Dragonforce @ The Mandela Hall, Belfast
Thursday September 27th 2012
Review by Mark Ashby
Photography by Jamie Hunter
It was just a week shy of four years since the progressive metal band that everyone loves to hate, Dragonforce, had last headlined this very same venue and on that occasion, they were absolutely atrocious, with some fans walking out and others booing the band off stage… but, we’ll come back to this train of thought in a few paragraph’s time.
The band had kicked off the European leg of their official ‘Power Within’ tour two nights earlier and 100 miles down the road in the Irish capital of Dublin, with a set that was plagued by technical problems, resulting in main support Alestorm having to cut their set to a mere 20 minutes…
Things didn’t start well north of the border either, with soundchecks running almost an hour behind schedule…
With nearly as many fans having turned up to see Alestorm as the headliners (well, it was only ten months since they’d last partied in Belfast), openers The Defiled were on a hiding to nothing from the start, and were largely greeted with disinterest, despite the most earnest efforts of the industrial goth punks.
Their set was energetic and efficient, but failed to pull many of the older audience members (this was a 14+ show) away from the distraction of the adjoining bar.
The technical problems from Dublin definitely seemed to have migrated north, as the road crew spent the first two songs trying to get Gaz’s bass working: but, the band battled on, delivering a rambunctious, tight and well-paced set filled with heavy metal sea-shanty favourites ‘Alestorm’.
With full technical capability finally restored, the band partied through a rollicking set – not least keyboard player Elliot Vernon, who, not content with demolishing his own bottle of grog in one go proceeded to steal and neck those belonging to every other band member…
He summed up the band’s irreverent, shamelessly part-time attitude to what they do, as they entertained all and sundry with their piratical (and at times hysterical) tales of the perils of mixing ‘Wenches And Mead’, of being ‘Shipwrecked’ (a song which frontman Christopher Bowes cheekily described as being about “badgers and masturbating all over their faces”) and ‘Keelhauled’, of countless bawdy nights in ‘Nancy’s Tavern’ and the resulting ‘Buckfast Power Smash’, which leads them to enjoy ‘Captain Morgan’s Revenge’, which provides a rousing finale to a set which can only end with the downing of copious quantities of ‘Rum’.
Alestorm are a band who shouldn’t be taken seriously – they don’t do it themselves, so why should we – but they do deliver a seriously good party.
Headliners tonight are Dragonforce; who played this same venue, back in October 2008.
The onstage rapport which characterized their over-the-top histrionics – and, in many ways, made their shows a much more enjoyable prospect – had totally evaporated, with the singer continually turning his back on guitarist Herman Li in particular: it didn’t help that the band were completely pissed, with Sam Totman in particular reportedly so plastered he couldn’t see the stage, never mind the frets of his guitar.
The audience was subjected to the spectacle of a band imploding in public.
Tonight, Dragonforce were a completely different beast: a band re-energised, re-invigorated and back at the top of their game. It soon became apparent that the soundcheck problems I had witnessed earlier in the day quite possibly were attributable to the band’s collective desire to get it right this time around and put on the best possible show, especially for the cynics who (probably justifiably) were waiting for history to repeat itself… But, there’s an old saying about learning the lessons of history, and DF obviously had been reading up…
Ironically, new vocalist Marc Hudson’s live debut had been across town, supporting Iron Maiden on the final leg of their gargantuan ‘Final Frontier’ tour – and, by all accounts, it also had been somewhat shambolic!
Tonight, however, right from the opening verses of ‘Holding On’, Hudson looks as if this was the role he was born for: despite continuing sound problems, which see the singer’s vocals completely cut out, albeit for the briefest of moments, during the first couple of numbers, he immediately holds the audience in the palm of his hand.
His voice is deeper than his predecessor, but it’s also more resonant, and perfectly complements the more mature songwriting approach displayed on songs such as ‘Seasons’, ‘Die By The Sword’ and the majestic main set closer, ‘Cry Thunder’.
What about the rest of the band? Well, what is most obvious is that the twin guitar attack of Li and Totman is back with avengeance: the old piss-taking routines have been rightfully restored, along with the serious axe duels, and Herman in particular looks extremely happy, laughing and cajoling the crowd, enjoying the banter as much as the new frontman.
The rhythm section of Frédéric ‘Frank’ LeClercq and Dave Mackintosh are a complete powerhouse, with the bassist another one wreathed in smiles, while Vadim Pruzhanov once again finds it impossible to stay behind his keyboards, constantly bounding forward to join and challenge the guitarists to more and more ridiculous levels of musical competition.
By the time the band are rushing headlong towards their finale, Hudson doesn’t really need to encourage the audience to “rip this fucking place apart” as he introduces ‘Through The Fire And The Flames’, as the rapturous response to this and other slightly rewritten classics such as ‘Heroes Of Our Time’, ‘Fury Of The Storm’ and a surprisingly but pleasing rarity in ‘Heart Of A Dragon’ already proves that Dragonforce have been welcomed back with open arms.
Heroes Of Our Time, S
easons, Fury Of The Storm,
Die By The Sword,
Soldiers Of The Wasteland,
Heart Of A Dragon,
Through The Fire And Flames,
Valley Of The Damned.