January 19, 2015
When it comes to hard rock and metal, I really like about 10 percent of it 10 percent of the time. AXS shows Def Leppard Viva Hysteria Live on a regular basis. I think I've seen the whole thing by now, though not at one sitting. It's an experience best taken episodically. And some of those episodes are pretty good.
I place DragonForce in the same category. Fine fare in small doses.
Forging close ties to the video gaming universe, DragonForce consciously fashioned itself into the soundtrack of pop SF&F: pure pulp delivered in a hyper-digital medium. They're the 21st century version of Boston, doing with software what Boston founder (and MIT grad) Tom Scholz did with analog electronics in the late 1970s.
I respect talented artists who hone their craft while resisting the siren call of solemnity. DragonForce features dual lead guitarists with extraordinary skills. They take themselves seriously enough to create the best product they're capable of, but not so seriously they spoil the effort in the name of "art."
As far as I can tell, DragonForce aspires to be the musical equivalent of the syndicated science fiction franchises that pack 'em in at conventions, conventions that no high-brow critic would dare set foot in. Good for them: we need more producers of high-quality camp.
Consider the Castle episode in which an actor who owes her fame to a schlocky SF series now wants to (literally) kill her past. The Oscar-nominated Birdman has Michael Keaton essentially playing himself as Hollywood action hero trying to reclaim his "art" on Broadway. Moral of both stories: no good comes from angsty artists.
On the other hand, we have wonderful nostalgia of Galaxy Quest. Being a pop-culture star is a literal adventure! As Leonard Nimoy discovered, there's nothing wrong with being Spock.
DragonForce came to my attention because guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totem cut a track with with Japanese metal-band-slash-idol-group Babymetal. Thesis and antithesis: ninety percent of the talent in an idol group belongs to the recording engineer. And the ten percent behind the microphone is ninety percent looks and personality.
It's hard to take seriously at all a metal band whose members are barely old enough to drive. But, hey, Babymetal gains some street cred and maybe DragonForce gains some converts from the cute goth cosplay demographic. Win-win. A true artist can do silly stuff just because it's a hoot and everybody goes away smiling.
"Heroes of Our Time" is quintessential Dragonforce, hitting every tried and true meme right on the head, and doing it with exquisite skill. Like I said, it's the kind of thing that just makes me grin.
Power anthems don't get any more power anthemy than "A Flame for Freedom": the chords alone practically write the script for the next big-budget space opera, with Will Smith saving the world in the final reel.