“I’m sick and tired of people saying that we’ve put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same,” AC/DC guitarist Angus Young once said. “In fact, we’ve put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”At this stage in their career, one could safely assume that the UK’s premier power-metal posterboys DragonForce have found a similar degree of comfort within their own discography. With no dramatic reinventions or succumbing to trends, it’s no secret that what you see is what you get with them.
“I don’t think we’re quite exactly the same as AC/DC,” laughs Sam Totman, one of the band’s two guitarists, as the aforementioned quote is relayed to him. “I think that’s really cool, though – if I like a band, then I like them for what they are. I want them to be the same. That’s why I still like AC/DC – you know what you’re going to get. If you want something different, you listen to a different band. We always thought about that in the beginning of the band – you can either change all over the place like Metallica or something, or you can keep getting better at the one style. At the same time, it’s not as if we don’t like playing this music – we genuinely like playing the music that we play. We’re not sick of it yet.”
Conversation continues onto how DragonForce – now into their 15th year as a band – have worked on the balance of keeping their music within the same style and yet still fresh and inspired. It comes down to the band essentially creating variations on a theme. “Even within the songs, we like to keep the things about the band that we like that people seem to like as well – the big choruses, the catchy guitar stuff, the big choirs, stuff like that,” says Totman. “At the same time, with each album, we always like to experiment with certain sections here and there. So it’s kind of the same, but we think there’s enough in each album to make it different from the last one.”
This month sees the release of the band’s sixth album, Maximum Overload. It’s also the final album to feature drummer Dave Mackintosh, who joined in 2003 and played on each DragonForce record with the exception of their debut, Valley Of The Damned. Although Mackintosh was swiftly replaced by new drummer Gee Anzalone, Totman was still sad to see him go after over a decade of performing with him. “He just wasn’t into the touring as much anymore,” he says. “We’re still really good friends with him, there’s no drama or anything. He spoke to Herman [Li, guitar] the other day and told us that he’d seen our tour dates and was so relieved that he was gonna be sitting in the backyard with a beer instead of out there with us. It’s a bummer when someone leaves, but you can’t expect someone to do something forever – especially if their heart isn’t in it.”
As for Anzalone, his invitation to join the band mimicked that of Journey’s current vocalist Arnel Pineda – he was discovered online. “We saw him playing on this video about three years ago,” recalls Totman. “We were just looking up drumming clips because we were bored, and me and Fred [Leclercq, bass] were like, ‘Oh, man! This guy is amazing!’ He was playing one of our songs, one of our faster ones, and he was doing it with no trouble at all. We were joking that if Dave ever left, we could just get this guy to play for us – and then it actually happened!”
On the theme of ‘same same but different’, it’s worth mentioning that Maximum Overload is the first DragonForce album to feature a cover. The band has done its own take on Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’ to close out the album. It begs the question as to what’s going on with DragonForce’s iPods – what is the band or artist that the guys are into that no-one would expect? “I like a lot of pop-punk stuff, like Blink-182 and NOFX,” says Totman. “I’ve always liked that sort of stuff – I’ve been listening to it for 20 years. I’ve even let some of it slip into the music at points – I swear I’ve been writing guitar parts sometimes and it’s sounded like The Offspring!”
The obligatory discussion of a potential Australian tour flies by – “We always end up back there with every record,” says Totman, “so we’ll probably get there next year” – but then our chat moves into far more important territory: video games. Of course, many will have been exposed to the music of DragonForce through what is essentially the boss level of a particular music-based game from a few years ago. It’s also been noted that the members of DragonForce themselves aren’t particularly great at that game, so the interview ends with this: what’s one game that Totman could kick anyone’s arse at? “I don’t really like playing against other people – I’m much better playing on my own,” he says. “I could beat anyone at Donkey Kong, though – that’s for sure.”
Maximum Overload out Friday August 22 through 3Wise Records.