They're the English sextet that put the power in power metal and leave no fretboard unshredded. For nearly 20 years, DragonForce have pushed their fantastical world of dragons, myths and sorcery through hugely entertaining, grandiose albums and live shows. May saw the band release their seventh studio album, Reaching Into Infinity, which was the product of around a year's work in 2016. Through balancing their steady work ethic with their touring regime, the band were able to pull together and once again set their phasers to stun.
“We started working on the album early last year, and we were ready to record around May,” explains Herman Li – one of the band's two guitarists and founding members alongside fellow axeman Sam Totman. “It took awhile, because we were also doing the festival circuit in Europe while trying to find the time to get recording. Thankfully, we were able to put the whole thing together by the end of the year.” Being the seventh LP in the band's discography, it's safe to say the band are at a stage now where there is essentially nothing to prove as far as their recorded output is concerned – there's no clambering to gain new fans or to advance their careers. At this stage, DragonForce is DragonForce – and Li is quite content with that.
“Because of the way that we do things, we don't really care what people think,” he says. “There's not really any pressure when we go in to make a new album in that respect. You can't really let the outside world impact on your own musical direction. The kind of people that would be putting pressure on us would be people who don't like the band anymore to begin with – people who expect us to win them back or something. There's not even a gurantee that people who still like the band are necessarily going to like the next album – you can't write to try and please people like that. The way we see it is that we just want to make the best record that we can – so we just go in and do our very best.”
The last few years have seen a few key personnel changes within the confines of the group. Original vocalist ZP Theart exited the fold in 2010, with his replacement Marc Hudson now onto his third LP fronting the band with Reaching Into Infinity. The new album, however, also marks the debut recorded appearance of Gee Anzalone, who joined the band on drums following the departure of the long-serving Dave Mackintosh. It's a lot to live up to – especially when one considers the calibre of drumming from previous DragonForce records. With that said, however, Li has nothing but positive reinforcement when it comes to Anzalone's place within the band. “Gee has fit in really well,” he says.
“He got straight into it when he joined the band – he learned all the songs and then immediately came out on tour in support of [previous album, 2014's] Maximum Overdrive. We had all gelled really well by the time it came to make another album. We purposefully sent him the demos for the songs on the album without any drums on them. It was important to us that he had that creative input – we never just wanted it to be us saying 'you have to play like this exactly in these parts.' That's not how we want this band to work. Besides, we feel like the way that he plays really complements our style. We're really happy with his work.”
Reaching Into Infinity was recorded throughout 2016 across various studios in France, Sweden, the US and their native UK. Behind the boards was Swedish producer Jens Bogren; who had previously worked on Maximum Overload with the band. That sense of familiarity, interestingly enough, fits in well with the band's approach to getting their sound right. Li, who has an Ibanez sponsorship and has designed several signature guitars for the company, has a very calculated and focused approach to achieving his distinctive guitar tone and sound. “What we were using gear-wise is fairly similar to our set-up in the past – just with a few tweaks,” he says.
“For this record, I was using the Kemper [Profiler] Rack; which copied my sound from the previous albums – a Rocktron Prophesy pre-amp. The guitars were mostly the same, although I do have a new seven-string Ibanez custom model that I used to record. We're not the kind of band that likes to drastically throw everything out of the window when we start work on a new album. For us, it's about improving on what we already have. They might be minor or incremental, but they're improvements to us all the same.”
The world tour in support of the album continues this month, as the band make the trip down to Australia for a run of headlining shows. It marks the first time DragonForce have been able to visit the country since the fold and demise of Soundwave – a festival that brought the band over a few times in the past. “It's a shame that it's no longer running,” says Li, “but we always have such a great time down there. The last time we were there, we got to play shows with Judas Priest. How cool is that?”