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Interviews : “We have continued to expand our style by pushing our boundaries” – An Interview With Herman Li (DragonForce)

By on March 12, 2017

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DragonForce – Herman Li

DragonForce is a band that has seen a rise of late in terms of bridging the gap between their trademark speed/power metal stylings and the mid-tempo melodic elements seen commonly among their peers. Now operating as a healthy blend of the two, 2014’s Maximum Overload saw the band turn their overall dynamic and workflow on its head by branching out in many areas; no less of which included the addition of famed Swedish producer, Jens Bogren, changing location for the recording of the album, and adding elements previously unseen in their music (such as the use of minimal harsh vocals courtesy of Trivium‘s Matt Heafy), among other things. Now a full three years later, DragonForce will soon be releasing their newest studio album, Reaching Into Infinity, on May 19th via earMUSIC / Metal Blade Records. Reaching Into Infinity will be their seventh full-length album to date.

Once again aiming to push the envelope and continue the evolution of DragonForce’s sound, Metal Obsession caught up with one of the band’s twin-lead guitarists, Herman Li, to discuss all things Reaching Into Infinity, their upcoming Australia tour in June, synthwave, and a whole lot more!

Kicking things off, we jumped right into the thick of it, discussing the band’s newest studio album coming out this May, Reaching Into Infinity. Going off the album artwork, there appears to be a sci-fi element to this album. Is that accurate?

“Yeah!” Herman enthuses. “With the cover and the title, what it’s trying to say is it’s really talking about the music of DragonForce, and generally, I think metal and rock music (the way we view it) is kind of a timeless thing for most folks. At the same time, it’s kind of an escapism. You can escape all the crazy stuff happening in the world at the moment. You can just put your headphones on and listen to the music and you can really escape from whatever’s happening. So if you look at the cover, it’s got some kind of wormhole there to escape from the crazy world around. It’s trying to talk about the music being timeless and just trying to get away from everything that’s going on around you.

“In recent years, I’d kind of say music is less and less important. I always make a joke with friends that, “Oh, I’m a musician, I’m kind of useless. I’m pretty much a worthless charity worker these days!”, jokingly. [laughs] But in seriousness, music is as important as it’s always been. Without music in the movies, you’re almost not going to get any excitement in anything in the movie. Or, in video games. You can’t sell your iPhone if you don’t have a headphones plug-in or something, you know? If you talk about music and how important it is, you can’t do so without the same importance of ‘back-then’ when it was the only thing compared to all the different things you could get into these days. So that’s kind of a little touch on that subject.”

dragonforce reaching into infinity

‘Reaching Into Infinity’, out May 19 via earMUSIC / Metal Blade Records

In other interviews the band has done, it’s been stated by them that they are pushing themselves even further with this album. I asked Herman how he would you say Reaching Into Infinity builds upon what DragonForce established with Maximum Overload?

“I would say that we have continued to expand our style, whilst still sounding like DragonForce; and by adding more elements to it. I know a lot of fans of DragonForce have been saying, ‘Why don’t you make this long, epic, crazy song!?’ So, we’ve done one, which is about 12 minutes. It’s a big, epic song that’s been made to be even more epic than previously, I’d say. We’re always pushing our boundaries, trying to get better at what we’re already doing. There’s just a natural evolution there that we do all the time.”

Maximum Overload was one of my favourite albums of 2014 (having even ended up on my best of list for that year). Being one of DragonForce’s more diverse albums to date, I particularly loved the slower, more melodic and chorus-driven tracks like “Three Hammers” and “You’re Not Alone”. They seemed like perfect live anthems. I was curious to know whether a few more of those songs can be expected with the new record?

“There’s definitely a few slower songs,” Herman confirms. “They’d be considered mid-tempo songs. But they don’t sound like “Three Hammers”, they sound a bit different. We’ve been working on expanding the sounds and tone a little bit. I think the fans will be pleasantly surprised. ‘Oh, DragonForce can do this too!’

As with their last album also where they covered spectacularly Johnny Cash‘s song, “Ring of Fire”, I asked whether the band covered any other songs this time round, as well?

“We have a cover on the special edition of the album, actually. We’ve done something a little bit different. We’ve done a Death cover. The song is called ‘Evil Dead’.” – Expect some Schuldiner-style rasps from DragonForce vocalist Marc Hudson, too! – “You can hear Marc doing more than just singing on that song. He does a mixture of growls and rasps, so fans might find that interesting. Also, on the new album, if you do get the special edition, there’ll be two live songs on the DVD. So normally what you’d see would be cut from different angles, but there’s also a version of the song now where you get four different angles – like a split screen – so you can see the drummer playing, the singing, guitarist, and all at the same time. So you can experience it all at once. It just makes it that much more interesting to watch.”

Reaching Into Infinity also marks DragonForce’s first studio release with your current drummer, Gee Anzalone. I mused what Herman and the band would say is the best thing Gee has brought to the table with the new record?

“I think [Gee] really fits into the band after touring with us for the Maximum Overload tour, but he also has added his own little signature tricks and stuff to the music. And especially on stage. I think Gee has such a great energy on stage. He has the most positive stage show ever I’ve seen from a drummer! Throwing drum sticks in the air; catching them, all while playing at two-hundred beats a minute. That kind of stuff!” [laughs]

To deviate away from the album for a moment, DragonForce are returning to tour Australia this June. Your first performance here since the now-defunct Soundwave Festival in 2015, I wondered how the band is feeling about coming back?

“It’s great to come back for a headline tour because we haven’t done that in so long!” Herman states, excitedly. “And I mean, one of the things is that we had such a great time the last two times in Australia, when we were doing Soundwave. The fans always said you’ve got to come back for a headline tour because we weren’t playing long enough at the festival, so not only is this a headline tour that we haven’t done for a while, but also, I guess it’s pretty much the first time we’ve been able to put Australia right at the beginning of the tour. I know Australia usually get it near the end of the tour and it’s like, ‘Oh, the band is coming to do a tour not on that new album that’s been out a year ago’, but you guys are getting a tour on the brand new album that’s just came out like a week or two ago. So it’s cool to do that for the fans out there.”

What kind of setlist can people look forward to hearing?

“Of course, there’ll be songs from the new album. So now it’s just managing to learn the really long song [the 12-minute track] and practice it. But, because we haven’t played headlining shows down there in a while, we’ll be adding of the old favourites and certain songs that would be missed (that we haven’t played the last few times we came over). So that’s what we’re working on. We’re trying to expand the set a little bit and make sure there’s enough time to play them, as the song’s are quite long. So it will be good!”

In 2014, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Herman also. Looking back over the older interview he and I had together, there had been a section where I’d asked Herman that if with the next album is to follow, whether DragonForce would make all of those changes again that they made with Maximum Overload. Such as that of utilising a producer, changing locale with the recording studio, using guests, and so on. Herman had replied, ‘With all the information you have by then, it will be different from now.’ Now three years down the road, I was curious to know how different Herman would say things are for what he and DragonForce are after today? Or if it has all stayed much the same?

“It’s definitely not the same, but I think by way of the formula (as with Maximum Overload, where we able to all work and bring it all together last time), we’ve taken what we learned last time and used it to make it even better this time round. It’s like with the changing of the producer: that worked last time, so let’s make it even better this time. Just improving what we did before. Having the songs and knowing what worked last time, it’s been good to use Jens Bogren again to work on this album.”

I also had to ask. Away from the DragonForce side of things, it’s well documented that Herman Li is an old school gamer and fan of ’80s/’90s related things. I was interested to know whether he was at all familiar with the current synthwave and retrowave trends blowing up a storm right now. And, if so, was he a fan?

“Yeah, you know, there’s all this cool stuff and it’s like with this Swedish musician, Mitch Murder; he produces really cool instrumentals! I was watching that short film Kung Fury and it just has such a cool soundtrack.” – we then went on to discuss Stranger Things a little – “That’s got such a cool beginning: you know that intro, the music! It’s so cool! That was a cool show, because I’m sick of people talking about their social media and their iPhones and stuff, and that’s all that’s on the TV anymore – it’s just like, who cares? I mean, we have to listen to that in real life so can we talk about something else?”

I was also interested to know Herman’s overall feelings toward the power metal genre as a whole? Power metal has often been a divisive subgenre in the metal world, with some loving it and others loathing it. Some criticise its cheesiness, whereas others praise it for that. As a big power metal fan myself but someone who can also laugh at its campiness at times, I asked Herman if power metal was something he’s always taken a bit more seriously, or if he likes the fact he can just have some fun with it?

“I never took it seriously,” Herman confirms. “I always loved the music and the power of it. I mean, the first time I heard Rhapsody, I just thought, ‘The music is really cool!’ I mean, really, no one is taking this seriously, you know? [laughs] I’ve thought, you look at the videos and you just think, ‘these guys can’t be taking themselves seriously!’ They’re doing a music video in the park. They’re wearing a watch while holding a sword. It’s kind of a weird thing, though. People say, ‘Oh, this is happy metal, I don’t like it!’ and it’s, like, I never cared back then. I know people were making fun of us when we first started the band as well, but we never acted like we were being super, super serious about it. We were just having fun doing music we like. Just sometimes being too much of a goofball with how we act on stage. But, I think it’s just a thing with any kind of music – some people love it or hate it. The good thing is we get to spread it around and people can make their own choice if they want to listen to it. You find some people who get a bit embarrassed to listen to it. Like, they feel they have to listen to ‘tough’ music like Pantera. But every type of music is different anyway.”

Be sure to catch DragonForce when they tour in Australia this June, as a part of the ‘Reaching Into Infinity World Tour’!

Tickets are on sale now via www.tickets.destroyalllines.com.

Facebook event: http://bit.ly/DRF17tour

Tuesday 20 June – Capitol, Perth – 18+
Wednesday 21 June – 170 Russell, Melbourne – 18+
Thursday 22 June – The Basement, Canberra – 18+
Saturday 24 June – Manning Bar, Sydney – 18+
Sunday 25 June – The Triffid, Brisbane – 18+

dragonforce aus tour 2017

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.