Herman Li, guitarist for DragonForce, reminds this writer of another brash young egomeister who emerged in the 80s. That player was Yngwie Malmsteen, fresh off the boat from Sweden and full of bravado and a rampant ego that made him say things he didn't mean and didn't mean the things he did say. Li has those same - unfortunate - characteristics. I wrote one of the first major pieces on Malmsteen in 1984 for a cover feature story in Guitar World magazine - the article was titled The God With a Chip On His Shoulder.
The following is an e-mail interview I conducted with Herman
. Either he was unwilling or somehow unable to participate in a phone interview, so I sent him a variety of questions and below are his answers. These are his responses almost verbatim - I have cleaned up some of the punctuation so it reads a little clearer but the grammar and pattern of speech is all his. Occasionally his words reflect a sense of depth and understanding but many of his comebacks are inane, shallow, and without substance.
In the GW story, I said that Yngwie was a virtuoso of outstanding merit - he had the chops and a ton of technique. But I was quick to point out that if he wasn't careful, he'd allow a runaway ego and an immature outlook to stand as major roadblocks in his career. Indeed, that did happen and for many years he was virtually a recluse. He has since retraced his steps and now remains one of the world's great players.
The coming months and years will see if Herman Li falls into that same trap. He is a magician with a guitar around his neck but like all things that go hocus pocus, even master illusionists can disappear from sight.
Steven Rosen: There are elements of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden in your music - can you talk about how these bands influenced you?
Herman Li: Well, they are one of our many influences. The twin guitar is a definite influence. Maiden also as a live band too.
You recently toured with Iron Maiden - did it feel as if the band had come full circle? That is, originally listening to Iron Maiden and now touring with them?
|"It was a dream comes true to be touring with Maiden on our Sonic Firestorm album."|
It was a dream comes true of course to be touring with maiden on our Sonic Firestorm album. What more can I say? All metal bands would love to play with Maiden, right?
DragonForce has created a style you call power metal - describe this genre? Are there other bands in this genre? How would you describe a band like Children of Bodom?
No, some people call us power metal maybe because of the singing but that's only one of the elements we have in our music. We mix all styles of metal, thrash metal, death, prog, hard rock, shred, power metal, everything! So we called it Extreme Power Metal. I actually got the name from some fans calling it that on the Internet. You have to call it something right? But it's obvious from the music that everything we do is more over the top than the typical traditional power metal style.
I don't know what Children Of Bodom has to do with this, but they are a good metal band with their own sound.
Does there already exist a style called extreme power metal? Is this different than what you play?
We are the first and only band that is called Extreme Power Metal as far as I know. At the end of the day, we don't care what people call us if they like the music.
Please describe your approach to twin melodic guitars? How is it different than what bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden did? How do you work out the guitar parts with Sam Totman?
|"We mix all styles of metal, thrash metal, death, prog, hard rock, shred, power metal, everything! We called it Extreme Power Metal."|
There are many differences, we approach is more into the Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, Satch direction than the traditional metal twin guitars. We also like to add videos games sounds influences into our playing.
One example, for melodic intros or after-chorus leads, if the melody repeats again in the song, we will play it with different techniques and stuff to give it a different feel or dimensions. Whammy bar, slurs, tapping, harmonic slides and changes some of the passing notes and stuff, all kind of things, different articulations to make that melody more interesting next time you hear it. We don't play it the same way each time. I think it is more interesting for guitars players, people who don't play the guitar won't hear that much differences. You have to be into guitars to catch the magic.
When it comes to twin guitars solos though, it's a totally different ballgame.
You and Sam are both described as lead/rhythm players - describe the differences in your styles?
To be a good guitar player, you must be able to play lead and rhythm right?
There so many differences, you have to narrow it down for us to be able to give you an answer or we gonna be here all day. One example is the melodic approach - Sam works out all his solos before recording, and mine are all improvised.
You are a fan of guitar sounds - did you listen to players like Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour and Tom Morello and the way they created guitar sounds/textures? What are your favorite sounds that other guitarists have produced?
I listen to some Hendrix before but none of the others you mentioned. Steve Vai's 'Touching Tongues' whammy pedal chorus; 'Blue Powder's' underwater sounding clean section; Van Halen slap tap thing he does live, they are some of the many cool stuff I like.
Inhuman Rampage seems to embody more elaborate guitar lines/harmony lines/orchestrated guitar parts than Valley of the Damned or Sonic Firestorm. Can you describe your approach to guitar on the new album? How were the tracks recorded?
Yeah, we wanted to make it more over the top than any of the albums we have done before. More guitars, more guitars, was on the menu for sure! Depends what parts of guitar you were talking about, there are so many! For some melody lines, we recorded a quick basic one as demo than work out a couple harmonies. After, we rerecorded all again but with the feeling and techniques added in.
Please describe guitars/amps/special playing techniques on: "Operation Ground and Pound;" 'Storming the Burning Fields;" "Revolution Deathsquad."
|"No one tell us how to play the guitar on our albums, they tried but we never listened."|
Playing-wise I can only show you, not really easy to write it in words in an email interview, but there is a bit on 'Revolution Deathsquad' which involves fretting and putting the high E off the fretboard (6:09) to make the sound. Solo at 4:25, the whole things was played using the whammy bar like a bottleneck. We have done some whammy pedal stuff with the hand to make the special noise and some other things.
Please describe: guitars/amplifiers/effects on new album.
Every single note was recorded using Ibanez guitars, a few S series 6 and 7 string. Ibanez RG7 string and a Jem7BSB were also used. We recorded everything dry except for when we use the Crybaby, Bad Horsie 2 wah, and the Digitech XP100. Amps wise, a JMP-1 midi preamp, Mesa 50/50, 1960B cab with two mics.
Please describe your recording studio in London? Type of gear (board/mikes/outboard gear)? Do you experiment with guitar sounds there?
Very simple: two computers, Digi001, Digi002, cables and mics.
What type of guitar sound do you try and create?
The best guitar sound for our style of music obviously, haha.
Please talk about your right-hand picking technique? How have you been able to develop such blinding speed in your solos and rhythm parts?
By simply playing, never been into doing exercises 'cause I always found them boring and non-musical.
Please describe approach to soloing on Inhuman Rampage - what should a solo do for a song? Best solo on the record? Hardest solo to record?
I improvise everything but each solo is approached differently depending on the song and what type of solos have I already done in the song and other songs of the album. I think 'Revolution Deathsquad' has the longest solo section on Inhuman Rampage.
Please describe harmonic elements of the solo on "Through the Fire and Flame?" Chord changes/scales?
Huh? The chords change and we play in key.
Obviously the whammy bar is a huge part of your technique - how did that develop? Were you a fan of whammy bar guitarists - Hendrix/Van Halen/Vai et al?
|"Never been into doing exercises 'cause I always found them boring and non-musical."|
I am a fan of many great guitarists, with or without the whammy. I guess my style just developed that way. Hendrix was great for his time, a lot of influences came from Vai, Satriani and I love the way Michael Lee Firkins did with the bar.
Has the technique ever overshadowed the songs? On the earlier albums, perhaps, did the arpeggios and ultra-fast rhythms sometimes blur the actual melodic content of the songs?
No, not in any way. They work great together. If you don't play the guitar, you just don't hear the techniques, you catch the melodies and energy instead. Techniques are there to make the music happen.
Please describe how keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov how become more a part of the band's sound on Inhuman Rampage?
He played the keyboard on all three albums, so he's been part for a long time.
The choice of keyboard sounds and frequencies are much different on Inhuman Rampage than previous albums and much more interesting, so people can hear it more on this album. No more over use of the usual strings, choirs and all that on this album. We really worked on making the keyboards special for Inhuman Rampage.
Does singer ZP Theart ever make suggestions about the guitar? Does he comment about chord changes as he writes vocal melodies? Maybe suggesting a change here or there?
The songwriter writes the basic vocal melodies first, which means a lot of the time, Sam writes them. ZP of course also contribute but later in the song arrangement cycle. No one tell us how to play the guitar on our albums, they tried but we never listened hahaha. We always hear people outside the band saying, 'play slower songs, less shredding, less solos, blablabla.,
How do you play off the rhythm section? The drums play a style called blast beat - is this something they incorporated from death metal? What is the importance of the driving double bass drums in this style of guitar-driven metal? Do you key off Dave Mackintosh's bass drum? Does bassist Frederic Leclerq double the guitar lines?
Depends on the music. Bass don't double the guitar lines, they are there to laid the backing rhythm. If the bass follow the guitar lines than all lead guitar will sound like crap with no chords under it to create the feeling. It's like a singer who sings to root notes of the chords; it's sound boring as hell.
Everyone in the band sings - is this a key part of your sound?
|"Guitarists like us shouldn't sing really?"|
We do the backing vocals 'live' on stage as much as like recorded on the album. No backing tracks ever! Some of us are not the best backing vocalists in the world but we try out best. Guitarists like us shouldn't sing really?
Please give me 25 words on: Valley of the Damned.
Great album, songs are instantly catchy, easy to get into.
And what about: Sonic Firestorm
Excellent album, we grown so much compare to Valley. Sonic Firestorm to us is totally original. We are very happy and proud of this album. Lots of original element, and really the first one to show the unique DragonForce sound.
You seem to have a sense of humor about what you do. Where did that develop? How seriously do you take yourself?
Music is about fun right? We enjoy being on stage, it's fun for us, it's not like going to work in a job we hate.
Steven Rosen ┬ę 2006