The crazy and very strange life of a Dubai heavy metal band uncovered. Time Out asks the questions we all want to know when we catch up with Dragonforce.
At eight years old, in his home country of Ukraine, Vadim Pruzhanov sat down to his first classical piano lesson. Eighteen years on, he’s become the flame-fingered speed keyboardist for upbeat power metal band DragonForce, whose blood-vessel-bursting, ultra-fast single, ‘Through The Fire And Flames’, became the centrepiece of hit videogame Guitar Hero III two years ago. It’s a hell of a career progression, and it all began with a chance meeting in London.
‘I met Herman [Li, DragonForce’s lead guitarist] in a club that I used to hang out in, and we became friends,’ Pruzhanov explains. ‘I used to be more into neo-classical stuff and a bit of rock, but Herman introduced me to a lot of good metal. Later, he asked me to help out with the band because their keyboardist had pulled out, and it all took off from there.’
The band went on to release three albums before ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ appeared in 2006’s Guitar Hero III, a game in which players rock out to popular songs with a plastic guitar. Its speed solos made it the hardest track in the game – some versions even give a special award for those who manage to complete it – and the subsequent notoriety increased their popularity around the world.
The UK band found themselves selling out venues as far off as Indonesia, and playing to 75,000 people at the UK’s Download Festival in 2007. Ask him, though, and Vadim will be characteristically self-deprecating. ‘We were the only band playing at that point, so people were pretty much forced to come and see us. Well they could have gone to their tents or thrown eggs, I guess…’
Or drinks, it seems, if the band’s tour with hardcore metallers Machine Head is anything to go by. ‘There was one guy who was throwing stuff at us non-stop. It was ridiculous,’ Vadim recalls. ‘I bought a drink and walked up to him. He was scared, but I gave it to him and said, “Throw it on me, I don’t care.” And he said, “Oh, hey, thanks. You’re a pretty cool chap.”’
They might have earned some haters along the way, but DragonForce have enough fans to warrant a fourth album, Ultra Beatdown, which is released this week. ‘It’s different from our other albums,’ says Vadim. ‘We’ve brought tango and samba influences, for example.’ In a power-metal album? Seriously? ‘Yeah! We wanted to make each track stand out and have its own character. We’ve brought in a theremin [one of the earliest electronic instruments], and I’ve put some scratching in there, so it’s kind of intense and crazy.’
We were at each other’s throats all through the recording process – we had arguments and we nearly had fights
It’s fitting that the album should sound ‘intense and crazy’, because that’s exactly what the mood was like in the studio. ‘We were at each other’s throats all through the recording process. Seriously, man – we had arguments and we nearly had fights. Everyone wanted to make it really good and there were disagreements about things like the structures and how the songs were going to flow. So it got really tense, with some stand-offs and shouting.’
It all sounds a bit weird to us – DragonForce are, after all, known for their playfulness onstage, and their intentionally kitschy videos. But Vadim’s aware of the contrast. ‘Obviously when we play live, we rock around and do silly stuff. Like most bands, we want to have fun. But when we’re in the studio we’re very serious, trying to make songs work.’ And despite their intensity in the studio, the band are doing OK. ‘Pretty much all the guys are happy with what we’re doing now,’ concludes Vadim. ‘It’s amazing, and we live every single day as it comes.’