As I was approaching the venue, a booming thunderstorm was forming on the horizon, with grand forks of twisted lightning shrieking through the sky. How fitting for Dragonforce.
As I walked into the place, I came to realize that perhaps Guitar Hero is a more powerful cultural force than I had imagined. Not because the place was packed, but because of the breed of fans in attendance. Metal nerds, lots of ‘em. One of the interesting parts of attending a show stocked with metal nerds is how comically white they are. All of them headbanging to a different beat; none of them correct. I saw one guy fist pumping along with the first band, but then I looked again and saw he was holding that arm up with his other one, like a grade schooler just dying to answer the question.
So the first band up was Daath, who started off into a fairly typical blast beat, and then one came the grinding metal. Then the second song started, sound much like the first, and….hey, the font they use makes the ‘a’s’ in Daath look like the symbol from “Stargate.” Hey, there’s a guy who looks like David Crosby standing next to a guy who looks like Geddy Lee. Huh. I wonder if the Mets are winning… sorry, was I supposed to be paying attention? After a rocky start, Daath actually settled into a groove, pumped out some solid dirges, played some decent speed metal, and turned it into a decent half-hour set. It helped that the mix for this band was strangely perfect, something not often seen for an opener. In the end, while not perhaps the most memorable, Daath exhibited more charisma than I would have thought, and proved to not be the worst opening band ever.
Speaking of which, here came band number two! Cynic. Coming out to some relatively mild beats and rhythmic chanting, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Here’s roughly what went through my brain:
Sixty seconds in: “Tell me this goes somewhere.”
Seventy-five seconds in: “Well, this sucks.”
Cynic is atmospheric progressive black metal than borders on jazz fusion. At least, that’s what I hope they are, because as anything else, they would be a failure. I am sure that someone with a better, more refined ear than mine could stand at their defense as musicians. I admit that I am not well schooled in music theory or construction. So it’s entirely possible that Cynic is possessed of a great acumen.
They did, totally unexpectedly, have a strong contingent of fans in the audience (which at this point was still relatively small.) However, as a blues-based headbanger, Cynic had no appeal to me whatsoever. Their soft-spoken singer lamented only having forty minutes to play at one point: their forty minutes felt like an hour and forty minutes. Cynic’s music does not really carry an easy beat, and I think they lost a large portion of the crowd. The entire show had become a sum-zero affair, as any momentum brought to the switchyard by Daath was derailed, taken behind the facility, disassembled with circular saws, and then melted into slag.
Two notes in between their set and Dragonforce. One, the house music was partially composed of Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness,” which reminds me that I’ve never seen them live. I was supposed to see them open for Black Sabbath on a reunion tour, but the whole thing was canned. Second, as they placed beers into the mic stands of Dragonforce, they inserted a straw into each can. What?
Anyway, Dragonforce. By this point, most of the crowd had trickled in, though there was still a lot of standing space available. Their show is equal parts blisteringly fast performance and vaudeville routine. It’s like watching the old videos of classic Van Halen, when the band members went flying around the stage, interacted with and played off each other, and almost seemed to make it up as they go along.
The entire show, Totman would play a solo and be jogging in place, Lambert would wave to someone in the crowd between riffs, Theart would pretend to fall asleep during protracted guitar playing. They give each other the finger, yawn during each other’s solos, make emotive faces to the crowd, mock their playing ability during a song, and in general, make the whole thing look far too easy. All of this while the songs are executed with blistering precision and speed. The only band member who doesn’t seem to partake as much is Herman Li, who’s generally pretty busy.
The crowd was responsive both to their assorted antics, and to their playlist. For those curious, there were no plastic swords and shields to be had. Disappointing. The mosh put broke out, but then quickly devolved into a small handful of shirtless hacks throwing punches at each other. And of course, the one guy who keeps tossing his willing girlfriend into the pit, then threatening those who subsequently run into her.
My thoughts on this type of mosh pit are well documented. Not to get on a tangent, but can we also institute some kind of a high-sticking rule? Now, I was standing on the edge of the pit, which I’m fine with, and I have no issue with being knocked around a little. However, I’m almost six foot three (1.91 meters, for those abroad.) There is no logical reason that I should get hit in the throat and the side of the neck by the flailing arm of a guy who’s five foot eight (1.73 m.) I ended up taking a couple steps to my left so that I could pay attention to the show.
What I got in return was a great performance. Even though the songs drag on a bit, and for all but the hardcore fans they start to sound the same, it doesn’t get tired or stale over the course of the show. Credit must be given to Li and Totman, who are phenomenally talented, and I don’t care if they don’t record the songs at playback speed. The other members of Dragonforce are equally up to the task, as Lambert and Pruzhanov filled time in the set break with a fast paced duel between Lambert on a six string and Pruzhanov on a…keytar. Well, nobody’s perfect.
Pruzhanov also played a keyboard solo in the set break with his tongue and the assistance of a theremin. Still, Li and Totman are the centerpiece of the entire experience, shredding their way through a list of complex pieces. Some of the highlights included: (in no order) “Heroes of Our Time,” “Operation Ground Pound,” “Reasons to Live,” “Revolution Deathsquad,” and “Soldiers of the Wasteland.”
After a brief break, the encore consisted of “Heart of a Dragon,” (which the band admitted to not having practiced in six months.) Notable during this song was Totman and Lambert pantomiming the lyrics, in a metal rendition of karaoke for the deaf. Finally, what everyone came to hear, and what Theart called “the song that made that stupid game Guitar Hero famous,” “Through the Fire and Flames.” With that, the show ended to colossal applause.