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When lockdown hit us in 2020, and we were all trapped inside of our houses, any frequent concert goer vividly remembers the last live show they were able to attend before concerts were cancelled around the world. We would constantly go back to that memory throughout lockdown remembering every detail like George Harvey savoring his last kill in the Lovely Bones. Fantasizing how the band played, how we felt throughout each song, how the venue and its patrons smelled. It was he only solace we had not being able to be back in that environment. For me that last concert was DragonForce mere days before the World stopped. Over three years later, they are finally back in California for their North America 2023 tour, and bringing with them Amaranthe, Nanowar of Steel, and Edge of Paradise. I was ready for the speed metal titans to rip blistering solos that would melt my face again, so I headed to the Wiltern ready to rock with these guitar heroes.

Opening the night was LA natives Edge of Paradise. I have been following these guys for years since they were playing local only shows in the area. It has been a pleasure to see them booking national tours and getting the chance to play for thousands of people each night. Seeing as this was their hometown show, they wanted to make sure all their long time fans got the best they had to offer. Singer Margarita Monet has probably the most powerful voice on this entire tour. She could sing to the packed Wiltern house without a microphone and still be heard by every single screaming fan in attendance. Draped in a cyberpunk style cloak, and glowing pauldrons, Edge of Paradise has been able to elevate their stage show aesthetic as well. Lead guitarist Dave Bates has turned into a post-apocalyptic warrior straight out of Mad Max, while creating riffs that help elevate Margarita’s voice. Rhythm guitarist David Ruiz layers his playing with Dave’s to create a stylized guitar line for the band. Bassist Kenny Lockwood and drummer Jamie Morena hold down the low end that helps the fans bang their heads. With songs like “Soldiers of Danger,” “Hologram,” “This is Personal,” “The Faceless,” “Unbeatable,” ‘The Unknown,” and closing with “Basilisk” Edge of Paradise set the tone for the night that was to follow. I personally cannot wait to see what else the band has in stored for us in 2024.

Up next was the only band on the tour I was not familiar with, that being Nanowar of Steel. Hailing from Italy, this was their first American tour ever. As the band hit the stage all dressed in colorful and exuberant costumes, I had a feeling we were in for something special and vastly unique. Before the music could even start co-lead singer Mr. Baffo turned around and spoke to the audience through his butt ala Ace Venture style. These guys were a comedy heavy metal band, and the audience went all in for whatever they had in store for us. Fellow co-lead singer Potowotominimak, dressed like an EDM Raver meets a BDSM dominatrix, would constantly be switching out costumes throughout the song. Dressing like an alien, as well as coming out in a giant owl-bear mascot suit at one point. Guitarist Mohammed Abdul looked like Aladdin in a Prince Ali outfit, while bassist Gattopanceri666 honestly looked like Joel McHale from Community during a Halloween episode. Drummer Uinona Raider looked as if he was teaching an 80s retro jazzercise class. Not only were we captivated by the outlandish costumes the band wore, but the songs themselves were all incredibly catchy. Songs like “Uranus,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” “Il cacciatore della notte,” “Pasadena 1994” which featured DragonForce’s guitar tech James Shotwell on guest guitar, “Disco Metal,” “Norwegian Reggaeton,” and ending with “Valhalleluja.” During the final song, members of the other three bands ran on stage with IKEA bags and desk furniture, helping throw out the furniture to the screaming fans who happily crowd surfed the furniture to the back of the venue. Hopefully Nanowar of Steel can come back to the United States soon, as more people need to experience this kind of show.

Up next is band that was originally introduced to me by my buddy Brandon, that being Sweden’s own Amaranthe. I was fortunate to see them for the first time in 2017 and was excited to see them again in 2020 on before those plans were cancelled. Finally, after six years they are back, and I couldn’t be more excited. Opening their set with “Fearless,” co-lead singer Elize Ryd stepped onto the stage with a jewel studded top and flowing black skirt. She was here to make her presence known even before the first lyrics left her mouth. As she did let her voice ring out, the beauty of it is irresistible and nothing but enchanting. Something unique that Amaranthe does is have three vocalist, the other two being specifically a clean singer, Nils Molin, and an unclean singer, Mikael Sehlin. All three vocalists get their own unique time to shine throughout every song with Elize providing the operatic-esque powerhouse vocals, Nils layering his cleans with Elize to elevate the texture of the song, and then Mikael coming in with the harsh screams that jus make the crowd throw themselves into a frenzy. Though the focus can maintain on the singers, the instrumental section of the band are not ones to fade into the background. Guitarist Olof Mörck knows how to write his guitar tracks to shine on their own, but hold back to balance the band with bassist Johan Andreassen and drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen. Amaranthe gave a solid 45 minute set with songs like “Viral,” “Digital World,” “Damnation Flame,” “Hunger,” “Stronger,” “PvP,” “Amaranthine,” “The Nexus,” “Archangel,” “That Song,” and ending with “Drop Dead Cynical.” As the last notes rang out, all I wish is that I don’t have to wait another six years before Amaranthe comes back.

As a the Wiltern’s curtain draped over the stage to hide the set change, the crowd anxiously awaited our headliners. Once the curtain was finally raised, the venue was hit with rays of lights as Daft Punk’s “TRON Legacy (End Titles)” played over the speakers, helping to ramp up the excitement of the fans. As the opening notes of “Revolution Deathsquad” could be heard, the band came running out to thunderous applause and screams. Dual guitarist Herman Li and Sam Totman fingers were already lighting up the necks of their guitars with the rapid fire sounds of squiddly-doo’s that their guitars make. Vocalist Marc Hudson has the ability to sing and let his voice flow at the speed of the guitars. His high vocal range just enhances the energy of DragonForce’s music. Drummer Gee Anzalone must have the calves and thighs of a body builder as his double bass kicks don’t take a moment off during any song. Now official member, bassist Alicia Vigil plays her parts with ease. Keeping up with the boys with no problem and looking effortless the entire time. Something unique that DragonForce does is they like to bring in guest musicians during songs at shows. This show, we had the opportunity to see YouTuber and guitarist Billy Wilkins helping on third guitarist and backing vocals. Though I was not familiar with him, his talents shined alongside the rest of the band as he played in tandem with Herman & Sam with ease. DragonForce played songs like “Cry Thunder,” “Heroes of our Time,” “Power of the Triforce,” “Soldiers of the Wasteland,” “The Last Dragonborn,” “Fury of the Storm,” “Doomsday Party,” “Valley of the Damned,” and “Highway to Oblivion.”

With his being the Los Angeles show, the band had more friends come out during the encore. For their cover of Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams”, Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy joined them on stage. While during the cover of Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Elize Ryd came back out to sing. The final surprise guest was another YouTube guitarist Cole Roland, who came out for the final song “Through the Fire and Flames.” DragonForce are renowned for their technical mastery and their musicianship specifically with their guitars. Seing Herman Li, Sam Totman, Alicia Vigil, Billy Wilkins, and Cole Roland standing side by side at the foot of the stage all just gracefully walking through the hardest song on the first Guitar Hero video game was mind blowing.

This night was a glorious one with four bands that all had their own unique style and presentation, but there was a coming feeling to all the music that helped keep the energy high and engaged. Edge of Paradise started the night with a space metal vibe. While Nanowar of Steel made us all laugh and enjoy ourselves. Amaranthe brought three vocalists that all stand on their own but are the best when layered together. DragonForce closed the night with a tour de force of musical guest stars that could not be matched. It was a night where musicality and showmanship all came together in one of the best tour packages of the year. 

Matt Martinez

Editor - Orange County

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