DRAGONFORCE Hits Belfast.

DRAGONFORCE have a weird reputation in the metal community. Many simply love their exuberant take on power metal, while others simply write them off as all flash and little substance. The test then is when Dragonforce bring their show right into the audience’s face, which they did in Belfast on 20th September as part of their ‘This Time It’s Personal Tour’ in a rammed Limelight2. But before the ‘Force were put to then test local CONJURING FATE helped raise the temperature – and judging by the number of Conjuring Fate t-shirts their fan-base is solid. Kicking off their set with ‘House On Haunted Hill’ Fate lay down a challenge to the headliners. Comfortable on a small stage, they used every inch in their performance, and more when guitarist Phil Horner took his Flying V on walkabout through the crowd.

Vocalist Tommy Daly cajoled the audience, roaring, ranting and joking – encouraging rampaging solo trade-offs between Horner and Karl Gibson. ‘Backwoods Witch’ and ‘Apocalypse’ were stand-out tracks, and a gauntlet was thrown down to Dragonforce, with Conjuring Fate fans new and old calling out loud, vocal support. The venue by this time had reached an unfeasibly high temperature, with the aroma of beer and sweat it really was up close and personal when Dragonforce hit the stage with the usual flurry of extravagant playing. Despite some problems with sound levels – Marc’s vocals and Vadim suffering in particular – the band seemed pumped up; although one would expect that level of commitment from what is now a well-travelled line-up. New man behind the kit, Gee Anzalone has fitted in smoothly, and plays with panache, locking in with Fréderic, who also had a smile locked on his face throughout the set. Tracks from new release Maximum Overload are already familiar to the crowd, but in one nice moment, when a crowd member called out what he expected to come next Herman told him they didn’t play the same tracks every night…

What they did play was an excellent variety of tunes all and new. Of course Herman and Sam were the guitar jesters with their six-string antics whether it was the furious pace of ‘The Game’ or the superb performances of fan favourites ‘Fury of the Storm’ and ‘Cry Thunder’.

Their output sometimes can over-shadow the actual power metal masterclass Dragonforce deliver. That masterclass was in full evidence on the Frédéric penned ‘Seasons’. Whatever problems there may have been in terms of sound were thrust aside in a rendition that showed the melody and sheer weight of writing translate into anthemic heights on stage. Notable was not only the sheer musicianship on displaY, but the textures within that. Whether it was a deliberate change, or simply an evolution of the sound, did not matter as Sam added more dynamics behind the flurries of Herman and Vadim deployed finger flaying keytar runs and background noisescapes in equal measure. But it wouldn’t be a Dragonforce show without the requisite silliness…

What is a novelty track on the album ‘Ring of Fire’ live is a fantastic display live, with every living soul within the venue joining in a raucous singalong before the night was rounded off with ‘Through The Fire and Flames’ with the solos trade offs and harmony between Herman and Sam, while Hudson has now placed himself front and centre: no longer the new guy, but the vocal gymnast and eye candy for the female contingent. Dragonforce, on the strength of their performance tonight have nothing to prove to those that doubt. The haters can well and truly sod off! Dragonforce – and also Conjuring Fate – show that whatever your preferred shade of metal it is all metal in the end. Played loud and played proud.

Like Stiff Little Fingers proclaimed Dragonforce put the ‘fast’ into Belfast. But, ultimately the measurement has to be made. The assurance, musicianship, the happy-go-lucky appearance, the rehearsed solo match-ups – do they deserve the adulation of the many there; or is this power metal by numbers.

It’s a hard equation to solve. At the heart of it is the suspicion some have that it is all too rehearsed. But those same people must surely realise that every band in every genre and sub-culture must rehearse or fail in the live arena.

The reality is that despite the cheesiness and despite the practiced moves Dragonforce are a hugely enjoyable band to watch; that cheesiness – and infuriatingly catchy songs and song structures – mean that unlike some other po-faced metal acts there is no need for a suspension of disbelief. The only ‘need’ is to to enjoy the show.

Review by Jonathan Traynor.

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