Dragonforce - 09/08/2008

Every year there are albums eagerly anticipated, be it from hot young names, established legends or – and this is usually the most exciting of all the categories – those bands you know are on the verge of greatness. As DRAGONFORCE, the multi-national talent based in London – prepare to release their fourth album, nobody who understands the world of metal can have any doubt that ‘Ultra is most certainly being awaited with a real sense that we are about to witness a band going from being ‘potential international stars’ to becoming a ‘major global phenomenon’.


 ‘Ultra Beatdown’ has three hard acts to follow. If ‘Valley Of The Damned’ established the sextet’s fearless credentials in 2003, then ‘Sonic Firestorm’ (2004) and ‘Inhuman Rampage’ (2006) each took them further forward. In fact, the last named has now sold in excess of 300,000 copies in America alone (and half a million worldwide).

‘Ultra Beatdown’ is the album to take DRAGONFORCE to a new height. It’s not merely the culmination of a decade crafting and finessing a sound that has made them instantly recognizable across the world. It’s not even state-of-the-art for metal, nor just a gantlet being thrown down for everyone else.



To promote their new effort Sam and Herman visited Amsterdam to give us some answers about their new album, here you can read what they had to say.


The last time we talked to you guys was March 2006.. Your next album entitled ‘Ultra Beatdown’ is about to be released and we’d like to ask you a thing or two about it..


We have to ask you some questions you’ve probably answered many times before, but here it goes anyway!


How did you launch into writing the material for ‘Ultra Beatdown’, did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?


Sam: When we were coming towards the end of the tour for the last album we thought maybe we should start writing some songs for the next one! We didn’t really want to but I suppose we had to haha! I actually hate writing songs but I have to do it hahahaha! so I got like five demos done in the end and then the other guys did the other songs, you know you just make something and then you keep improving it until it sounds right.


Did you write while you were on the road? You said you did that with the last album.


Herman: No, not really. We recorded some of it on the road. We usually write and record at the same time.


Sam: We have a routine, I’ll usually do the demos on my own, I’ll make the basic song, then we record it and in the studio we keep on adding things on top and hope it will sound like something, well, nice.


Did you have a certain idea of what you wanted to do on ‘Ultra Beatdown’, any elements you definitely wanted to have on the album?


Sam: Yeah, we’ve always said since the beginning that we’re never going to do a mid-tempo song because it’s gay. We always did a ballad but that’s kind of different. I used to listen to all those powermetal bands and I used to hate all the mid-tempo songs. And the fast ones I thought were always the best ones so that’s why we always played fast. We’ve done three albums now with fast songs.


We had a few key points we wanted on the album and some things we didn’t want. Take a mid-tempo song… we don’t really like these but we did one because we have 3 albums filled with fast songs! So now there is this mid-tempo song between 6 fast songs. There are 3 songs missing on the demo but there we have this heartbreaking ballad!! Nobody has heard it though. But we haven’t gone slow! It’s fun to put a song like that on the album. That’s kind of different for us and it might surprise people.


Was it a conscious decision to do it this way?


Sam: Yeah it kind of was but you’ve still got six other fats ones so it’s not the end of the world and it actually turned out pretty cool I think.



I was just kind of surprised at the pace of this album, seeing as how fast the inhuman rampage was and you are known to want to go faster and faster every time you write a new album..


Herman: Yeah but still the pace of this album is fast! There’s just more slow parts to make a contrast. The main theme of “The Last Journey Home” and the ballad which you haven’t heard yet because it wasn’t finished when we released the promo (there’s three songs missing on the promo, we couldn’t pick which one was going to be on the album so we included it as a bonus track) but the ballad is really heart breaking haha! So you’ve got a mid-tempo one and one slow song but the fast songs are still really fast. Even the mid-tempo song (The Last Journey Home) is fast.


Herman: And you know, you need something to show how fast fast is, so we added something slow to show how fast the rest is. So we haven’t gotten slower.


Sam: Before now all our fast songs would be equally fast, like 200 beats a minute. But now some of them are 1-9-5 for example, you can’t really hear the difference but it gives the songs a slightly different feel.


Isn’t that confusing when you’re on stage?


Sam: When we’re on stage we play the songs at a different speed anyway, they’re always a bit faster or slower than they should be, it just depends how fast the drummer plays, really haha!


How hard was it to come up with a follow-up on the well-received album ‘Inhuman Rampage’?


Sam: It’s always hard to do it better, I’ll be writing a song and I’ll think, ow I did this on the last album! And with the lyrics we often think, wow, how many times have we done this before? Like how many times have we used the words “tonight” and “forever”. But the problem is that there are only certain words that sound good in those melody lines, you can’t really avoid that there’s certain words that you have to sing.


Who was responsible for the lyrics and how important is it to you that people pay attention to the lyrics apart from listening to the music?


Sam: It’s mainly me and the singer does some, too.


Herman: It takes us like one to two hours to write one line. It’s not as easy as you would think it is, you have to think of the right words, at the right time, with the right melody in the right syllable with the right pronunciation..


Sam: I don’t want to be mean to anyone but with some European bands the lyrics just sound terrible, the tune is really good with a really nice melody but their lyrics are just kind of forced into that melody-lline. Sometimes its better if you don’t know what the lyrics are. Even when it’s just normal singing, ehm I wasn’t going to say it but ill say it anyway, like Sonata Arctica, they have the worst lyrics I’ve ever seen. I actually really like the band and I think they have some really good songs. I’ll listen to the songs and because I can’t understand what he’s saying I’ll think, oh that’s really nice. But when I read the lyrics I thought, oh this is terrible!!


Herman: And there’s always a lot of mistakes, which is not their fault because it’s not their main language.


Sam: So that’s why we take so long to do the lyrics even though people might think they’re not that amazing.


Herman: We don’t really mind if people listen to the lyrics or not. Some people only care about the guitar solos and won’t pay attention to the lyrics and everything in the production. We don’t really care why people listen to the band there’s enough different stuff for people to like and we just want to make sure that every bit is good


What would you say are the main themes in your lyrics?


Sam: Stuff that happens in everyday life basically, and emotions. We don’t want to say right, “this is about that”. It’s kind of nice for people to think: “this means this to me”.


Herman: We’re not trying to get arty farty haha!



What comes first, lyrics or melodies?


Sam: The melodies.


Herman: If you change the melody, you basically change the lyrics.


Sam: There’s no point in writing lyrics first cause the melodies change all the time as they are always being improved.


When you writ a song do you have to sit down and try to write, or do you just wait till an idea comes?


Sam: A bit of both, really. I mean I will sit down and go: “I have to write a song now”. I don’t really want to sit down and do it though, I’d rather sit down and play video games haha! But when I’m not sitting down writing a song and something comes into my head I will write it down on a piece of paper.


Herman: I especially hate the recording part, I really have to force myself to sit down and do it.


Sam: Yeah it’s horrible, there’s lots of bands that like doing it because they’re nerdy and like to sit in the studio’, so they’re boring people hahaahaa! I don’t mean to be mean to people haha! But we just want to get on tour and get drunk and have a laugh. Obviously, when we finish an album and we like it, we’re really happy but while you’re doing it it’s not fun, its work.


Herman: The nice part is when it’s all done and you can sit down and listen to it for what it is and not for what you can do to it. And then we can do some interviews and talk about how we hated doing it haha!


What do you think are the main differences between your last album ´Inhuman Rampage´ and the coming ´Ultra Beatdown´?


Sam: We didn’t even realize this until after we had finished but I think the main difference is that it is actually more happy sounding.


Herman: The Inhuman Rampage is a really sad and dark album, all the songs are pretty sad and there’s a lot of minor chords.


Sam: We tried to purposely not have all these happy songs and we stuck to a minor sound. But now we think, oh, who cares, let’s just make some gay powermetal again!! Hahaa!! I think it’s kind of happy without being too gay.


Herman: And then obviously there’s all the stuff we said about the tempo.


Do you think you’ll have more fun on stage playing these songs because they are so, ehm, happy?


Herman: Yeah, we can play every single song off this album, there were some songs on the last album that we didn’t want to play.


2 Years ago you told us your previous album ‘Inhuman Rampage’ was recorded in 6 months in and out of the studio in between many shows and festival appearances. Did you work differently this time?


Herman: It took us even more than six months this time, we started in October and we finished it three days ago. It was about seven months, this one.


Sam: The approach was about the same, we’ve kind of gotten into a routine now.


Herman: We can’t just hire producers because we’re just going to hate them and they’re going to hate us. It just doesn’t work that way so we pretty much had to produce it ourselves.




The production was done by you and Karl Groom (guitarist Threshold). In which things/songs on the new album can one clearly hear his vision and ideas?


Sam: I think a lot of his stuff is more like studio stuff, he’s more like the studio engineer and he’ll put effects over parts of the songs and he puts in noises to fill in gaps.


Herman: We’ve got different extremes and we would be trying to turn stuff up like the vocals for instance and he would try to fight it down. He works totally different than we do in terms of song-arrangement.


Sam: Just for example, I would say: turn the backing vocals and the trumpets up in this chorus and he would say, no, you can’t do that, it’s too loud! And now looking back, if I’d had my way it maybe would have been too much. So we would be having all these ideas and he would balance them out. It’s a good thing.


Could you please describe the implications of the title ‘Ultra Beatdown’, what does it stand for and is there a special meaning behind it?


Herman: Have you seen the cover? (shows us the cover on his laptop).


Sam: It’s supposed to be colorful and happy like the music haha!


Herman: It’s supposed to be kind of futuristic, ultra is a futuristic word. And beatdown means the music is going to kick your ass! It’s kind of video-gamish and very colorful.


Who’s the lady (on the cover)?


Sam: She’s a futuristic, ass-kicking warrior!!


Who did the artwork?


Herman: A guy who does stuff for Nintendo. They just found the artist for us.


Sam: I didn’t think that the last cover suited the music that well but I sort of got used to it after a while.


Did you get any feedback on the album yet?


Herman: They liked the voice-over!! (Herman and Sam talked all the way through the promo version of the album).


Sam: The only things we really heard came from the Germans we talked to.


Herman: I think we also learned something about this album by talking to the journalists. They asked us if we thought this album was more powermetal than the last album, more traditional. That’s what they kind of thought, and we realized that maybe it’s true. We can’t tell anymore after making the album, we just thought it was catchy.


Do you guys have any plans for a dvd?


Herman: You can’t just release a dvd, you at least need the right crew, you need perfect lights. You need a crew that grows with you.


Sam: And if you want to release a dvd, the first one obviously has to be really good. Otherwise if you release one, you’ve already given away half the game. If it’s not really good then people who have never seen you live will think, ow they’re not really that amazing. I think we just need to wait till the moment’s right.




Finally, where do you see Dragonforce going in the coming years, or do you not look to the future too much?


Sam: No, we don’t look that far ahead. Obviously we’ll be doing another album after this one but we definitely can’t look further than that. If we make crap albums, we’re going to stop. You can kind of feel when a band is tired and has had enough. Once you come to that point, I think you shouldn’t even release an album. Right now we still want to do it, we’re happy and that shows through the music. But there’s lots of different things in life to do.


Herman: Obviously, we’ve never fallen into the trap of being fashionable. We don’t look very fashionable! Whatever happens in the music scene doesn’t really affect us.


What songs and bands do you listen to these days?


Herman: Dragonforce, the new album haha!!


Sam: Nothing new, really. I just listen to the same old shit. Punk, metal and popmusic. It’s all stuff that I’ve had for years. I’m just old and miserable haha!!


Herman: Instead of listening to the new album when I get home, I’m just going to sit down and play some videogames, I’ve had enough!


What is your opinion on the metal scene these days, is there anything missing?


Sam: There’s enough stuff for everyone to keep happy. We travel around a lot and it’s interesting to see how a band can be really big in one country and not popular at all in another.


Herman: We don’t have a hatred towards other bands because every band is different, we just like to take the piss out of them hahaha!!


Sorry guys, I have a couple of more questions but this is half an hour so we have to end here because of your time schedule (after this interview Sam and Herman had to rush to the KinkFM studio to do an interview with Metal Mike for the Aardschok radioshow!!).


Is there anything left unmentioned? Any last statement or anything you'd like to add... 


Sam: Well, keep checking our website http://www.dragonforce.com/ for the latest updates about Dragonforce.


Herman: Come to our shows and hope to see you soon!!


Okay, thanks for the interview!

Martina Schouten


Current Members:
ZP Theart – Lead and backing vocals
Herman Li – Lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals
Sam Totman – Lead and rhythm electric guitars, backing vocals
Vadim Pruzhanov – Keyboards, Piano, backing vocals
Dave Mackintosh – Drums, backing vocals
Frédéric Leclercq - Bass, backing vocals

Former Members :
Adrian Lambert - Bass guitar, backing vocals (2004-2005)
Didier Almouzni - Drums, backing vocals (1999-2003)
Diccon Harper - Bass guitar, backing vocals (2001-2003)
Steve Williams - Keyboards, backing vocals (1999-2000)
Steve Scott - Bass guitar, backing vocals (1999-2000)

Valley of the Damned (2003)
Sonic Firestorm (2004)
Inhuman Rampage (2006)
Ultra Beatdown (2008)