Dragonforce's Herman Li: A Magician Of New Era

Herman Li is a magician with a guitar around his neck but like all things that go hocus pocus, even master illusionists can disappear from sight.

Dragonforce's Herman Li: A Magician Of New Era
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.
"It was a dream comes true to be touring with Maiden on our Sonic Firestorm album."
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 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.
"We mix all styles of metal, thrash metal, death, prog, hard rock, shred, power metal, everything! We called it Extreme Power Metal."
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? 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.
"No one tell us how to play the guitar on our albums, they tried but we never listened."
Please describe guitars/amps/special playing techniques on: "Operation Ground and Pound;" 'Storming the Burning Fields;" "Revolution Deathsquad." 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.
"Never been into doing exercises 'cause I always found them boring and non-musical."
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? 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.
"Guitarists like us shouldn't sing really?"
Everyone in the band sings - is this a key part of your sound? 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 2006

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    ^Thanx! Herman represents sort-of like the new generation of shreders (even though they've been around for a while) DF is more of a guitar players band so people who dont play guiatr might not get into it, so what? thier fast playing makes you 'feel' something even though he dosent play with the 'feeling' some of u speak of.
    ^hey it's all good, as long as you can acknowledge talent, i like a lot of pink floyd but only listen to metal now and then, still, i gotta give those bands credit. i didn't really see that this guy sounded arrogant like malmsteem except in a few parts, maybe the interviewer just let a bad day get in the way of his objectivity.
    how many of u can say that if u heard every song by them u could distinctively tell that there different? its all this fast drum shit.....check how many notes i can play a second its ****in borin after the 3rd song i dont get the big hype just because he enjoys playing it doesnt mean its putting feel into it, there is no feel are no emotion being expressed thru his playing, its just fast noise! the day he slows down and shows me he can do what most other top guitarists did like right songs like stairway then heartbreaker, purple haze then little wing, Greasy Kids Stuff then For The Love of God.....that ****in guitar playin with feelin!
    thrashing moles
    I dont get it, there is always soo many people that talk shit about bands, or guitarists or whatever. If you dont like Herman Li's playing then why did you waste your time to read an interview with him. And on top of that why did you waste your time talking shit about him. Its stupid. Just because he plays guitar the way he wants to play guitar that is no reason to be a jerk. A lot of you are acting like 6 year olds and its kinda ridiculous.
    daver869 wrote: For real? Trivium cant play Master's solo? No even Kirk Hammett plays as fast as Herman Li (sorry Kirk). As far as I know, there are only three bands that play fast: DragonForce, Slayer and early Exodus.
    So kirk cant play as fast. How many people can? I can name a bunch of guitarist slower than him but more talented. I can practice for seven years for ten hours a day and be as fast as him than what? I still probably cant create music that people will hold highly. Look at most Dragonforce songs i like dragonforce but alot of their songs are forgetable. Sure kirk cant play as fast but hes writen some pretty sick stuff that people still talk about 20 something years later.
    TheGodFather138 wrote: Heres a little fun fact for you guys. If you already didn't know, Li is left handed, but plays a right handed guitar. If you play guitar, you know how hard that is.
    yeah, if you're already used to playing on a right-handed guitar. if you start out playing on a left handed guitar its just like playing on a right handed one.
    i mustsay people that all dragon force are almost the same but with that a didnt mean that herman li was a bad guitar player(for you people of bad trust check out the video of Trough Fire And Flames and it just for warm it will blow your mind believe me)herman li is good but no so good as Yngwie by the way DF dont need slow song fools they need new stuff every song some rythim wil be good like dream theater or petrucci (am just saying it dont insult my opinion later people) in others words i want to say that Herman Li is awesome but it get boring beacuse all the songs are almost and i say almost are tha same thing again again and again just whit diferent lyrics and difernte riff... they could do more variety to their songs i think (if they are so good they could and they must do it) Cheers from Venezuela
    People bitch and moan about Herman over-shredding and not playing with 'the dreaded' feeling (which has somehow now become a weapon to insult guitarists who play quickly). Does it not occur to you that he probably can play slowly and with 'feeling' but chooses to do something more challenging. Anyway, he enjoys playing the music and is therefore putting feeling into it.
    mr. blobby
    Ironflippy wrote: waylay00 wrote: seabass324 wrote: how can the speed of the guitar and the speed of the drumming plus the vocals not get you going? That's an immature statement. Just because something is fast doesn't mean it's not boring. Pink Floyd's stuff is very slow, yet it is ten times more entertaining than DragonForce. To each his own. I find Pink Floyd to be rather boring. Well, most of their stuff anyway. Amazing band, just didn't do it for me though. And yes, I've listened to them more than once.
    yeah to be honest thers all this fuss about PF being amazing but it bores me... whatever floats ur boat i guess...
    seabass324 wrote: how can the speed of the guitar and the speed of the drumming plus the vocals not get you going? That's an immature statement. Just because something is fast doesn't mean it's not boring. Pink Floyd's stuff is very slow, yet it is ten times more entertaining than DragonForce.[/quote] AMEN to that
    WTF? it is like - they came out of nowhere and suddenly they are the best band in metal music? oh gimme a break... i couldn't find a single song that can be remembered by anything
    This guys gona have an ego problem up the ass. Cause playin fast is one thing but you gota have emotion in your playin i guess thats why i play da blues. But where looking at the guitarist version of AXL so watch out dragonforce ego problems ahead just look at metalica
    mr. blobby
    kuki_anarPINEL : WTF? it is like - they came out of nowhere and suddenly they are the best band in metal music? oh gimme a break... i couldn't find a single song that can be remembered by anything through the fire and flames -- awesome solo and rememberable chorus
    mr. blobby
    u guys all seem to think tht herman is way off being close to yngwie, and ino yngwie absolutely kicks ass, but i reckon hermans not too far off him. Also i agree tht the interviewer was wayy too harsh on him at the start. ther also seems to b alot of argument goin on about slow vs fast, i rekon people like herman are great to watch, slower blues is cool to listen too, bt for me my fave guitarist has to be joe satriani because i think he has a lot more tunefulness to his pieces, but i guess if dragonforce tried to be more like that it would be completely out of place in their music.
    I saw Dragonforce last night in Eugene, OR and met the entire band and Herman didn't seem the least bit arrogant, he took the time to chill and hang out and talk with fans and sign autographs for us and we got pictures with him and I walked away not the least bit disapopinted with the show, I don't know where the arrogant persona came from.
    how is li arrogant at all? there wasn't a single cocky remark in the entire interview. the stuff about ignoring the singers and stuff was joking, and anyone can see that. the interviewer here is either deaf or can't register a joke
    You Know I Joined This Thing Just To Put This Argument To Rest.... So Lets Begin 1) Number One, Herman Li, Plays As Fast As he doesn, Not Only Because He Can, But Becuase he Wants To, And Have You Ever Considered That Instead Of Trying To Be A Sellout And Only Writing Music Thats Gonna Appeal To you Hardcore "Metallers" Out There?? I really want to swear here but i wont... And how do you know that he doesnt play with emotion, have you ever considered that your so not used to music that takes ACTUAL talent that you cant hear the emotion, or that he's actually expressing it in a way not done before? "ohh i put few bends in my solos therefore i play with feeling" Hahaha Course 2) DragonForce's Music, Boring? I Think You're Just Not Listening, theres like 10 Different Tracks Going At once, all at 200bpm. Playing Music That You fools couldnt even dream of attempting...or any other bands for that matter, When i see trivium, Avenged Sevenfold or any of the other commercialised rejects play like dragonforce i will pass waste out of my mouth! (Ala Cartman) Ohh And by the way, i saw trivium live, AND THEY SUCKED! Too much, i couldnt hear the solos, Screaming is a waste of time, and Mr Heafy couldnt even scream live either... 3) Just becuase Herman Plays Fast In Dragonforce's music, means he cant go home on night and write/play some kinda of Satriani/Santana Style Solo? Haha, Santana although a terrific "feel player" doesnt have anything on herman Li's talent...and i could put a bit bet that Herman could record a video anytime he wanted playing what all you rejects call an "emotive solo" In Closing, DragonForce Rule, You All Suck (In Your Music taste and obviously Your talent as well) And To All The People Who Have Been Here Defending Dragonforce, Metal To You All \m/ Alex
    while the songs do have a similar style, I never find them to get boring. They just have too much energy and catchy music. It just sounds awesome. Alot of artists music sounds similar...its just that this music is so fast it takes some time to really take it all in, and then u notice all the differences, otherwise it may just seem like one fast blurr. and those who use trivium as an example...they have more similar sounding songs than dragonforce...and theyre solo's arent particularly great, although they are getting better. Im expecting alot from their new album...although ive heard heavy sing his new style, and i dont like it...too much like hetfield, and it just doesnt sound good. while Herman is a great shredder, i find Sam to be the better guitarist coz he comes up with all the cool non shred parts, and the songs as a whole.
    Inliner : Although my fave guitarist IS YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, i recon this guy is BETTER than him since he is original, improvises every solo whereas yngwie gets repetitive
    Ha and Li doesn't. Nothing against Li, he is an awesome guitarist in terms of speed and he is very telented although i agree with a lot of people in saying DF's songs all sounds very similar, which gets boring very quickly.
    "All songs sound the same" = bad excuse for those who dislike DragonForce or any other band. Please, just try to listen through one of their albums like 3 times, if you can't find any difference between the songs you are "untalanted" from a musical point of view. Having an own sound is not a death sin, and if you don't like it, keep it to yourself!
    Metal Alex doesn't have a clue on what metal shud sound like, DragonForce is just noise. Its all bullsh*t!!!!
    I've Sampled 10 or 11 of their songs, it's very repetative. I mean yes I'll have a couple on my playlist, but I'm not going to buy any more albums. They are all very skilled, but they need a little variation.
    Although my fave guitarist IS YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, i recon this guy is BETTER than him since he is original, improvises every solo whereas yngwie gets repetitive
    How is Herman untalanted? How much do you guys require? You want him to play with his left foot and hold the chords with his tongue? Herman Li is one of few musicians today that does his own thing, no one tells him how to play! he is self-taught and left-handed, but he plays on right-handed guitars. @AlpineHigh: your statement about right/left-handed is not correct. Everyone is born either left or right-handed, one side will always be dominant. You can practice but you will never be as good with your left hand (if you're right-handed) as you would be with your right hand. Lots of fanboys like to think that the limit between a guitar god and an "untalented" player is almost non-existant. There is only one guitar god in your minds, and that's Yngwie Malmsteen =). The rest are crap. There must be at least thousands of guitarists that are "good" ? AT LEAST! Peace
    i do think dragonforce is a sort of lame name. and kirk hammets solos are completely different than li's, like the solo in disposable heroes can be a bit quick but can't be matched by li's playing style
    Either he was unwilling or somehow unable to participate in a phone interview
    Maybe because he's been touring for 6 months playing 800 notes a minute (get a calculator if you don't believe me) for 1 1/2 hours straight pretty much, then he gets some jerk like you, with a major inferiority complex, asking him a bunch of dog shit questions that lead to no intelligent discussion whatsoever. I hope the interviewer chokes on someone's nut sack.
    this dude is a pretty sick guitarist, only judging on speed along, but other than that, i've heard better. he is in the same league as other speed freaks if not one of the best, but hearing 800 notes a minute (thank you Mike_uk2k) just gets tiring and boring after a while.
    hey guys quite picking on malakian...he was just expressing his opinion. i can see where he's coming from. even though i disagree that Li isn't a good musician. i mean....listen to that sh*t! but anyway..i think it's pretty insane that all he does is improvise. it gives me hope because that's all i do pretty much haha.
    well....i downloaded a few songs by dragonforce and even watched some videos, while the music isnt bad either is the playing but it doesnt excite me i just see some chinese/hmong/asian dude throwing shit out on his ibanez which doesnt show much besides cool you can play something fast...maybe if he took the time to make somethign outstandingly good sounding then i would say this guy is pretty good other then that *thumbs down*
    naked snake
    dragonforce rule!!! \m/ though i do like theory of a deadman too they rock they totally contrast coz DF play songs really fast wheras TOADM play slow bluesy songs but IMO they are both really good
    .:Metal Boy:.
    TheGodFather138 : Heres a little fun fact for you guys. If you already didn't know, Li is left handed, but plays a right handed guitar. If you play guitar, you know how hard that is.
    well actually, im left handed and play a right handed guitar and it isnt that hard, he probably started learning on a right handed guitar so he never knew any different
    randyrhoads... wrote: he hasent even heard of david gilmour...
    he never said he hadnt heard of Dave Gilmour, just that he didnt listen to him or consider him an influence
    man... i just listened to them... i repeat: the most boring and no-talent power-shit-metal showoff, no melody or feeling or anything that could impress me. He could kneel and kiss Morello's feet
    This interview was just full of boringquestions that merited an uninterested response. As for people comparing Dragonforce to the Trivium and Metallica, you realistically can't, for one Trivium can't sing live, can't play solos live and basically sound like shit...also aside from that DF are totally different to both of them bands.
    He didn't seem pompous or egotistic at all. I guess the author expected Herman Li to kiss his ass, fly over on an airplane, and rent out a five-star hotel room to interview in.
    Ha, when I saw dragonforce in edinburgh, Herman Li came outside beside the fans, he was a horrible person to people, refused to sign stuff and seemed pretty aggressive when he said "where the f*** can I get something to eat around here?" put me off the band big time, also they were rubbish, live they just sound like mush! horrible guitar tone too.
    holy f uck their song themes are cheesy, and from what i have heard, he solos are just blatent "whacking off" with no feeling, speed comes a dime a dozen, but melody is key, and he hasent even heard of david gilmour... it might just be that i havent listened to enough of them , but if so could ne one tell some songs that have melody to them?
    TheGodFather138 wrote: Heres a little fun fact for you guys. If you already didn't know, Li is left handed, but plays a right handed guitar. If you play guitar, you know how hard that is.
    i'm left handed but play right handed guitar and it's way easier cus my left hand is more coordinated to run around the fretboard and
    nothing2gein wrote: Guitarists are good, band is boring
    how can the speed of the guitar and the speed of the drumming plus the vocals not get you going?
    WTF?? some of you people are just wierd...Have you ever WATCHED herman li play guitar? its not the fact that hes soloing at a million miles an hour...its how he does it!!...i mean watch Synyster Gates from A7X solo...hes a damn good guitarist alright but when compared to li!! Li plays the guitar with his left hand like its a frickin keyboard...and if you dive into those songs...you can find that they are soo unique and everyone of themis killer to them max...and Yngwie is awesome...but he only plays to japs now...ironic...haha
    Resiliancem: I don't see how he even reaches Yngwie's feet.
    It's the whole playing more than just harmonic minor runs thing.
    Malakian=God wrote: I no im goin to get really flamed over this but i honestly do not think that he is a good musician. His solos are super fast, and i couldnt even begin to play them, but i feel that they are not very good. All there is to them is speed, no real feeling. Its fine to shred in a solo, but there should also be more to it. Look at trivium for example, they shred a lot in their solos, but they also have great slow bits, which incorporates rythm into it, rather than just endless notes upon notes. Also look at stairway to heavens solo, voted the best ever, there is no shredding in it, except at the very end, so I think this proves that there is more to a solo than simply playing it at a million miles per hour.
    lol and you think malakian=god? anyway i kind of like dragonforce, couldnt listen to a whole album though, if i could play guitar like that guy i would be happy
    Herman Li might be arrogant, I don't know, but it didn't come off at all that he was in the interview. Some of his answers were short because a fair number of the questions were pretty stale, but w/e. I like Dragonforce's attitude of not really taking themselves too seriously, and I have a lot of respect for their technical ability. I can't really listen to them for more than a few songs at a time though. Blinding speed is good in moderation, but just playing 4000 notes per second for two minutes can only go so far before it gets a bit boring.
    He may be a good guitarist but, let's just face it his bands sucks, I mean it does have huge Maiden and Priest similarities and obvious influences but, it seems over done and tired. Just because you can shred you A** off doesn't automatically mean that it's good or sounds good in this case it isn't and doesn't. I guess being to good in this case is a bad thing.