different sections that are knitted together perfectly, including a black metal-inspired section with harsh vocals. The main set came to an end with the newer classic Cry Thunder, which saw some crowd participation throughout, and the band left the stage to big cheers. There was time for a couple more however, and two bona fide DragonForce classics in the shapes of Valley of the Damned and their signature opus Through the Fire and Flames rounded out the evening in style. The setlist was:

Reaching into Infinity
Ashes of the Dawn
Operation Ground and Pound
Judgement Day
Curse of Darkness
Fury of the Storm
Guitar/Drum solos
Heart of a Dragon
The Edge of the World
Cry Thunder
Valley of the Damned
Through the Fire and Flames

Overall this was another excellent display of modern power metal from one of the best the genre has to offer. It is always great seeing bands like this be able to sell out venues across the UK, and shows that the UK metal scene is alive and well.

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