Dragonforce @Northumbria Institute, November 14 2019

Prior to this utterly bonkers blast of extreme power metal, DragonForce frontman Marc Hudson had proudly described his band as a ‘walking meme’

On the one hand the singer reinforced the perception that this is a bunch of incredibly talented buddies who refuse to take themselves too seriously.

On the other side of the coin Hudson was doing DragonForce a slight disservice.

Twenty years into their colourful career and the crazy quartet have transcended mere power metal mimicry.

Proudly flying the flag for a serially unfashionable (and, to many, unfathomable) genre, DragonForce have breathed fiery new life into an explosive movement.

And in 2019 the band’s breakneck riffs and fantasy-fuelled lyrical content is ripe for critical reappraisal.

But doing so in the face of an audio-visual assault on the senses is far from easy.

Herman Li’s fret-burning wizardy and Sam Totman’s super cool string work should be enough to demand unswerving attention.

And Hudson’s perfectly pitched storytelling style brings to life tales based on 80s-inspired sci-fi silliness.

But on the final night of DragonForce’s headline run of UK shows it was almost impossible to stay focused on the music given the sheer pomposity of a stellar stage show.

Space was at a premium inside the compact Northumbria Institute.

And yet the band’s busy crew still found the room to pack in a blinding laser show, pyro and a constantly changing LCD backdrop mirroring the evening’s key themes.

Two super-sized arcade machines – doubling up as platforms for Li and Totman – flanked the stage.

And an array of fluorescent instruments added to the sense that a suitably hyped-up crowd had just stepped on the set of Tron or rolled up to audition for Ready Player One.

Given the eye-catching feast of retro-fuelled visuals it was all too easy to forget this was all about the songs.

But what songs!

DragonForce might have enjoyed their halcyon years riding the coat tails of Guitar Hero and set closer Through The Fire And Flames still evokes the fondest of memories for a generation of gamers.

And yet the band’s new material – culled from current long player Extreme Power Metal – is some of their best work yet.

Razorblade Meltdown, Heart Demolition and Highway To Oblivion are outlandish explosions of power metal on steroids.

But an affecting version of Remembrance Day – replete with a poignant poppy-filled backdrop – was the pick of a pulsating bunch.

Black Fire, Fury Of The Storm and Ashes Of The Dawn were the best of the rest where the band’s bulging back catalogue is concerned.

And a frankly bizarre cover of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On – featuring support band Lovebites with ‘fifth member’ Herman – somehow worked.

DragonForce are much, much more than a walking meme.

But on this form the band could comfortably break the internet…and the hearts of those trad metal humbugs nonplussed by a heady mix of humour and hedonism.