Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hail to the Dragonforce!

As some of you will likely know, I am a fan of heavy metal, specifically power metal. And thus it was with great excitement that I learned UK band Dragonforce were coming to perform in my home city, of Christchurch. In a pub, no less! I was first introduced to Dragonforce back in the early part of the century, when I used to chat on metal forums and met Steve Williams, the ex-keyboardist of Dragonheart, then of Power Quest. I believe it was he who sent me a copy of Dragonheart's demo and thus I was introduced to their frantic-fast paced sound. Dragonheart, of course, fragmented into Dragonforce and the aforementioned Power Quest. Since then I only acquired one of their albums - The Power Within, although in preparation for the gig I listened to the latest album, Maximum Overdrive, a couple of times.

Two of the members - Sam and Herman - were in NZ melodic black metal band Demoniac. I rather liked their works, but only managed to get my paws on two tracks, recorded off the radio and thus poor quality.
Arriving at Churchills at the specified time, I joined the snaking black-clad queue, of which most seemed to be of the 18-25 age bracket. I was one of the few solo-females. My husband is not a heavy metal fan and I have no wish to subject him to something he is unlikely to enjoy. As an aside, at a gig the previous year (Skid Row and Ugly Kid Joe), another lass commented that I was brave for attending gigs alone. I found this an interesting observation - I have never felt especially scared at such events, even those in different cities. I almost feel like I am amongst kindred spirits - my brothers (and sisters) of "true metal". Also, I can place a mean elbow if required. Anyhow, after about 40 minutes of bearing the cold bite of the wind, the fun of reading people's t-shirts began to wear rather more than a little thin (I was the only "Gamma Ray" shirted punter) and finally the doors opened and we began to weave our way in. There was much flashing of ID cards, but alas my comment of "do you need to see mine?" earned a laugh. After a brief scout around the hall to see if I recognised anyone (nope) I squished my way across the carpet and staked my position up at the front of the knee-high stage.

Opening act were "Awakened Inferno". One guitarist was wearing a Cynic t-shirt, which rather amused me (I have one of their albums on cassette tape). The music started with a roar, the bass pounding deep in my sternum and sending me scurrying off to put in my ear plugs. This is the first time I have ever worn ear plugs at a concert. After my Churchills experience last year, which left me sensitive to high pitched noises but otherwise feeling like I was underwater, I have realised that too many more concerts could send me deaf. For all you young folks attending concerts - it may seem a bit like you're "wimping out" to wear ear protection but it both brought the volume down to a manageable level and also eliminated some of the distortion. Since no one was being particularly territorial over their space at this point, I managed to claim my spot between two staunch-looking fellows and remained right at the front for the opening acts. Awakened Inferno are competent musicians and I wish I could say more in praise of them - I enjoyed their set, but unfortunately didn't know any of their songs and the rest of the evening more-or-less blew them from my memory.

Red Dawn followed. I had listened to their samples online, so knew roughly what to expect. Older, more experienced musicians, the drummer and one guitarist elaborately decorated with tattoos. Overall, more charisma and showmanship than Awakened Inferno, plus I knew the songs. Being up close to the front meant that I kept making eye-contact with the drummer which was a bit uncomfortable, so I distracted myself with a bit of careful headbanging (from the shoulders and waist kids, not the neck. I have learned from experience that whiplash is Not Fun) and also avoiding being hit in the face by one of the guitars. Yes, I was that close to the band. Alas, the vocals were not coming across very strongly, and I could barely hear the singer, except on the choruses. Thinking it might be muffled by the earplugs I slipped one out, and was immediately barraged by a wall of guitars and drums. Still the music was an epic roar of sound and melody and they played the full set from the Ironhead EP.

Things started to heat up as the wait for Dragonforce began. The press from behind was bearable, but the kids behind me commenting on "getting to the front" was a warning of pressure to come. The stage at Churchills is approximately knee height and I had nothing in front of me save for a microphone stand upon which balanced a bottle of beer. They made us wait about 40 minutes, as the keyboard and keytar were set up, the microphone stands positioned and microphones tested. And then they took to the stage. Immediately the crowd surged, almost pushing me onto the stage and, although I forced it back and retained my footing, I realised this was no way to enjoy a concert and bet a hasty retreat, slipping to the side of the stage where I was still within arms reach of the band. Dragonforce were excellent, the new vocalist, Marc, pulling off their earlier tracks with skill and the backing vocalists adding their own unique twists. Watching Herman, Sam and Fred play was quite amazing. Aside from the usual heavy metal theatrics, Dragonforce are really, really fast. Fingers flicked along guitar strings, hair billowed in the wind from the fans (the air-blowing kind) and they really know how to play to the audience. Between tracks Marc conversed with the audience, his English accent strong, teased ex-NZ band member, Sam (who was English-born, NZ raised and still retains his kiwi accent) and seemed to be having a fine time. Most of the tracks I recognised, including "Black Winter Nights" from their very early days and an epic, frantic cover of "Ring of Fire" (the only cover song they've ever played, to date). The latter created a mosh-pit whirlpool, for which I remained on the outskirts. There was much air punching, jumping up and down and hair waving. Due to the nature of the venue, they decided not to go with the whole "let's walk off and pretend that we've finished" act, just announcing the encores. We could all see the playlist anyway. Funnily enough, Marc went into this lengthy spiel about how there was one track they would have to play all they'd probably get lynched, found out they'd rearranged the playlist and then they ripped into "Valley of the Damned" instead - rather to my enthusiastic glee, as it is one of my favourites. The actual "have to play" song followed turned out to be one I had never heard before, but everyone else seemed more than familiar with it, so it was an epic conclusion for them. I also got to shake hands with Frederic and the drummer, which is always neat.

I crawled home shortly after, ears still ringing despite the ear plugs, and straight into the shower. The next day, I'm stiff all over, especially in my lower back (still, better that than my neck) and have a rather nice bruise on my ankle from where someone kicked me as they entered the mosh pit. However, I loved (almost) every moment of it, the energy and atmosphere of live concerts, feeling the thrum of the music right down in your bones, screaming yourself hoarse along with your favourite songs - there's really nothing quite like it. And I'd do it all again in a heart-beat - except possibly wear bigger boots.

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