DragonForce, the long running, hugely popular extreme power metal band, release their first ever ‘best-of’ collection on XXX XXXX, 2016. ‘Killer Elite’ offers almost two hours and 20 minutes of music, its 21 tracks, which include a smattering of concert material, touching upon the group’s entire repertoire. A special edition adds a third disc collating all seven of the band’s promotional videos, plus an additional live track.

The band was formed in October 1999 by London-based twin guitar shredders Herman Li and Sam Totman, who used the name DragonHeart for two years. The line-up was gradually completed by musicians from various countries, their cosmopolitan pedigrees adding extra colour and texture to a style that mixed thrash- and speed-metal with power-metal, performed with high quality musicianship and blessed by a strong, stirring melodic undercurrent.

The DragonForce sound is as exciting as it is unmistakable, and the band’s willingness to tour around the globe has paid off handsomely. 2014’s ‘Maximum Overload’ was the sixth studio album of a career that brought them a Grammy Award nomination in 2008. ‘Maximum Overload’ was also the second release to feature Marc Hudson, the singer who joined them in 2011. This latter fact partially explains the existence of the collection that you hold in your hand.

“Marc has now been in the band for quite a while, and the fans have really taken to him,” Herman Li explains. “For Sam and myself, who’ve been there since the beginning, it’s a little strange to meet fans who’ve attended a DragonForce show and only know the songs from the albums we did with Marc, plus our biggest hit ‘Through The Fire And Flames’. They’re not familiar at all with our earliest stuff. So this is a chance for them to get into some of our biggest and best tracks from the albums that predate the current era.”

Whether it’s a crash course in DragonForce that you seek, or you’re a veteran fan that simply craves their very essence distilled down onto two discs, ‘Killer Elite’ fits the bill.

“It’s a mix of the songs that the guys in the band like to play, and also choices that the fans – the older ones – tell us are their favourites,” Li says of the selection process. “But it gives a strong flavour of everything that we’ve released so far. This is something for those that perhaps don’t know every single song from every single album.”

The aforementioned ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ looms above DragonForce like a brightly coloured neon sign. Li insists that its runaway success has been more of a blessing than a curse, and of course he’s correct. If it’s the only DragonForce song you’re aware of – excusable, since it showed up in several best-selling video games, including Guitar Hero, and at the last count had shifted more than a million copies in the US alone – and you’re expecting all the rest to sound identical, well… that’s another good reason to validate ‘Killer Elite’s existence.

“Because we like to play fast, some people might be a little surprised to hear our ballad,” Herman chuckles, referring to ‘Dawn Over A New World’. Lifted from the album ‘Sonic Firestorm’, said track isn’t alone in entering lighter-waving, stadium-friendly territory. Although a notch or two heavier, ‘Starfire’, a song that first appeared on the band’s debut, ‘Valley Of The Damned’, isn’t too far removed from that same area. DragonForce are not merely about relentless tempos and flashy solos. It’s the feel of the song that counts.

“I like to think that this collection displays quite a lot of diversity, we tried to make it as broad-based as possible,” Li continues. “Our last two albums, the ones featuring Marc, were a little more varied than what had gone before and we also released singles that weren’t necessarily fast songs. Casual listeners might learn that quite a few of our songs are actually very catchy.”

Though the band lost out to Metallica at the Grammies, the guitarist remains thrilled and a little vindicated that DragonForce were able to step out of their own little kingdom and into another where different rules and expectations applied. “I’m not saying that we changed the world of music, and there were plenty of people who hated us for it, but to have a song with so many guitar solos breaking out of the underground to reach a new audience, I saw that as a good thing. C’mon, power metal recognised by the Grammies… who’d have believed it?”

Much of the material featured on ‘Killer Elite’ will be heard live when DragonForce return to the road in 2016. Appointments in Romania, Finland, Holland, Germany, Spain, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and on board the 70000 Tons Of Metal cruise have already been announced, with more to follow.

But for the benefit of newcomers, Li happily provides a mini-history lesson, beginning with the band’s debut from 2003, ‘Valley Of The Damned’, represented here by the likes of ‘Black Fire’, ‘Heart Of A Dragon’ and ‘Starfire’ (a concert rendition from the double-set ‘Twilight Dementia’) .

“I prefer the re-mastered version [from 2010], but the original was recorded when we were still a young band with very little experience and time in the studio,” he observes. “But I’m very happy with the songs and the style of music that we played. It still stands up well.”

‘Sonic Firestorm’, which brought us ‘Fury Of The Storm’, ‘My Spirit Will Go On’ and the previously discussed ballad ‘Dawn Over A New World’, was released a year later. “We added the blastbeat element to our style, so it was a big step forward for us,” Li states. “It was a very original album, and the music was still very extreme. It had an almost ten-minute song [‘Soldiers Of the Wasteland’], but the big choruses were still there.”

Classic Rock magazine suggested that the group’s next album, ‘Inhuman Rampage’, “made Manowar sound like St Winifred’s Girls School Choir”. It rendered DragonForce *the* metal sensation of 2006. “We began adding weird video game-style noises to the mix, playing them on the guitar, and it really caught on,” Li recalls. “The song ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ really took off and we played the longest tour we’d ever done.”

2008’s ‘Ultra Beatdown’, home of ‘Heroes Of Our Time’, ‘Reasons To Live’ and ‘The Last Journey Home’, would prove another watershed – certainly in terms of personnel. It was the group’s last record to feature their co-founding lead vocalist, ZP Theart (AKA Zippy) and also introduced Frédéric Leclercq, who remains their current bassist. “To me, it was a case of ‘Inhuman Rampage’ part two,” Herman admits. “But there was no choice; we had to try to make an album that was way more over the top than its predecessor.”

Documenting a sold-out 19-show UK tour and recorded in such bastions of rock ‘n’ roll as Middlesbrough, Inverness and Hanley, the double-set ‘Twilight Dementia’ signalled what Li terms “the end of the Zippy era”. The search for a new singer allowed the band time to sit back and consider their thoughts. This was reflected in ‘The Power Within’, which in 2012 saw the likes of ‘Cry Thunder’ and ‘Seasons’ – both included here – add new dimensions to the group’s long-established oeuvre.

“Since the re-set, we’ve released songs that were faster than we’ve ever done before,” Li says, referencing the band’s second Hudson-fronted record, the Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia, Soilwork)-produced ‘Maximum Overload’, released in 2014. “‘The Game’ was among our speediest songs, and our mid-paced side returned in the shape of ‘Three Hammers’, but in even heavier and more epic form. The fast stuff got even faster and the more melodic stuff went further in that direction.”

Released in the summer of 2015 and recorded and filmed in Japan, a DVD-CD release called ‘In The Line Of Fire… Larger Than Live’ validates the above claim.

The DragonForce saga continues. For diehards and newbies alike, ‘Killer Elite’ offers a welcome chapter by chapter synopsis.

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