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"So, just how much did they suck?" is a typical line many DragonForce fans have had to suffer should they ever admit to having seen the band live. The fact of the matter is that this bunch, while more than capable of playing their own material (despite the unfounded claims of studio-trickery that still persist to this day) had one unfortunate leg of the Inhuman Rampage tour where they sounded like ass largely due to poor on-stage monitoring and a terrible job by whatever crew they had back then. And wouldn't you know, it ended up being these very performances that got caught on video and passed around the internet for all to see. Basically, ever since then DragonForce has had a giant bulls-eye painted on their backs, and for a while even I jumped on the hater-bandwagon myself, only realizing my mistake after seeing some quality live videos popping up in 2008.
Essentially, liking this band kind of turned into a guilty pleasure for some, hoping that one day they would put out a proper live package to put the detractors in their place. Twilight Dementia would not be that release, primarily due to the less-than-stellar production and ZP's voice being shot (after hearing that, I would have been surprised had the band actually decided to keep him around for The Power Within). Skip ahead 5 years, and now the band have picked up a singer that can actually nail the notes on a consistent basis, as well as refined their live game to the point of being damn near immaculate. The fact of the matter is that In the Line of Fire is for all intents and purposes the definitive DragonForce experience, and one that everyone, fan or non should see for themselves at least once.
Make no mistake about it, this is one tight band. In hindsight, it's probably for the best that they waited this long to put out a DVD, because they're absolutely at the top of their game now, just knocking every single song in the set out of the ballpark by a mile (they even do the crazy tapping section in "Fury of the Storm" just like on the album now!). There are likely some overdubs here and there, as is the standard practice for just about every live release these days, but if so they've sure done a good job hiding them. There may have been one part at the very end of "Valley of the Damned" where I noticed something was a bit off with how Marc's mouth moves in relation to his voice, but that was literally the only point where I suspected any studio-assistance whatsoever. Regardless, the knockout performance combined with the excellent production job means that every single song from the last two albums sounds leaps and bounds better than their studio counterparts (particularly "Seasons", which sounds far heavier). And, to be totally honest, I'm actually tempted to say so do the ZP-era songs.
Everyone is on fire the whole time, but it's Marc that is the shining star of the whole package. I'm now convinced that this dude is going to end up being the next Michael Kiske, as on here he delivers what must be one of the most powerful and majestic performances I've heard. The guy just never lets up, continuously belting out these songs like a champ and pumping up the crowd all the while. I still can't believe how he hits that high note in "Tomorrow's Kings". Even ZP in his prime didn't have this kind of sheer power in him, as evidenced when the band deliver what is for my money the definitive version of "Through the Fire and Flames". Sure, you can bitch and moan about the setlist selections not drawing from the back catalogue enough, or the show not being long enough. But you know what? Everything is performed so well, with such accuracy and energy that it's legitimately not even an issue. I can truthfully say that when I finished watching this, I wasn't left wanting in the slightest. It's one of those times where the sheer badassery on display outweighs any extra-musical shortcomings and outright negates them.
Aside from the aforementioned issues with production and vocals, one of the most disappointing factors Twilight Dementia had going for it was of course the lack of a visual factor. DF are a band pretty much known among their fanbase for pulling off some wacky stage antics to compliment their high-octane performance, and there we were effectively getting cheated out of half the experience! It therefore makes me very happy to say that In the Line of Fire makes good on this ever important facet that the band's previous live outing skimped out on and then some. This is far-and-away the prettiest looking concert video in my collection, with just about every portion being superbly crisp and beautifully shot. They definitely took advantage of just about every angle they could get their hands on, and I find the cameras mounted on Herman and Sam's guitar headstocks to be a nice touch, especially when Herman goes for his signature whammy bar guitar-lift and takes the viewer for a ride. Vadim probably got the shortest end of the stick in this department since aside from the times he's out front with his keytar, the only real up-close shots you get of him are from a stationary camera mounted right next to his setup, which obviously doesn't look quite as pretty as the footage from the rest of the cameras (and shakes pretty often what with all the jumping around he's prone to doing). Of course, one must not forget that this is a metal show filmed in Japan, meaning that by default the crowd ends up being truly a sight to behold, with circle-pits aplenty. There's just something about seeing thousands of Japanese metal fans jumping up and down in unison to that post solo-section of "Three Hammers", or pumping their fists to the bridge in "Symphony of the Night" that gets the adrenaline going. Thankfully though, the focus remains chiefly on the band for the majority of the time, with no distracting animations or visual effects that bands like Dream Theater are so accustomed to doing on their DVD releases.
The biggest deviation from what I had been expecting came from the fact that a lot of the extras are actually integrated into the main feature rather than being left aside from the concert. In essence, rather than just the show progressing from start to finish seamlessly, there is interview footage/wacky on-tour stuff interspersed between some of the songs, so the whole thing plays out more like a Tour Documentary rather than a straightforward concert DVD. It's fine by me, though I realize this kind of layout might not be everyone's cup of tea. Basically we get to see a bit into the lives of the 6 individual members when they're not on tour (I especially like Fred's portion about his life in France), along with a few choice on-tour moments of them either goofing around or talking about what goes into pulling off a massive global trek like this. These portions are obviously removed from the CD version, which also includes "Defenders" which was the song they opened with at this show, but for some reason didn't make it onto the Blu-Ray. Probably something to do with technical issues I'd imagine, but I don't see why for the CD they couldn't have just placed it at the beginning of the disc rather than leaving it at the end as more of a bonus track. I want to hear the full concert the way it actually happened, damn it!
The bonus features are the only thing that really feel lacking overall. We've got some footage of Marc, Vad and Fred dicking around in Tokyo, and some clips of Herman working with the mixer... and unfortunately that's about it. Not bad, but it does feel like they could have added a little more in.
So all in all, this is fucking amazing and there should be a law requiring every DragonForce fan to own a copy. Also, every person who has ever claimed this band can't play their shit properly should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch this no less than 3 times in a row. Granted, if you hate the band purely because of their musical style of choice, this probably isn't going to change your mind. But hey, if that's the case, what the hell are you even doing reading this review? Nothing to see here but one of the most delightfully over-the-top bands out there tearing up the stage with a gusto rivaled by few. Though it would have been nice to see a few more DF classics represented like "Operation Ground and Pound", "My Spirit Will Go On", and of course "Soldiers of the Wasteland", as said previously the quality of the product itself simply goes beyond any would-have's and should-have's. And besides, that's what future live releases are for, and if this performance is any indication, the mighty dragon is still far from dead.