DragonForce / Lovebites / McRocklin & Hutch
November 13th 2019
The Roadmender, Northampton

Metalheads over a certain age will remember guitarist Thomas “McRocklin” McLaughlin as the child prodigy who made numerous TV appearances back in the 1980s when he was a young pup barely in double figures. I’m pleased to report that time has aged his skills like a fine malt whiskey, and tonight he appears as half of duo McRocklin & Hutch. They’re an interesting tension of opposites that fuse a love of 80s rock to 21st century technology, and in welding organic guitars to surgical synths they’ve created a new genre termed ‘shredwave’. With an inherent groove ‘Wasted’ adheres this pair to the crowd, and the following ‘Locked In’ only increases the affection. Sometimes I find guitar virtuosity can be sterile when it’s practitioners become lost in intricate webs, but no fear with McRocklin & Hutch, who combine to create a sound that’s both ethereal and emotive. ‘Don’t Need Nobody’ ensures they bow out on a high.

Dressed all in white and arriving like avenging angels Japan’s Lovebites are all smiles and opening salvo ‘The Hammer of Wrath’ finds them getting off to a blistering start. Without pausing for breath ‘Pledge of the Saviour’ is unleashed along with ‘Rising’ which is the perfect vehicle for Asami’s operatic vocals. Those only familiar with Japan’s vapid idol scene might be surprised at Lovebites musical proficiency, but these five women can really play and in truth they rock harder than most guys. ‘Above the Black Sea’ features some fine interplay between guitarists Midori and Mi-ya and, with a bass player much in the Steve Harris mould, the band proceed to deliver a foot-on-the-monitor, fist-in-the-air metal fest. New track debuted ‘Signs of Deliverance’ bodes well for the forthcoming album Electric Pentagram, and the following ‘Under the Red Sky’ flies like a stealth bomber. With songs like set closer ‘We Are United’ in their arsenal I’m sure we’ve witnessed future headliners.

An unbearably long intro, coupled with the black sheets hiding the set, builds a palpable tension that stretches many present to breaking point. It’s broken when DragonForce hit the stage amid a shower of ticker tape and jets of pyro that shoot ice white plumes of smoke to the rafters. Opening with ‘Highway to Oblivion’ it’s immediately obvious this isn’t going to be an ordinary rock concert as vocalist Marc Hudson fires a faux flame thrower at the audience. Two oversized retro arcade games flank the stage and there’s a real ‘80s feel to the set as the band are encased in a cornucopia of neon pink and bright blue strobe lights. It’s nice that DragonForce make an effort with their stagecraft but their songs would hold up without all the smoke and mirrors as ‘Fury of the Storm’ attests. ‘The Last Dragonborn’ follows, with it’s East Asian flourishes, along with the insanely catchy ‘Heart Demolition’. What comes next is an instrumental section, as Marc swaps mic for guitar to play some gaming themes – and the six stringers from Lovebites return along with a banjo toting hillbilly for a fun-filled, if rather surreal, interlude.

It’s back to the rock action with a ferocious rendition of ‘Black Fire’ as the band show no signs of flagging. ‘Razorblade Meltdown’ is accompanied by more phosphorous flares and then more ticker tape showers the crowd during ‘Cry Thunder’. DragonForce titled their latest opus Extreme Power Metal for good reason: like Iron Maiden or Helloween, only played at 78rpm, their songs are amped up slabs of metal yet they retain a strong sense of melody. However the band are far from one trick ponies as the obligatory power ballad, ‘Remembrance Day’, proves. It’s been a night for fans of guitars which each band displaying technical skill and, not to be outdone, Herman Li and Sam Totman trade solos and shred ferociously on fan favourite ‘Valley of the Damned’. The band return for two well deserved encores, including an amphetamine run through of Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ which initiates a huge circle pit. ‘Through the Fire & the Flames’ is attended by more ticker tape and pyrotechnic flares and when the party streamers fly it seems a fitting way to bring down the curtain.

Words by Peter Dennis. Pictures by Peter Dennis and Ben Gregory-Ring