"We're going to destroy the place, what can I say?" - Herman Li of Dragonforce.

DragonForce are finally making it back to Australia. Herman Li gave Metal as Fuck an insight into what we can expect, and what the last few years have brought the London-based metal band.

Escaping from the cold of England, Herman Li is passing time in Los Angeles when I get in contact with him. One of the founding guitarists of Power Metal act DragonForce, Li has won accolades from the guitar community, netting several awards and developing his own signature guitar model with Ibanez.


It has been several  years since DragonForce was last in Australia. A lot has happened for the high-tempo  metal band since then. I ask Li to give me an insight into what these years have brought DragonForce.  "Wow, it's a long time. In a short way, we made an album, we've got a new awesome singer and we've been touring, touring, and we're going to reach Australia soon. We've been getting better and better and here we go! So, Soundwave we're finally gonna get there and play it."


How has the international reception been for the fifth studio album, The Power Within? "It's been really, really, really good. You know, when changing a singer it can be a difficult time for any band. And the fans, the new fans and the old fans, have accepted our new singer Marc Hudson really well. So that's good, because to be honest when I pressed the button two years ago to say we've got a new singer, before I pressed that button I just screamed real loud 'AARGH here we go!' What can happen? I don't know. But it's all worked out well."


The previous singer of DragonForce, ZP Theart, left the band in 2010 due to 'insurmountable differences of musical opinion'. Does Li think that the new vocalist has had any impact on the sound of DragonForce? "With Marc… you know what? We work very differently with Marc than our previous singer. The whole structure of working, making the album and rehearsing, everything has been very different. And kind of refreshing for the change we made. So I think it kind of gave us a lot of positives in all different areas. It's hard for me to pinpoint. Generally everything has kind of been easier to work with. "


Something that has been noticed is that since changing singers, the live sound of DragonForce has had a distinct change. This is not just the difference in vocalists, but we believe the live guitar tuning has changed back to Standard E? "Yeah that's right! Not many people mention this, and I don't mention this because [most] people don't care. So yeah, we play the songs in the original tuning, so the mix of sound just sounds like the album. The feeling is completely different when you downtune a guitar, but now we get to play it back in the original tuning which I've always loved. Marc has got a really good range. For him it's really easy to sing that way. Both me and Sam [Totman], the guitar players, we make our music in that tuning, so we're playing in that tuning again and that's cool."


DragonForce was booked to play Soundwave 2012, but found themselves cancelling due to album commitments. Is finally making it to the big Australian festival cause for any excitement for the band? "Absolutely, because we were talking about doing Soundwave for years. But we could never get it into the schedule on previous tours, so finally  we were able to confirm last year then couldn't do it because we couldn't finish the album. We were pretty disappointed with that so it's great that we're able to do it again this year, and kind of make it up for the fans that were disappointed last year. We're going to play some new songs and old songs as well, a bit of a mixture to keep the old fans and new fans happy."


Before Soundwave, DragonForce is joining 2000 metalheads and over 40 metal bands on the third annual 70000tons of Metal cruise. Given the uniqueness of this festival, what is Li expecting from a week in the Caribbean on a cruise ship? "I think for five days we're going to be on that boat, so it'll be interesting. I've heard of it, I haven't been to it, but it's a really good thing. Everyone who has been to it has said it's so amazing. The interesting thing [will be] to see a bunch of people who are unable to have internet on their phone.  Isn't that amazing? They can't talk to or swipe their phone, how often do you see that? The people will have to throw their iPhones,  Androids, whatever out of the window. They can't use it. They can concentrate and talk to people only. "


Guitarists Sam Totman and Herman Li have been playing together in DragonForce for over ten years now. "Everything gets better, but we're never that serious either and we never have this big ego that we can't learn from each other. When you've known someone for that long, you can really honestly say what it is when you're working and something with that music is not right, no maybe this or maybe that, you just say it straight. So it makes it easier to work."


Given the success of DragonForce, does Li have any advice for budding young guitar virtuosos? "You have to be kind of stubborn, and find your own way to do things. You have to do something that you like, and express yourself honestly without worrying about what people are thinking, and it's only by that that you'll be able to find your own style and be happy with what you play."


"It all depends on your character. Some people care, some people don't care and some people who don't care will care eventually what people say. It's just having that kind of drive, where you know what you want, and you're going to go and do it that way. It's important for the original artists, the original musicians who have their own sound, to stubbornly do what they want regardless of what people want. Because it doesn't really matter if people like it or not in the end in music, it's just a self accomplishment that you made yourself happy and did what you wanted to do."


Known best for their high speed guitar licks, what inspiration drives the creative processes of the band? "I think early days and now, it's different. Lyrically we're inspired by what's happening around us and sometimes we'll have one or two epic stories, but these days we kind of use the events that shape us. And musically, pretty much everything that we listen to since we were born actually, that we liked musically. It kind of inspires you. And some influences come out later in your career, and some earlier. It's just, everything around us. I can't really say one. "


So how does a DragonForce song begin when they are writing an album? "It kind of depends actually, it all comes together at the same time. You've got the chords, you've got the melodies then you add the drums, and that's the main three things the song starts with. The chords, the singing melody and the drums.  And then later on you add everything together. It's kind of, the singing and the chords behind it is the most important thing to get first. If you don't have that, well you can do twenty solos and no-one will find that as a good song anyway. I don’t believe there are a lot of guitarists saying that."


Wait. So it's not all about the guitar solos? "Absolutely not! We don't have that big ego that people think we do. The guitar is actually the last thing we think of when we're writing the song. It’s always the singing melody, and the chords behind that, and we put the solos afterwards, to kind of make that song to our personality."


With a dozen awards from notable polls under his belt, Li still finds himself experimenting with the sounds of his instrument and finding new tricks. "I still do a lot of them, but it doesn't mean all of them make it onto the album at that time. As you can imagine I've discovered all these little tricks now, but I can't fit all of them onto the album. Only certain times I can put them in solos, maybe I can do them next album or maybe a live version of the song. I find the guitar is kind of a fun instrument, you don't have to play by any rules so that's why we get to do these silly noises."


As the interview time comes to an end, I have to ask. Having visited Australia several times in the past, what is his favourite thing about Australia? "To be honest I actually really get along well with Aussies. I've got a good friend down there, and when I go down there we hang out and have a few drinks and stuff, so I really like the social part. The people are cool. We get on well with them and we share the same humour. The greatest thing is the people."