Those who haven't fully discovered Dragonforce's technical, frenetic power metal might assume the U.K. group is a gimmick, particularly based on their outrageous, fantastical album art and image. But the speed-metal band lives and breathes music, practices their craft religiously and spends massive amounts of time on their records. In fact, they spent a year and half writing their fourth album, Ultra Beatdown, and then took another seven months to record it.
"This is the album we spent the most time making," says guitarist Herman Li via phone. "I think it gets harder and harder as it goes, even though you become more experienced and knowledgeable. You don't want to repeat anything. And how do you improve on previous stuff while evolving? We don't have lives. If it's not good enough, we're not going to release it, so we have to work on it until it is."
This fervor extends to the band's stage show, which includes songs from all their records, the first of which, Valley of the Damned, came out back in 2003 and presented their unique brand of "extreme" metal.
"I think as a headlining band you should minimum play an hour and 20 minutes," says Li. "And since our songs are all so long, we have to play a longer set. Our songs are seven or eight minutes long, and we don't want to get offstage and say, 'Well we only played two songs.' We're used to it and that's what our fans, when it comes to a headlining show, expect." Not that the band really rehearses or anything.
"We don't do any real preparation beside learning the songs," says Li. "They are long songs. To know them by heart is important. And to be honest, you have to know them so that you don't even know them anymore. You have to play them without even thinking about it."
While most bands fly through their sets, glossing over any missteps in hopes that the audience won't notice, Dragonforce highlight their mistakes, encouraging a sense of genuine honesty between them and the fans. Sometimes, though, the show is more humorous than honest.
"We just stop playing and make a gesture and say, 'Well, I don't know what the hell I'm playing right now!'" says Li. "We're not afraid. I know you're technically supposed to pretend all is well during a show, but that's part of our show - the truth. We're humans and we make mistakes. A lot of times when someone makes a mistake, they'll start pointing at someone else and saying, 'Oh, that was his fault! It wasn't me!'"
Dragonforce's sets aren't just long, though; they're impassioned and borderline crazy. Although most nights no one gets hurt too badly, Li notes that the paramedics at some venues have had to help band members off the stage. But to the group, that just means fans got their money's worth. "I've got bruises up and down my legs," says Li. "I've got this cut on my hip from where I scratched it with a guitar and it was bleeding. We jump off the risers, do a 360-degree turn and land, and all that kind of stuff. We've got these huge ramps we run around and jump off. Sometimes there are mid-air collisions where we all jump off in the same direction. If you stand still, then nothing would happen to you, but that would be a boring show!"