with Holy Grail and Huntress
The Gramercy Theater – New York, NY
April 22nd, 2012
Review and pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
I got to see DragonForce back in Orlando in 2008, and was underwhelmed. They had fantastic energy and clearly were having lots of fun on stage, but (to nobody’s shock) their live rendition of their songs doesn’t begin to match what we hear on their crack-infused records. Four years later, I was excited to see how/if they had improved their live set, and how new vocalist Marc Hudson fit in.
Up first was California-based metal band Huntress. I had a hard time placing the genre basis of their music, but it seemed rooted traditional heavy metal with some death metal attitude thrown in. Frontwoman & bandleader Jill Janus did a great job of prowling the stage and unleashing a surprising range of vocal mayhem, transitioning between opera-ish soaring and strange squealing noises that would make Dani Filth call his trademark-violation lawyer. Overall I enjoyed their short set, though I would like to have seen more action from the backing band members. They seemed apprehensive of the crowd before them, or maybe they were content to leave the antics to Ms. Janus, whose sprayed-on spandex pants commanded most of the audience’s attention!
I have seen Holy Grail either twice or three times now, opening for Blind Guardian a couple years back, and again (I think) for Amon Amarth last year. They weren’t especially memorable either time, reminding me too intensely of unpolished L.A. club metal. I didn’t like them before, and didn’t expect to like them this time. However, they’ve polished their sound considerably since past outings, and they’ve finally created a stronger group identity by anchoring their sound deeper into the power metal world. Tonight, they brought a lot of intensity and considerably more energy than I expected. Guitarists Alex Lee and Eli Santana were sharp as nails with some lethal shredding, and frontman Janes-Paul Luna’s voice was suitably vibrant. My only complaint was that Mr Luna delivered a horribly pandering line that went something like “do we have any Viking warriors in the house?,” something he’s done each time I’ve seen them. Call me snobby, but I dislike pandering at that crude a level. Overall, I enjoyed Holy Grail more than I expected – kudos, boys!
Ah, the main attraction. And the main source of curiosity – how different would they sound from their studio products this time? Thankfully, DragonForce has greatly improved as a live band. Guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman have done a lot of work to improve the live sound of their seemingly-impossible guitar solos, which sounded horribly sloppy back in 2008. The whole band seemed tighter, with occasional glaring lapses coming from drummer Dave Mackintosh. I recall him being especially disappointing in 2008, but he has improved substantially since last time.
New vocalist Marc Hudson proved to be an able replacement for ZP Theart, though I did miss Mr Theart’s overwhelmingly charming stage presence. Mr Hudson’s voice is technically better for DragonForce’s music, but he lacks the manic energy and “zing” possessed by Mr Theart, whom I respected for singing music slightly beyond his native range (and still doing a great job of it!) Herman Li seemed to be having the most fun of all, sporting a gargantuan, blissful smile on his face at all times; his counterpart Mr Totman seemed rather bored by contrast. Keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov relished the few moments he had to solo alongside his mates with a key-tar.
Touring in support of their new album THE POWER WITHIN, their setlist focused heavily on the new album. The newer songs were well-received, especially “Fallen World” which is supposedly the fastest DragonForce song yet written. The center of their set felt a little laggy, with sound problems and sloppy drumming marring an otherwise-lovely song called “Seasons.” Classics like “Operation Ground and Pound” really sizzled, as did the song that made them famous via Guitar Hero, “Through the Fire and Flames.”
At the end of the show, I wasn’t disappointed nor was I impressed. I still believe that DragonForce’s music is best experienced on their CD, which it not at all a bad thing. The crazy stuff they’re able to pull off with a skilled Pro Tools editor and a lot of patience is really impressive and inherently enjoyable. Translating all those nigh-impossible solos and backbreaking tempos to a live setting seems slightly beyond their reach, though they have come great lengths as live musicians to close some of the gap.
1) The in-house lighting technician for the Gramercy deserves credit for putting on one of the flattest, least involved light shows I’ve witnessed at a concert. I rarely notice lighting, but this guy went out of his way to not care at all about making the bands look good. A band like DragonForce demands great lighting, and they didn’t come close to getting it.
2) Mr Li and Mr Totman looked a little lost on the smaller-than-accustomed stage of the Gramercy. They usually have trampolines and elevated platforms to do lots of neatly choreographed leaps at key moments in songs – they’re cheesy, but boy are they fun to watch. Hopefully they’ll get a larger stage to play with next time they’re in NYC.
Die by the Sword
Operation Ground and Pound
Heroes of Our Time
Soldiers of the Wasteland
Fury of the Storm
Through the Fire and Flames
Valley of the Damned