Debunking the Myth that Guitar Hero Made Dragonforce
With Dragonforce set to release Maximum Overload on August 16th — their sixth album — it seems like a good time to revisit an oft-accepted “truism” about the world’s most over-the-top shredders: that the wildly popular (at the time) Guitar Hero video game franchise broke the band and fueled their success in the mid-late ’00s. But did it really? Let’s investigate. Think of it as a Metal Mythbusters.
Inhuman Rampage, the band’s break-out album, came out on in the U.S. on June 20, 2006. As a personal anecdote, I remember being shown a live video of Dragonforce on a brand new video network called YouTube by an A&R rep for Roadrunner at the time; I was instantly sold, hook line and sinker. Dragonforce as a concept made perfect sense in 2006, the complete logical extreme of the new school metal bands like Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall and Mastodon that had made being good at playing instruments cool again. Why WOULDN’T there be a band that plays a mile a minute, shreds for the sake of shredding, sings full-throated, high-pitched wails and jumps on trampolines at their live shows? It may seem cheesy by today’s standards, but at the time it was completely novel.
The Guitar Hero craze certainly played into the zeitgeist. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock came out on October 28, 2007, almost a year and a half later, with “Through the Fire and the Flames” as a bonus track that could be unlocked by beating the game in solo career mode. Once Guitar Hero III hit, everyone from metalheads to punks to indie rock fans seems to have Dragonforce on the tip of their tongues, if not in earnest appreciation than in guilty/ironic adulation.
Inhuman Rampage would go on to sell over 397,000 copies and it’s still going strong. But how much of that can be attributed to Guitar Hero? Neilsen Soundscan has the answer: Inhuman Rampage had already sold over 167,000 units by the time Guitar Hero III came out, a massive sum for any metal band by today’s standards, and an impressive total even in 2007 when record sales were a bit more healthy. Here’s a chart showing all sales activity from release through the week Guitar Hero III came out:
There’s a noticeable bump the week of November 4, 2007, the week after Guitar Hero‘s release, and sales clearly continued to gain steam in the following weeks as more and more people unpacked their Christmas presents early. Dragonforce Mania peaked the week of December 30th (post-Christmas gift money!) before beginning a slow and steady descent, resulting in a wild ride that lasted a good ten full months before the weekly sales total would drop to what it was before the game’s release.
But it’s worth noting that at no point after Guitar Hero III‘s release did any weekly sales total for Inhuman Rampage beat its first week tally of 9,600. That’s an impressive first week (and several weeks following) for a band that supposedly wasn’t “made” until a year and a half later, and, as stated earlier, 167,000 albums shifted before the game even dropped is nothing to sneeze at.
So did Guitar Hero III help rise Dragonforce’s star? Absolutely, in a huge way. But did it break the band? Not quite: they were doing better than just fine on their own.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Inhuman Rampage sold 1.35 million units as an album. 1.35 million is the number of individual tracks sold from the album.