I’ve been going to quite a few gigs recently and thought I’d have a go at doing a little review. The latest one was the mighty Grand Magus in Cardiff and before I start in on the actual gig itself I think it’s worth talking about Heavy Metal for awhile.
Heavy metal. Love it or loath it you can’t deny that it’s been around for quite some time now and shows no real signs of going anywhere soon. Ever since various guitarists from the mid 1950’s onwards started to damage their speaker cabinets on purpose to get a harsher, more aggressive sound bands have done all manner of things to get their own unique signature sound. Early musicians, such as David Davies from The Kinks, had to slash their speaker cones with a razor blade and turn the volume up as loud as possible to get distortion. Now you can get distortion by simply clicking a button.
However there is more to Heavy Metal then distorted, overdriven guitars. After all Led Zeppelin had an absolutely monolithic guitar sound but I wouldn’t class them as Heavy Metal. Heavy or Hard Rock – definitely – but they weren’t Metal.
It’s good. Really good. But it’s not Metal.
It took four reprobates from Birmingham to come up with Metal’s missing ingredients;
- Dark subject matter – singing about girls (unless partially dismembered) is not Metal.
- Most songs to be played in a minor key – happy sounding stuff is not Metal. (unless a German Power Metal band).
- Sense of humour – this is the biggest secret that people outside of Metal simply don’t get. Metal is hilarious (sometimes unintentionally). It’s impossible to scream about Dragons, Magic Swords, Satan or the Rise of Cuthulu without your tongue being firmly in cheek. (Note that this rule doesn’t apply to Manowar who sing about all of the above but without any trace of irony.)
Heavy as fuck.
So Heavy Metal as a form of music has been around for over 40 years and like all things it’s changed somewhat over the years. The advent of punk in the 70’s made metal go faster. From this:
Onwards to this:
As the music evolved and bands explored new and different sounds people, journalists especially, needed pigeon holes to conveniently pop the bands into. Thus was born the dreaded genre labels. All music has them but none more then Metal. Here’s a non-complete list: (as stolen from http://lastrit.es/ )
Now, a non-metal fan will make the point that it all sounds the same as each other anyway, so why bother trying to categorise it anyway? Well, to put it in simple terms, they are wrong.
Here are three examples of Metal. One Symphonic Black, one Industrial and one Stoner. Have a listen and tell me what is similar about them. Other then it all being Metal of course.
Completely mental. Philharmonic Metal.
Industrial, robotic, stark.
They spent all the record company advance on weed. True story.
Anyway, the point of all this is to say that, as I sit here and type this on a sunny March afternoon in 2013, all Heavy Metal is called something other then Heavy Metal. There’s even something called Djent Metal – and I don’t even want to know what’s that all about.
In my opinion, and this was discussed at length with lashings of ale, there is only a few truly great Heavy Metal bands currently recording and gigging as we speak. And in the past month I’ve seen three of them.
Ladies and Gentlemen I urge you to rush out and listen to as much Grand Magus, High on Fire and Orange Goblin as possible. (Purists may make the point that HoF and Goblin have a stoner tag attached to them in which case just go listen to Grand Magus you bloody pedants).
One of the other things that sets Metal apart from many other music forms is that the vast majority of Metal bands gig relentlessly and are constantly on the road. It’s not unusual for bands to be playing in excess of 200 dates in every year. Metal fans are probably the most likely music fan to go to gigs and are ridiculously, obsessively, insanely knowledgeable about their favorite bands. If any band can’t cut it live then they will be torn to shreds on various online forums by many brave keyboard warriors, some of whom may even have been to the gig.
Finally to the gig itself. As it was happening in Cardiff most of the Dave’s Gym staff and regular hangers-on decided to go. We all met in a great pub called Fire Island (terrible name, amazing beer), which is a real ale pub. It had about 10 or so beers on tap and it seemed only polite to try each one. After much quaffing and now thoroughly refreshed we all (there was about 12 of us in total) weaved our way towards the venue – Bogiez.
Bogiez is only slightly larger then your average sized bird cage. In fact imagine that bird cage and now bury it deep underground, paint it black, slap a few skull posters around the place and imbue it with the smell of stale beer, even staler sweat and the odd waft of patchouli. I love it. All gigs should take place in venues like this. There should be a law or covenant or something.
We got there in time for the second support act, having swilled brews merrily through the first. The were called Primitai and sound like this:
If your wondering what category to slot these guys in try “Modern NWOBHM” (Pronounced neu-wobb-um)
They sounded pretty good but I, unfortunately, didn’t give them my full attention as a) I was drunk and b)We were busy making plans for our very own Dave’s Gym metal band. We already have a name, a logo, the first album’s name and track list. All we need to do now is play a single note together and it’s a done deal. World wide apathy, lack of interest and disregard is just one gig away.
Soon the stage cleared and the roadies came on to sound check Grand Magus’s instruments. But wait. Them not be roadies. Them be the actual band themselves! Great buggering fuck! In this world there’s no justice. Shit manufactured bands stride the World like hollow, vacuous colossi with private jets and hot and cold running groupies while genuinely amazing bands like these lads have to do their own roadie-ing and tour Europe in a battered, rented Transit van.
My only hope is as the music industry continues to change that these little, shitty, talent bereft, shallow, superficial, pointless excuses of bland noise vanish up there own arses and leave the hard working accomplished musicians as the dominant life-force. Please let this be so.
Anyway, after putting the slight ignominy of having been on stage, leaving said stage, putting on your entrance music and them coming back on again to one side Grand Magus were epic.
First there was this to set the mood:
And then the band launched into Kingslayer (they launched into Kingslayer twice actually, as the first time the guitar wasn’t working properly. But just like the band having already been on stage we all pretended not to notice and went berserk anyway.), and the smile didn’t leave my face for the next hour.
Kingslayer. Pure, unadulterated Metal.
I love a three piece band live. There is a tightness and clarity that you don’t get with larger ensembles. Guitar, bass, drums – all locked together and pounding out one relentless, implacable tumult.
Blistering song followed blistering song. Epic but not cheesy. Intrepid but not corny. Determined but self deprecating. Grand Magus are one of the all time great Metal bands and no bugger, outside of an elite chosen few, have heard of them. Which is tragic.
Here’s one of my favorite songs of theirs. A slower saga but no less magnificent because of it:
Go immediately from this page. Listen to Grand Magus. Buy their music. See them live. You won’t regret it. I promise.
Thanks for reading/headbanging,