16th March 2014
Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs
Above ground talk is of shamrocks and Guinness, this being St Patrick’s Day and all, but below, in the bowels of The Underworld is where something interesting is happening. Where the sounds are of steel being sharpened and axes being restrung. For tonight Grand Magus will lead another army of followers into battle. Maybe they’ll even claim an iron throne.
Hailing from the very north of the wall, or Iceland as most maps call it, The Vintage Caravan (4/5) roll in on wheels of pure enthusiasm. They’re far too young; their psychedelic groove talks of decades that they could never know. But it seems to know what it’s talking about regardless. The bass is heavy, the guitars sing of the 60s/70s, but it’s the execution that elevates it – as the band’s first gig in London there’s a desire to prove themselves, to show those industry plaudits to be true, and on that front they nail it.
It’s not perfect but give us a few dropped notes or feedback any day over an out of the box polished performance. The Vintage Caravan remind us of gigs when we were young, in dirty sweaty venues much like The Underworld, and that flutter when you find a support band worth discovering. It’s a good feeling. If this is what they’ve been doing up in Iceland then maybe we need to pay visits more often.
It’s a night for three-pieces it seems. Asomvel (3/5) are also northerns, but unlike The Vintage Caravan, the UK is their home turf. As it is the birthplace of that band they seem to favour; Motorhead. It’s an easy comparison to make from the dirty punk-rock-metal sound right down to the dual bassist-vocal duties, here carried out Conan as opposed to Kilmister, with a good few Hetfield-borrowed “yeaaahhhhs” added in, and delivered with added eyeball-white. They’ve even got a Lenny.
They’re not as exciting as Motorhead though; they don’t have that commanding presence. Lenny is playing that guitar like a beast but he’s pretty much glued to one spot, and some of Conan’s chatter is left hanging in the air. What is nice though is the accented vocal tone at a time when too many bands try to affect a certain style or scrub where they come from in the hope of greater success. Of course that’s not how they do it up north. Newbie“Payback’s A Bitch” does alright, and there’s clearly something appealing about their knock-you down attitude, but unfortunately for Asomvel their main success tonight is probably in driving half this crowd to want to stick some Motorhead on when they get home.
Although you can forget about that for a while. In fact you can forget about going anywhere. The Underworld’s sunken dancefloor is as rammed as it gets, and the heat is already beginning to rise. For the first time tonight people are really starting to curse the pillars that dot the floor, and block the view. Pull them down, fuck the ceiling, this needs seeing.
Grand Magus (4.5/5) aren’t a fanfare band. They come on quietly enough, because it’s their music that they let do the telling, where they make all the noise. And what a sound as “Kingslayer” starts up and the drums hit – first in your neck, then your chest, then your feet – quickly followed by the bass and guitar. Nothing else is needed; these three are already making enough heavy to shake the mountains. Add any more and we may just bring them down.
Bands that sing of battles and wars can sometimes be very niche acts – Grand Magus on the other hand are accessible to everyone and appealing to all by keeping their lyrical themes, although often inspired by Nordic myths and tales, away from cheesy posturing and backing them with irresistible power/heavy metal riffs. As such in the same way as some of those they may sing about, Grand Magus have conquered many a country outside of their Swedish homeland.
Leading the charge for new album TRIUMPH AND POWER,“On Hooves Of Gold” comes pounding and snorting out of the speakers, leaping from stage to crowd as all voices take up the chorus, whilst “Ravens Guide Our Way” seems to be flying particularly high tonight on JB Christofferson’s vocals alone. It’s a voice that was made for live performances, and he’s certainly using it tonight.
The whole thing is nothing though compared to the final one-two-three punch, with the first blow going to “Steel Versus Steel”, which reminds of Saxon’s “Wheels Of Steel” – whether just in name or also sentiment – and is an instant Grand Magus classic given the response from the crowd. The only thing missing is the swords held in the air but you know London and its weapons policies. Then we’re straight into “Valhalla Rising”, which once again sees the vocals talk big, and finally the still-hot-from-the-forge“Iron Will” in case there were any necks left unbanged.
It’s an understated exit and encore entrance but with a quick retuning going straight into the rosuing “Triumph And Power”, it’s the perfect one. Here’s a song that effortlessly captures the mood of the night – the power of Grand Magus’ songs, and the triumphant way in which they are performed. And why not – here’s a band that has nary a misstep in their back catalogue. It’s left to “Hammer Of The North” to deliver the final blow and such is its might that you wonder if even Thor could have hefted it.
This day may supposedly belong to the Irish, but it’s the Swedes that own tonight. Anyone need a patron saint of the riff?
Grand Magus setlist:
Sword Of The Ocean
On Hooves Of Gold
I, The Jury
Ravens Guide Our Way
The Shadow Knows
Like The Oar Strikes The Water
Steel Versus Steel
Triumph and Power
Hammer Of The North