with Grand Magus & Crowning Glory
The Underworld, Camden
24th April 2007
Review & Pics by Hanntu
I expected a pretty small crowd, since Trivium and Annihilator were playing at the Astoria the very same night. Digressing just for a second, I consider it a travesty that the mighty and legendary Annihilator are opening for the emo/metalcore upstarts Trivium. They’re not even fit to be on the same bill as Annihilator. What a complete joke.
Guitar clinic with Gus G
I was privileged to attend a short guitar clinic and acoustic session held by Gus G, guitar virtuoso and driving force behind Firewind, about 3 hours before the 7pm show. It was held at FOPP, a music store on Tottenham Court Road. As an added incentive, all participants were entered in a free raffle, of which the prizes for one lucky bastard were a one year Metal Hammer subscription, and one of Gus G’s signature ESP 600 guitars. Obviously I didn’t win, or this review would be almost completely about how I won the guitar…
Duty calls however. Gus played two songs from the new Firewind album ALLEGIANCE, “Allegiance” and “Insanity” that showcased his shredding skills perfectly. Then Apollo Papathanasio joined him for an acoustic set consisting of the ‘slow’ songs “Deliverance” and “Where Do We Go From Here Now”, also from ALLEGIANCE. Apollo sounded like he was holding back a little, understandably for the show tonight. But Gus really let rip on all the songs he played. He answered a couple of guitar-related questions from the audience. One related to string-skipping, and he demonstrated a jaw dropping array of exercises, across all the strings and across all the frets. After he had finished, some smartass shouted “As simple as that!”, and we all cracked up. He also showed off some sweeps, perfectly enunciated, each note separate and distinct, and still blindingly fast. Gus can shred, there’s no doubt about it, but he also plays with so much feel and taste and emotion that marks him out from all the other shredders out there. “Before the Storm” on ALLEGIANCE highlights this perfectly. His wide stuttering vibrato gives whatever he’s playing its distinct quality, and he can slow it down, which I think is a mark of a truly great guitarist. He may indeed be the next guitar hero, along with the next generation of shredders like Alexi Laiho, Herman Li and Sam Totman.
Altogether it was a very nice taster for what was to come later tonight!
The next generation of British Heavy Metal (is it the 9th wave by now?), the young guns from London played a quite stunning set, that was criminally short. One is left wondering why, in a gig with a 4 hour running time (7pm to 11pm), when the headliner gets an hour and a quarter and the second support band gets an hour, why the opening band (especially one as good as Crowning Glory) gets a measly 30 minutes.
They play a good mix of traditional metal mixed with decent lashings of German style power metal. One can see early Helloween and a lot of Judas Priest and Primal Fear in them. In fact, the parallels with Judas Priest and Primal Fear go further. Singer Robert Alexander looks like Rob Halford and Ralf Scheepers, and sings like them! Unbelievable high pitched screams lasting over 7/8 seconds, very well done! Perhaps that 30 minute set wasn’t such a bad thing after all, it probably allowed him to come out and give it his all. I certainly can’t see anyone keeping that up for a full 90 minute set. A minor complaint is that he did a bit too much of screaming, and a bit too little of singing. And the man CAN sing. He did a very good impression of Bruce Dickinson, when covering Iron Maiden’s “Children of the Damned”. This is not to say he doesn’t have his own voice, but it’s clear where his influences are.
I like this band. They play metal as I think metal should be played: loud, fast, heavy and riff-heavy. They are very well balanced, no member overshadows the other. There’s decent banter between them onstage, which shows the comfort and how at ease they are with both the crowd and themselves. Guitarist Tom Draper shows off what he has in his arsenal, whether handling the galloping riffs in the Iron Maiden cover with aplomb, or alternating between the chug-chug and speed riffing of his own songs, or throwing in a flashy solo once in a while. Drummer Grant Eskriett and bassist Nick Nick Smith kept the low end ticking over nicely, although Nick isn’t as extroverted as the other two guys upfront, they did a good job overall.
A bit more experience, and with a bit of luck and decent support, they could be quite big. They should try to find their own sound, as at times I found myself thinking “did I hear that in a Maiden/Gamma Ray song before?” Don’t try and tell me the intro to “Sea of Dead Dreams” doesn’t sound like the intro to “Two Minutes to Midnight”! But really I’m just picking holes for the sake of it. A very good band, and I wish them the best of luck!
1. The Other Side
2. In My Head
4. Children of the Damned
5. Dead Man’s Paradise
6. Sea of Dead Drums
In my short time reviewing gigs here at Metal-Rules.com, I don’t think I’ve truly slated a band before. Probably I came closest with Napalm Death, but that’s because I don’t like (or appreciate) grindcore as a genre. Perhaps I should also cop out with this next band, by saying that, “oh you know what, I don’t think I’m qualified to criticise this band, because (a) I’m not amazingly familiar with their music and (b) I don’t think I appreciate this kind of music, therefore I won’t criticise”. Or I could just tell you what I thought of them.
They were sleep-inducing. They were supine, staid, boring, tedious and almost practically horizontal. I think that this must be the worst (or best?) of sludge/doom metal. In that one hour set, I’ve never felt so much like walking off, or at least, having a sit-down. I almost fell asleep, as the droning, never-ending power chords assaulted my ears. No one song stood out for me, except the last one (more on that later). There was no variation in speed, in tone, in anything. Guitarist and frontman JB Christoffersson was as enthusiastic as his music allowed, and all credit to him for that, but I would honestly have been more entertained watching Bridges of Madison County, Casablanca or (at a stretch) Star Wars Episode 2. JB’s singing didn’t do anything for me either, a lot of wailing and keening, and again, no variation. Bassist Fox kept the low end VERY low, which I suppose is a prerequisite in doom metal. A funny thing about his bass was that it had eight tuning pegs but only four strings attached. It’s a mark of how staid their performance/music was that I tried counting the strings and noticed this anomaly. The drummer Sebastian kept a 1-2-3-4 beat throughout, going very rarely beyond bass-snare-bass-snare-crash. Again, no variation.
Fans – and there were many, I’ll come to that later – may call their music hypnotic, mesmerising, rhythmic, possibly symbolic of the inexorable, doom laden march of Father Time. I call it painful. I was reminded of the story about Chinese water-torture, where a prisoner is bound in a chair, and placed under a leaking tap. The water drips on his head, drop by drop, at an abominably infuriatingly slow yet consistent rate. The theory is that the prisoner’s expectations are heightened to almost breaking point between drops. When the drop hits his head, he experiences a cathartic, almost orgasmic release, only for the process to start again and again ad infinitum, until the prisoner is reduced to a blubbering wreck. Well, that was me, WITHOUT the orgasmic releases.
Any good things about this band? Yes, their last song was a rocker. Compared with the rest of the list, I actually perked up my ears. Double bass, quarter note riffing, O joy of joy! Possibly there was even a solo, I don’t know, I was too happy that I was awake.
I don’t criticise very often, and I am very mindful of the special integrity that most metal bands have for their music, especially the bands that have not quite “made it” yet. Grand Magus played very honestly I felt, true to their vision and the kind of music they want to play. Judging by the number of fans that Grand Magus had at the show, they are very well-supported indeed. I felt like I was the only one there NOT into the music. Perhaps I’ll even give them another chance in a couple of months. For now, I intend on giving them a wide berth. At least my semi-narcolepsy saved up my energy for the fireballs of Firewind. O god, I’ve been reduced to shitty puns. Anyway…
I’m sure this band needs no introduction. This is the band that Gus G started off back in 1998 as a demo project to show off his guitar skills and land a record deal. He then got sidetracked with such amazing bands as Mystic Prophecy, Dream Evil, Nightrage and as a tour guitarist for the Swedish melo-death metallers Arch Enemy. Meanwhile, Firewind meandered along until Gus left all his other bands and made Firewind the side project into Firewind his main band. And why not. Firewind play good quality 80s style metal with strong influences from 60s and 70s rock. I hear Whitesnake and Rainbow and Dio in their music, and their Scorpions influences cannot be denied. In FORGED BY FIRE, then-singer Chity Somapala even sounds a little like Klaus Meine of the Scorpions. The virtuosity on guitar comes obviously courtesy of Gus, and comparisons to TRILOGY-era Malmsteen and Van Halen surely cannot be an exaggeration.
This is the second time I’m seeing Firewind. Last December they opened for Dragonforce at the Astoria, and I remember seeing the lovely Tara joining them onstage for a duet on “Breaking the Silence”. Thankfully they didn’t play the song this time around, because as beautiful as she is, her metal singing annoys me to end, and that song is in my opinion the worst track on their new album ALLEGIANCE.
There was a small ripple of excitement before Firewind came out, as some of us caught a glimpse of what looked like Herman Li, walking past the door where the performers entered onstage. None of us could be certain though, but I’m sure more than one of us kept a lookout throughout the gig, such is the level of our fan-boyism. I’m not ashamed to say I’m a DragonForce fan either, so there!
Firewind though, were what we had come to see. And they didn’t disappoint. The band as a whole was tight and very in tune with one another. It was a well rehearsed set list as well, Apollo leaving the stage on a couple of occasions to let Gus, Bob and bassist take the spotlight. Apollo is a very charismatic frontman, while not overly gifted in terms of vocal range or ability, he certainly gets the crowd involved. Bob Katsionis handled keyboards as well as guitar duties, and he did an admirable job throughout. I couldn’t really hear his guitar, perhaps a little lax on the sound levelling/balancing? The bassist Petros Christo was pretty introverted, staying behind Apollo mostly, headbanging and grinning his face off. He did stray forward a couple of times, but immediately bounded back to his spot. Mark Cross, former Helloween and Metalium drummer, was pretty solid, and other than his drum solo, was pretty much in the background.
They opened up with the first two tracks from 2003’s BURNING EARTH, the rocking “Steal Them Blind” and “I Am the Anger”. The crowd was well fired up for the gig, singing along and headbanging, with Apollo spurring us on right from the start. They all looked really happy to be there, even a little dumbstruck at the reception they got. They shouldn’t be surprised, I mean, they got the same reaction here last year opening for DragonForce.
Before going on, I must saying something about putting in drum solos and keyboard solos as part of the set. I think it just takes up valuable time. They could have fitted in two songs into the time Mark, Bob and Gus did their solos. We know they’re brilliant musicians, and we understand that Apollo needs to give his voice a rest for a minute or two, but come on guys. Even a couple of instrumentals would have been better than just drumming and soloing aimlessly on keyboard and guitar. Okay, rant over, back to the show.
I was quite surprised to see BURNING EARTH so well represented and FORGED BY FIRE so neglected. I also thought BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL deserved a lot better than just two songs. Anyway it didn’t matter, the chorus friendly songs and speedy riffing had us thrashing along without a care in the world. “Between Heaven and Hell” gave Apollo the chance to give the mike to us, and we sang ourselves hoarse. Gus and Bob were constantly in our face, literally at times Gus’ guitar was three inches from my nose! And let me tell you, his fingers can blur.
A slight downer to the night was when a stage diver apparently messed up Bob’s keyboard. Bob was noticeably pissed off, while Apollo and Gus tried to laugh it off. It was a brilliant gig nonetheless, everyone including the band had a good night, and the sour taste of Grand Magus (for me) was washed away by the pure rocking out of Firewind. I hope to see them doing bigger and bigger tours from now on, and they’ll go further if they improve their songwriting!
2. Steal Them Blind
3. I Am The Anger
5. Destination Forever
6. Guitar/Keys Solo
7. The Fire and the Fury
8. Drum Solo
9. Till The End of Time
11. Brother’s Keeper
12. Falling To Pieces
13. Between Heaven and Hell