Confronting Dragonforce About Their Racist, Homophobic Past
Talking to Dragonforce about Demoniac, their dirty little not-so-secret.
Remember Mayhem drummer Hellhammer’s infamous “Black metal is for white people” comment? What about Craig Pillard’s dreams of Hitler? I’m sure they wish you didn’t. Black metal’s traditional focus on nihilism, evil, and elitism can be tough concepts for a teenager to fully digest, so the dumbest ones almost invariably end up spouting a bunch of racist bullshit or parading around with swastika patches. Then, they grow up. Then, they realize what they’ve done. Then, it might be too late. That obscure, Xeroxed fanzine where you ran your mouth got scanned and became a webzine, and suddenly that interview ends up hanging around for decades longer than you hoped, out there on the world wide web, for all to see. Inquisition discovered this earlier on this year, Disma, and Nachtmystium figured it out not too long before that, and unfortunately, there are far worse examples out there. It’s not always the big bad black metal bands. Sometimes, even the shiniest, happiest, most impossibly inoffensive bands imaginable have rotten pasts, too.
Dragonforce, the hyper-technical, patently ridiculous power metal band beloved by Guitar Hero aficionados and your 12-year-old cousin alike, aren’t quite as innocent as their technicolor image would imply. Before leaving New Zealand and forming Dragonforce, three of the band’s original members did time in a band called Demoniac. The band’s clumsy blend of black metal, power metal, and thrash got them some attention overseas, but the members’ interest soon waned and Demoniac called it quits in 1999. The band has since been relegated to a small footnote in the Dragonforce saga, and would remain completely unremarkable were it not for the small detail that Demoniac’s discography features songs like “Niggerslut,” “Hatred is Purity,” and “Kill All the Faggots (Death Squad Anthem).” Lyrics about killing “queer cunts,” “fags,” and black people abound, a well as references to rape and white power. One particularly lively song found on 1999’s The Fire and the Wind album features a “Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler!” chant. That same album featured the talents of guitarist Herman “Shred” Li as well as original member Sam “Heimdall” Totman (former live bassist Diccon Harper never appeared on a recording, but did go on to play in Dragonforce from 2001 to 2003). Totman and vocalist/bassist Lindsay Dawson were the driving force behind the band, and remain close; Dawson even appeared on Dragonforce’s 2006 album Inhuman Rampage. It’s all quite cozy—and really fucked up.
How has no one (save for in a 2008 Terrorizer interview a British friend was kind of enough to send over) mentioned this before? When black metal bands are getting crucified left and right for their sins, Dragonforce has been shredding off merrily into the sunset for over a decade. It seems like something that should be addressed, so I called up Sam Totman yesterday to talk about it. He was in great spirits, and answered my questions quite jovially. Make of it what you will.
NOISEY: So, I wanted to talk to you about something that happened way before the new album. I was digging around a little bit and found Demoniac, the band you were in before Dragonforce. I really want to know what the fuck you guys were doing.
Sam Totman: Hah! We started that, me and my friend, back in New Zealand in the 1990s. It was when I was 18 or something. We were having a laugh basically. We just sort of thought “Oh, let’s play some black metal” because we didn’t know any good singers so we couldn’t do any other kind of music except for black metal, death metal. It was just kind of a big joke really. Our first record was all serious, Satan this, Satan that, and we did quite well with that. The second one kind of turned into NOFX crossed with black metal, and then the third one got into power metal so it was like power metal crossed with black metal, and no one really got it basically.
In fairness I don’t know if NOFX ever sang about “killing faggots” and raping children and killing black dudes. That was what I saw when I looked up the band.
We had some strange characters in that band and everyone kind of wrote their own songs, so any dodgy ones weren’t anything to do with me.
But you still had [Demoniac bassist/vocalist] Lindsay Dawson sing on a Dragonforce record right?
Yeah, and I’m still good mates with him actually. He lives in Australia. He’s been a friend of mine for years. He’s cool, and he sang on the Inhuman Rampage album.
I can’t get over the lyrics honestly. Has nobody ever pulled you up about that before?
Not really, no. Nobody really cared about that band anyway.
I mean, it took like five minutes on Metal Archives to find all that. You guys have really young fans, and you’ve got songs about raping “old fags” and killing “queer cunts” and that’s...not so good.
We had a bit of a twisted sense of humor. We were just having a laugh.
Things are a little different now than they were in ‘99. I don’t think it’s really that funny. What if a 12 year old kid goes on there and thinks “Oh, so Dragonforce thinks it’s cool to beat up gay kids”?
To put it simply, it was us having a laugh and all the dodgy stuff like that was mostly our old drummer. It was just a laugh and it was a long time ago so it’s not really a big deal.
OK. I have a friend who grew up in New Zealand, and he’s mentioned that there’s a lot of dodgy stuff in the black metal scene down there.
I haven’t been there since, ’96 or something? I don’t really know what the scene is like.
I guess you missed out on all that. It’s funny, you have a song talking about how much you hate immigrants, and you immigrated.
Yeah exactly, well I was from here in the beginning and then my parents moved to New Zealand and then they kind of came back to England. I’m kind of all over the place really.
Yeah, you’re a very international band.
I guess that’s why no one ever pulled you up on the racist thing. I think Herman was playing with a band when you had that song with “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil” in it, right? Do you remember that one?
Nothing we do with them was ever serious. I mean obviously if it was we would have never been up for that anyway. It was stupid.
It’s such a common issue in metal; When you’re young you want to be as tough as possible and you say a bunch of really terrible things, then you grow up and go “Oh, that was sort of a bad idea.” Why do you think metal always goes for the “Right, we’re going to be racist or talk about white power” option? Why do we always go for the worst possible things?
Well, I guess it’s all about shocking. You’ve got bands like Cannibal Corpse singing about hacking up babies or whatever. No one actually wants to do that but it’s just kind of shocking, like horror movies or whatever shocking entertainment people find funny for whatever reason. I don’t think it’s a thing more than that, really.
Well, in metal, it can be. That’s the bad part.
I guess that’s true. I’m sure most black metal bands sing about Satan, but they’re not actually into Satan and doing satanic rituals. That’s my take on that anyways.
One would hope not. Black metal has such a Nazi problem, and that’s why it was so bizarre to see you guys talking about Hitler in ”Myths of Metal” on the The Far and the Wind album. It really just blew my mind, and I had to ask you about it.
That’s the thing, we were completely not serious about anything we were ever saying. It’s like how Cannibal Corpse is not serious about chopping up fetuses, or whatever.
So do you think that offensive art still has value even if it upsets people?
I think it depends what you’re into. People will always compare something offensive as not real like horror movies or whatever you think looks cool or you like for whatever reason. Everyone’s got different tastes in the world. I haven’t really looked at much art lately to be honest.
Fair enough. I’m sure you’d rather talk about your new record, huh? Tell me about it. What’s Maximum Overload going to bring?
[Bassist/vocalist Frédéric Leclercq pops in]
Fred: Well basically it’s going to bring Satanic Rituals!
Dead babies and satanic rituals. I’ll show up.
Sam: No, a sensible answer is that basically what everyone knows and hopefully likes about us but plus a bunch of new stuff. We haven’t really lost anything from the past that made us sound how we do, but with every record we try to bring a bunch of new stuff so it doesn’t get boring. We don’t want to change too much either. It’s hard to explain music in words but I think that’s the main thing anyone is interested in, it’s basically the same with a bunch of new stuff added.You could change completely, or carry on exactly the same, or do a bit of both which is what I think is the way to do.
Alright. So as far as the lyrics go, there’s no “Niggerslut Pt. II” on the new record, right? You guys are behaving?
Our lyrics these days are pretty varied. There’s a lot of fantasy stuff and you’ve got some of those songs, you’ve got some songs about the stuff that happens to you and life in general. I think the lyrics on this record are more obvious about what the songs are about.
Fantasy seems like it’s a big part of Dragonforce and has been in your own musical careers since the beginning. Is it an escape for you guys?
I dunno, I just always thought it suited the music was the main reason. That’s why we started off singing that stuff, it just fit the music and I just liked that stuff anyway. I thought it was cool and I still like those bands, you know Rhapsody and all that. I thought they were really cool. The first record was a lot of that, the second record had some. We’ve always kept some but it’s certainly not just fantasy stuff, like still now. We like to mix it up.
Power metal as a genre is in and of itself pretty resistant to change, but you’ve done a pretty good job of mixing it up without making too many people angry, I suppose.
Yeah, we like to play what we like to play really, and if other people like it that’s cool. That’s what we’re always really trying to do: ust play the music that we enjoy playing, and that’s what we’re still doing. So we carry on with that.
OK. Are you worried at all about this being published and people seeing those old lyrics? Have you been worried about that at all, or did you just assume nobody will care?
It’s like no big deal. It’s old news really.
It sounds like you guys are really excited about the future and you’ve got a lot of good stuff going on, now that you’ve grown up and aren’t singing terrible things anymore.
Sam: Yeah, everything’s looking pretty good.
Fred: Terrible things, what are you talking about?
Fred you’re not allowed to chime in, you weren’t there.
Sam: We haven’t sung about anything like that since the start of the band.
Fred: It’s called having a sense of humor!
I’m a writer, we don’t have senses of humor.
Fred: So what are you writing about? Are you writing about things like that?
I’m writing about the interview.
It seemed like a few of the band members had begun to realize that perhaps they should’ve been more careful with their answers. I thanked them for the interview and ended the call shortly after that. Ultimately, do I think the members of Dragonforce are racist? I think that they said a bunch of horribly stupid, disgusting things when they were young, then, as is most intelligent beings’ wont, they grew up and forgot all about it. Do I think it’s worth mentioning? Certainly, if only because they’re a band with legions of young, impressionable, internet-savvy fans who need to understand that it’s most definitely not acceptable to hurt or demean someone because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or for pretty much any other reason. It took all of five minutes pottering around Metal Archives to find lyrics like “We will kill all the faggots and queer cunts. We will wipe out the gays and the fags. We will fuck the children in the ass, shit everywhere 'cause Demoniac is coming for you” directly connected to this band. Seriously? That’s unacceptable, and the tired old “boys will be boys” defense doesn’t hold up. We need to do better.
Kim Kelly will not take an ounce of your shit. She's on Twitter - @GrimKim