Live Review: Dragonforce at Valhalla, Wellington

Dragonforce Overload NZ poster Valhalla Welington


w/ Red Dawn

Valhalla, Wellington

Wednesday 18 February 2015


Saul Hudson often tops those “100 greatest guitarists of all time” polls. You may know him better as Slash (of Gun n Roses and Velvet Revolver fame). He played in Wellington tonight at TSB Arena. But I didn’t go.

You see, I’ve already seen Slash perform twice in the past. He puts on a fun show. His band is good and his set is riddled with nostalgic tracks. But I chose instead to go see powermetal act Dragonforce, who were also playing in Wellington. Despite Slash’s reputation as a guitarist, Dragonforce promised to put on a far more impressive display of guitar pyrotechnics.

Dragonforce are Iron Maiden on speed. Extreme, epic metal sped up and filled with insane guitar shredding and drum blastbeats. Some have classified them as ‘nintendo metal’. Fitting, seeing how the rose to fame through association with the Guitar Hero video game franchise. Their biggest hit, “Through The Fire And Flames” featured as the hardest song on Guitar Hero 3. Fans of the game spent many, many hours of their lives attempting to achieve the perfect score. No small feat, considering how long and fast the song is.


True to expectations, Dragonforce gave every bit the entertaining performance I was hoping for. Ex-Wellingtonian Sam Totman shared guitar duties with Herman Li, the two of them playing out long alternating solos, sometimes even switching out with Vadim Pruzhanov on keytar. Between them they showed off impressive virtuoso skills as they riffed, strummed, tapped and soloed throughout the night. Frédéric Leclercq held the groove on five string bass as singer Marc Hudson wailed dramatically into the microphone.

I must note that the new drummer was introduced as “Gee Anzalone”, but I suspect that he was really Thorin Oakenshield in disguise. This is clearly how the band so effectively incorporates a fantasy element into their songwriting. Oakenshield has done well trading his kingly throne for a drum throne. I don’t envy any drummer who has to play at that tempo for so long, but Anzalone seemed right at home behind his two bass drums, spinning and twirling his sticks as he played.

Thorin Oakenshield, left, and Gee Anzalone, right

Thorin Oakenshield, left, and Gee Anzalone, right

Valhalla was a no-brainer when it came to venue choice. Formerly known as Valve, Hole In The Wall, and Medusa, Valhalla has long been Wellington’s dedicated metal bar. The tiny venue made the gig all the more intimate, with hundreds of bogans crammed in together and the bands playing literally right in front of the mosh pit. The stage seemed almost too small to hold the six piece but they didn’t let it stop them from moving about as they took turns as the centre of attention.

I expected every second person in the crowd to wear denim vests and leather jackets adorned with band patches and studs. But surprisingly, the stereotypical long-haired headbangers were in short supply. There were more long beards than long heads of hair. The bar was jam-packed, to the point that at the end of the set the band didn’t even bother trying to leave the stage, because they knew they’d have to squeeze their way back for the encore. In a typical kiwi fashion, chants started up for band members to drink. The keyboardist even joined in the heckling, shouting out that the band needed to play some Slayer.

One blonde haired girl deserves a special mention. She was the first to crowd surf (with her handbag clenched tightly between her teeth). Then she generously wiped sweat off her brow and onto my cheek. After that she and a friend pushed their way onstage to dance, and she proceeded to lick her hand and wipe it on the back of Herman’s head. Herman didn’t seem to appreciate this. “Who ordered the strippers that didn’t take their clothes off?” He asked, “I feel ripped off!” The girl was a bit of a state all night. Her shoes had disintegrated over the course of the evening and at the end of the night she only had straps around her ankles. Parts of the soles and heels were in pieces strewn around the floor.

I’ve heard rumours before that Dragonforce can’t cut it live. “They record their song in the studio and speed it up on a computer”, people have said, “they get really drunk on stage to cover up the fact they can’t actually play that well.” I saw no shortage of talent. And I can forgive a musician for not being able to play complex songs note for note every time, but I didn’t need to, because the members of Dragonforce were more than proficient. The songs were fast but tight, and the vocal harmonies sounded great once the mic levels increased. They made their work look easy.

One of the themes in the latest Dragonforce album, Maximum Overload, is how we get overwhelmed and overstimulated by technology. It seems a bit ironic then, that so many people had their smartphones out, recording the band’s every movements. I wouldn’t have wanted to get my phone out, for fear that someone spill beer on it. But I can see why one would want to film such a spectacle.

I had hoped to see Dragonforce play in Los Angeles when I was on holiday there three years ago. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. I never really got over missing that opportunity. But after witnessing such a stellar show tonight I can finally let it go.

The line-up may have changed slightly, but I can finally say that I’ve seen that ridiculous band from Guitar Hero. And I enjoyed every moment.


Joseph James

The setlist

The set list