UK power metal legends Dragonforce have emerged from the studio with Maximum Overload, their sixth studio album. Guitarist and co-founder Sam Totman is ready to tell one and all why their new album is the band’s best yet.
One detail that immediately separates the new album from previous releases is the presence of Jens Bogren, who has previously produced for bands such as Opeth and Soilwork. It marks the first time they have worked with an outside producer. “On all our previous albums we were working on our own time schedule, which is different to an outside producer where you are paying by the hour,” explains Totman. “So in the past, you’ve kind of got unlimited time and we’d get to a point where everything was so ridiculously perfect, we’d played everything like a hundred times to get it so perfect, and a lot of that was kind of unnecessary. So for this album, if the producer said it’s good enough, let’s just take his word for it. In doing that it made it easier for us to just play, and brought back a bit more of a live feel.” The end result has been as good as Totman could have hoped for, and tracks like ‘Three Hammers’ with a (mostly) slower Manowar feel really reflects the joint approach. “I’m really happy with how that track ended up,” agrees Totman. “The production and the big chorus, with so many different vocalists and the choir. Jens really brought that out in a big powerful way.”
But bringing in an outside voice was also a bit of a gamble for Totman, and not without its moments. “There were a few things we didn’t agree on, but then that’s part of why you have a producer. If they didn’t have any ideas of their own there wouldn‘t be any point having them there,” he says. “For example, in the song ‘The Game’ where it goes into the sort of happy sounding part of the chorus, he didn’t even want it there at all. I had to really fight for that, there’s no way we were having a song with a chorus that’s not really uplifting and glorious.”
One of the more unusual aspects of the new album is that several of guitarist Herman Li’s solos were recorded onboard a yacht owned by Zoltan Bathory from Five Finger Death Punch. Totman is clearly somewhat amused, but supportive, of Li’s choice of recording venue. “It’s kind of cool. Herman did tell me about it and I was like you don’t need to go and play on a boat!” he laughs. “But he was so sick of sitting in his recording studio and couldn’t think of any ideas for solos, so he said maybe if he went and stood in the middle of the sea it might help. Anyway it got him in a good mood and he came up with some cool leads. Probably not a bad idea but I couldn’t be bothered and I didn’t really know anyone with yacht at the time.”
The decision to include a cover track is another first on Maximum Overload. The band sat down and thought about what they could do, and why, before choosing the Johnny Cash classic ‘Ring of Fire’. “The reason why we’ve never done a cover, 90% of the time it’s one band doing a cover of another metal band and pretty much playing the song exactly the same. For me, what’s the point? So we knew we didn’t want to do that. And you can do a sort of funny cover, take a Britney Spears song and make it metal or something, but I didn’t really want to do that either,” says Totman. Instead, they were determined to make sure any cover was done in their own distinctive style. “We just wanted to take a song and make it enjoyable to someone who listens to our music. I heard ‘Ring of Fire’ on the TV and thought this could definitely turn into a fast Dragonforce song, it just lends itself to that with the chord progressions and the melody lines. It was fun to do, and we wanted to make a song that wasn’t just going to be listened to once.”
With the album done the focus turns again to touring. Putting the studio behind them and heading out onto the road suits Totman perfectly. “There are certain things about writing and recording that are fun, but there are a lot of things that are difficult and frustrating and hard work. I find that when we start trying to write songs and you come up with something cool it’s like ‘wow’, but there are a lot of times when you can’t think of stuff and you get a bit down,” he explains. In contrast, his passion for live work comes through clearly, “With touring it’s kind of all highs, there’s nothing bad about it. Well, maybe you’ve got to get up early and catch a flight, but other than that it’s all good. You’re going around the world for free, getting drunk for free, playing shows. There’s nothing to complain about! I suppose it’s not for everyone, but we all just love the touring even though we’ve been doing it for a long time.”
It’s a good thing that he finds the road so enjoyable because they plan is to see plenty of the world over the next 12 to 18 months, starting with the UK and Europe, then to the USA and hopefully bringing them back to Australia sometime in 2015. For Totman, the touring life is a perfect chance to discover the world. “There’s lots of different places I like,” he says, “I even find that we might play some shitty town you’ve never heard of in the middle of nowhere but I’ll find that interesting. It’s like I never would have come here on holiday but now I’m getting to see something new. I enjoy it, I like travelling anyway even when I’m not touring.” This interest in roaming the world means he still has plenty left to see. “When you’ve been playing for a while you tend to not really go anywhere new. It’s like North America, here we go again,” he explains. “But we’ve never been to any place in Africa, which is probably not surprising because there’s not really a huge market for power metal there. So I would like to go there. I know some bands play in South Africa so I’d really like to do that. And I’d like to play India, which should be possible because I know they have a pretty cool festival there.”
Maximum Overload brings more of everything that defines Dragonforce, and sharpens it. For Totman and the rest of the band it’s time to hit the road again.