Embracing The Power Within with DragonForce's Herman Li

'We are keen to impress!' says the likeable British guitarist...

DragonForce axepert Herman Li is full of the joys of (the Northern) Spring. And why shouldn’t he be? His band are on the verge of releasing a new album, The Power Within (their fifth studio outing), with a brand new vocalist and the boost in momentum such a personnel change can often bring. Excited, Herman? “I am! We’ll be on tour soon and then I’ll be able to afford to pay for all these phone calls!”

The new album is the first you’ve put out yourself, as opposed to letting a record company take the strain. What was the thinking behind that? “It is. It’s the first we’ve put out on our own label. We’ve licensed it in various different record companies in different territories.”

Do you feel that gives you more control over what happens with the record? “I think that’s part of it, yes. But the role of record companies is constantly changing, all the time. You can find it a real problem knowing where you are with them. You might have sold a lot of records last year but it’s still meaningless, yo stop being a priority. So yes, by licensing I do think we retain more control over what happens to our album.”

So The Power Within is finally with us; its taken a fair while, mainly I’m thinking due to the fact that longtime vocalist ZP Theart quit after the long tour following last album Ultra Beatdown. Replacing band members is always a wrench, but singers are even more difficult to replace than ‘normal’ band members, and this isn’t a process anyone who is serious about carving a long-lasting career for their band to rush. Was finding new vocalist Marc Hudson as tedious as I’m making out?  Or were you too excited by the change to be dragged down? It’s very much a new beginning for the band isn’t it? “It is! Writing a new album with Marc was amazing. And very interesting. In the old days Zippy would record his vocals on his own, then bring them to us and see what we liked and what we didn’t like. This time myself and Sam (Totman, Li’s partner in guitar crime and co-songwriter) were able to sit down with Marc and discuss everything about the way he sang each song,.. things like the tone he was using, or how to vary the attack on certain words to get maximum effect. We stripped it right back to its basic elements.”

So writing for a new vocalist after getting used to another one for a decade presented new and different challenges? “Well yes, obviously. Sam acts more as the songwriter in these instances, I’m more the… producer, a devil's advocate almost. But Marc has such great tone to his voice; Obviously he has a different voice to Zippy in the way he approaches things like high notes-“

So you did the whole note-by-note thing with old songs that’ll feature in the set too? “Not so much, no. It was just a matter of sitting with him and finding a way to make him comfortable with everything.”

So will that be reflected in the sets you play when you get back out on the road? “Of course. The new album is a bit different to other things we’ve done too. In the past we’ve tended to write songs that are very fast and very long, you know.  I think there’a a lot more going on with this album, with tempos and stuff. Obviously there’s some very fast stuff, some very heavy stuff, but also some slower stuff too.”

Plenty of stuff to look forward to, then. I can’t comment as the promised stream of the album never materialized before interview time. Suffice to say the new track I have heard, the excellent Fallen World is very good indeed. Hudson has a grittier voice – what might be termed as ‘less demonstrably power metal’ which seems to slot in nicely with the band’s sharper, brevity-focussed modus operandi.  I trust we’ll be hearing it live in Australia? You are coming to Australia, aren’t you?

“Of course! We had to miss Soundwave, which was bad, but the album was not quite finished and we had to wrap that up. We haven’t been to Australia since 2008 I think, and we’re very aware about how much heavy metal has moved on since then, how many other great bands have got down there. Things have changed, and the Australian metal fans might have different ideas since then on what makes agreat show. We know we’re going to have to kick serious amounts of arse!. We are keen to impress!”