Grand Magus

support Asomvel + The Vintage Caravan
author EW date 16/03/14 venue Underworld, London, UK

A Grand Magus live show is always a reason for celebration - the Swedish power-trio have become one of the most respected and recognisable heavy metal acts of today, having displayed remarkable consistency of performance both on record and stage over the years. I should know, as this closing show of a mini-UK & Ireland tour in promotion of their excellent new album, is my 12th live experience, the most of any band in my résumé. Never once have I left a show of theirs dating back to the "Monument" days in 2004 with a hint of disappointment, a trend that continues even as they now assume an elder statesmen role to this evening's opening act in particular.

The Vintage Caravan

The first of tonight's triplet of trios, Iceland's TVC have the distinction of appearing to be the youngest band I have seen live for many years and the one with the most clichéd of monickers thrown up in the recent heritage rock movement. Dubious band names aside though, for a band so inexperienced in the ways of international touring they handled themselves remarkably well in front of a near-packed Underworld crowd. The brighter moments found in their debut album "Voyage" were very well performed by messrs Ágústsson, Reynisson, and Númason but notice must go to the onstage enthusiasm of all three - Ágústsson and Númason on guitars/vocals and bass respectively uses their innate inabilities to stand still for even a split-second to produce a veritable blur of visual excitement and, I'm pleased to say, confidence. I have seen frontmen of vastly more years and shows display less character than Ágústsson while our bassist brings to mind the bouncing joviality and finger picking style of the Red Hot Chili Pepper's incomparable Flea.

The Vintage Caravan have hit the scene beyond the crest of the heritage rock scene but with their increased emphasis on the psychedelic vibes as brilliantly described in AP's review of "Voyage", locale and on-stage persona they have a lot more going for them than some of the other latterly unearthed bands being hoovered up by the major labels. While much of their material could be construed as pure worship of an era long, long before their birth there was much to like about this show, suggesting great promise ahead for this outright good times trio.

Asomvel

Britain's own Asomvel have been treading the boards for years now but as a novice to their music before this show my mind was primed for an onslaught of old school heavy metal annihilation, which duly came from these grisly northerners, albeit with one caveat: Motörhead. From the opening rumblings of vocalist Conan's rickenbacker bass to the speedfreak attack of tracks from latest album "Knuckle Duster" it was hard to shake the thought from my mind that for the occasions I'm in the mood for this style then Lemmy & co would surely do, but as a more attainable act than the currently incapacitated legends Conan, guitarist Lenny Robinson and drummer Jay Hope provide a meaty substitute of riff-licking proportions. Without hitting the speeds of USA's own Motörhead worshippers Speedwolf, Asomvel add a dose of gritty Venom into their tunes, which for the most part are led by the larger-than-life Conan's bass tones, Robinson's guitar generally only hogging the limelight during the solos.

Where all this is let down though was in the delivery stakes, a point emphasised even more by the energy of The Vintage Caravan before them and the greater involvement of Grand Magus after. The oppressive silence during Robinson's occasional speeches was almost as painful to behold as his featureless expressions throughout. I know that all northerners are grim bastards (one for the English readers) but c'mon man, if Phil Cambell can show enthusiasm up on stage so must you! A somewhat mixed bag, with the surprising outcome that I'm favouring "Knuckle Duster" from my stereo than this show, not what I would have expected.

6

Grand Magus

Almost exactly one year ago I reviewed this same band, playing this same venue, then with 2 certifiably younger bands in support and awarded them the perfect 10. How do they follow that? Well, with another brilliant album in tow, "Triumph and Power" and another excellent performance to review, it is pretty much business as usual with these modern day titans. It would be a stretch to claim this a full 10 showing again, but in few ways did Grand Magus not impress the hordes: mainman JB was more talkative than last time out, though still imbuing his speeches with a darkly Scandinavian humour, while bassist Fox Skinner was also more vocal than normal (yes, a few "skols" and "thanks" were all that was required for that).

In what must be the least surprising point I will make in any live review all year, the choice tracks from the new album - "On Hooves of Gold", "Steel Versus Steel" and the title track - were all superb, the considerable opportunities for audience participation and genial tempos of each providing a counterpoint to numerous other bands whose songs may well be very good, but just don't cut the mustard for great live delivery. Elsewhere this was very much a 'best of' setlist with personal favourites "Like the Oar Strikes the Water", "Kingslayer" and "Iron Will" making their presence felt to a very packed and very sweaty throng, unfortunately missing the kind of clarity it sound which bequeathed last year's performance with such an aura. To rate lower than that show is no insult, and with "Triumph and Power" and "Hammer of the North" serving as a brief encore the curtain came down on what amounts to further evidence of Grand Magus' well earned standing in the scene today.

All photos taken by Teodora Dani.

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