Review by Jason Guest; photos by Sam Knight
With Birmingham’s Alunah to open tonight’s proceedings, the Slade Rooms were in for a treat. That they were onstage not long after the doors opened did little to deter the many that showed up to take a listen and show their appreciation. An apt opening to an evening of diverse metal, the band hammered out their down-tuned melodic and dragging doom/psych/classic rock with all the fervour of a headliner at Bloodstock.
In stark contrast to Alunah, Iceland’s The Vintage Caravan’s blues rock brings a lighter but no less heavy air to the evening. Though younger than most people in attendance tonight, these three nineteen-years-olds blast out their set with all of the energy of three kids dosed up a secret stash of cola bottles and all the conviction of a band with the stench of many a dingy club etched into their road-worn instruments.
Though Óskar Logi Ágústsson’s voice may be showing signs of wear, it adds a blues gravel to the songs as well as his cool guitar licks and inspired solos. With drummer Guðjón Reynisson’s driving the songs and bassist Alexander Örn Númason leaping about the stage (bare-chested in a room occupied predominantly by bearded men) as he bashes out his rhythmic drive, Vintage Caravan get a much-deserved enthusiastic response. With songs and musicianship to match, should they appear on these shores again – or even in the Midlands for that matter – make sure you are in attendance.
Asomvel have got both the years and the experience that The Vintage Caravan – or “The Static Caravans” if you ask guitarist Lenny Robinson – are set to gain, and it shows. With as many Slade-related puns as he can cram into his between-song banter, bassist/vocalist Conan – no doubt a nickname awarded more for his stature than his 90s-Hetfield hair and beard – leads us through a set steeped in Friday-night pissups, Saturday-night punch-ups, and Sunday-morning hangovers.
Drawing largely from their latest album – and only second in their twenty years – Knuckleduster, their set goes down a storm with an audience that quickly warms to their no bullshit, straight from the shoulder rock ’n roll. While the tracks from said album are much appreciated by the audience, it appears Asomvel are already bored with it and give us a new song, ‘Payback Is A Bitch’, a song with a punk rock punch as hard as Jay Hope’s drums and as sharp as Robinson’s riffs. With a Motorhead stage presence as well as attitude in every note that is wrested from their instruments, Asomvel’s bark is as bad as their bite. If you haven’t heard them before, now is the time to do so.
When Grand Magus played the Wulfrun in 2012 in support of Amon Amarth, they promptly pissed all over the headliners. This time last year when they played this very room, the gig was as much a lesson in heavy metal as it was live performance. But tonight, for the band whose uber-metal makes Manowar look like a Catholic Girl School chorus, there is something amiss. With ‘Anvil Of Crom’ (from the Conan The Barbarian score) again prepping the crowd for what is expected to be the usual ball-swelling uber-macho, hyper-heroic sounds of metal in all its mighty glory, Grand Magus appear on stage to clamorous applause. What follows, however, is a band that seems to be struggling to establish a bond with its audience. Despite JB’s attempts to rally the crowd, the connection between band and crowd doesn’t feel as strong as it did this time last year.
But the band’s performance can’t be faulted. As ever, the trio are tight, and individually as well as collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with. The tracks from latest album Triumph and Power go down well and though they sit well amongst the older material, are a cut above, demonstrating a band that are continually evolving as much as they are remaining true to their metal roots. But the new album is strewn with a number of intervals and intros that when included in tonight’s set means that the momentum is hindered and so, as well as having long pauses between each song – sometimes longer than the bursts of the much-deserved applause – there are a few awkward silences as the audience await the bit where they can join in. But as the set proceeds, Grand Magus remain undeterred and in the spirit of the heroes and the Gods that they hail, they battle on and win the crowd over time and again with song after incredible song. Though tonight didn’t start out as perhaps quite the triumph they anticipated, one thing is certain, Grand Magus’ power saw them through.
Set List: Anvil Of Crom (from the Conan Soundtrack); Kingslayer; Sword Of The Ocean; On Hooves Of Gold; I, The Jury; Ravens Guide Our Way; The Shadow Knows; Arv; Like The Oar Strikes The Water; Steel Vs Steel; Valhalla; The Hunt; Iron Will; Ymer; Triumph And Power; Hammer Of The North
And you can see more of Sam’s shots from the show in the slideshow below or on our Flickr photostream