DragonForce is a British power metal band based in London, England. Formed in 1999, the group are known for their long and fast guitar solos, fantasy-themed lyrics, and electronic sounds in their music to add to their retro video game-influenced sound. DragonForce has released seven studio albums, two live albums, one compilation album, one live DVD and one demo. With ungodly speeds on guitar and drums and impressive melodic vocals, DragonForce has won a number of fans worldwide. In a recent chat with TheWytchery.com here’s what lead guitarist Herman Li had to say:
Grim Magazine: Speed is often a quality of power metal, what has inspired you to raise that bar even further?
Herman: I think Sam and I, listening to other albums, the first song was great and fast, but the second song was all slowed down and then they’d do more fast songs after the ballad, but the first song was always the coolest so we decided to make every song fast. Then listening to lots of Death and Carcass and Cynic we brought more brutal, crazy stuff into it.
Grim Magazine: Alright, you obviously play fast, what is your practice regimen like? Any particular exercises you work on?
Herman: None really, before we started DragonForce we played in thrash bands and death metal bands, when we started DragonForce we just played that speed, we’re just used to it, bringing in things like Death and Megadeth, now we practice when we need to when we go on tour so that things stay together, it’s hard when you’re playing an hour and 45 minutes a night.
Grim Magazine: On your website, you list a lot of classic shredders as guitar influences like Steve Vai, Nuno Bettencourt, Yngwie Malmsteen are there any newer metal guitarists that have caught your eye?
Herman: Gus G from Silent Wind, Alexi Laiho from Bodom is a great player, I think the guy from Labyrinth, now he plays in Vision Divine…Olaf Thorsen, he made great power metal with lots of great guitars when they did the Labyrinth “Return to Heaven Denied” album. There are a lot of really great players. I actually like what Steve Vai is doing now with his stuff, it’s a different kind of thing but it’s still Steve Vai from a different angle, same with Satriani, I don’t think that “shredding” is all about playing fast, I think it has to do with the control you have of the music.
Grim Magazine: You play Ibanez guitars exclusively and I have noticed that a number of exceptional players have made them their choice, especially “shredders”, what it is about Ibanez that seems to make them the choice for really fast players?
Herman: I’ve played them for 10 years, my second guitar was an Ibanez, I think the bridge and the body is really great, the body is really thin, for me it’s great for touring, we run around and jump around and everything, the weight is really good for me, you don’t want a really heavy guitar like Les Paul when you are doing that type of stuff and obviously the bridge and the neck is really good. The sound is great, I play them because I really like them, I chose to play them, it’s not like they just came to me and said “here, we’ve got some guitars for you to play” a lot of guys in metal now go with ESP.
Grim Magazine: The new album “Inhuman Rampage” is obviously an ass-kicker, I find that it is even faster and more chaotic than Sonic Firestorm, is it your intention to go faster and more intense with each album?
Herman: On this album we definitely said we wanted to go faster and more intense than Sonic Firestorm, it’s more brutal, with some black metal vocals, you can hear them in the background, people say we’re power metal but we’re not exactly power metal, we have just as much thrash influence, the drums are much like Slayer, I mean the only thing that really makes us Power metal is the melodic singing, I think we haven’t really gone faster, just the instruments come together faster.
Grim Magazine: It’s obvious that you guys do enjoy a lot of death metal and prog metal, are there any plans to work more of those influences into your work?
Herman: I think we’re not really an intense, intense band, I think in terms of heavy we’d need to slow down, we’re more intense in terms of thinking, mentally, on this album we’ve got more video game influence, the keyboard sound is not so much the traditional power metal sound but kinda weird, it might take some people a little bit of getting used to…I mean we don’t know right now what we’re going to do next because we don’t write any music until way, way later, after all the tours and what not.
Grim Magazine: The lyrical themes in your songs tend to be about living life to the fullest, empowering anthems or fantasy inspired quest type songs, what is the inspiration behind these? Life experience? The want for a better life? Novels?
Herman: Everyday kind of things, touring to…you know, lyrics have a lot of hidden things, I mean some people think it’s about Dragons, but it’s really not, we played around with song names on this album, because people will probably think we’re singing about dragons and war and stuff but we want it to be about more, we leave the lyrics open to interpretation.
Grim Magazine: Is your songwriting part-based or more organic?
Herman: Someone writes the basic structure (Sam, me and Vadim), they bring it in, we demo it, and we all work together, we work on it as we’re recording it. Now you always have to demo songs before you record them, so you have to record twice, which is what we had to do with the demo when we recorded “Valley of the Damned” so the songs on that album are faster than the demo because we couldn’t go in and be worse than the demo, we had to make it better.
Grim Magazine: Dream Tours?
Herman: Well we already toured with Iron Maiden last year and every band…well not every band but most heavy bands dream of touring with Iron Maiden and we’ve done that a little early I guess haha, we haven’t really thought of that, we really wanted to start headlining shows, that was the thought and now we’re doing that, I mean I’d love to tour with a lot of bands, Dream Theater, Symphony X but headlining is the thought for now and headlining is always better.
Grim Magazine: Images and Words or Scenes From A Memory?
Herman: Images and Words, I like Scenes a whole lot, but Images and Words is the album that had the most impact on me.
Grim Magazine: Passion and Warfare or Sex and Religion?
Herman: Sex and Religion, because that’s the first Vai album I bought and the first concert I ever been to.
Grim Magazine: Number of the Beast or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son?
Herman: Seventh Son.
Grim Magazine: Master of Puppets or And Justice for All?
Herman: Master of Puppets, the songs are better, the production is great.
Grim Magazine: What are you currently listening to?
Herman: Pagan’s Mind – Enigmatic: Calling, they’re the best kinda prog band that I have heard since Dream Theater and I’m listening to a lot to Kiko Loureiro – No Gravity.
Grim Magazine: What do you think of the current state of metal?
Herman: A lot of people complain about it right now, and there are a lot of bad bands, but I think there are a lot of great bands, the scene is diverse, Opeth is getting huge, like when I was listening to them on the first album, Orchid, I never thought that music like this would become commercial…well not commercial but they’re a big band now and you’ve got the old bands like Judas Priest coming back, I like some of the newer stuff as well like Trivium. There’s a lot of stuff to listen to and if you’re only focused on one band then it’s your problem if you’re complaining.
Grim Magazine: Are you using a set-in-stone set-list for this tour or are you switching it up each night?
Herman: We haven’t really made a set-list for it yet, we’re learning new songs for it, we don’t really know if we are going to play them or not, we’re always changing the set-list, we can play the first two albums no problem but we’re still learning the new album, we can play half of it now, it’s good to keep things switched up and we probably won’t decide everything until we are on tour.
Grim Magazine: Okay, here’s the scenario, you are on your death bed, you have the option to do one of two things, you can write a song or listen to a song, which one do you choose and if you pick listen, what song?
Herman: Listen, writing would be work and you don’t want to do work when you’re in pain, pick one of my own songs, so I could remember when I did something.
Grim Magazine: Okay, that about wraps up things on my end, so thank you very much for your time and this interview, and good luck with the tour!
(2003) DragonForce – Valley of the Damned
(2004) DragonForce – Sonic Firestorm
(2006) DragonForce – Inhuman Rampage
(2008) DragonForce – Ultra Beatdown
(2012) DragonForce – The Power Within
(2014) DragonForce – Maximum Overload
(2017) DragonForce – Reaching into Infinity
With: Herman Li (lead guitar)
Interview Date: March 30, 2006
Years Active: 2001 – present
Genre: Power Metal, Speed Metal
Website: Official Website
Label: Roadrunner, Sanctuary
Origin: London, England
Reviewed by: Grim Magazine
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