I must admit to having been somewhat sceptical about the location for the Belfast leg of Grand Magus’ first UK headlining tour – a nightclub in the city centre more used to hosting spide-crammed ‘dance’ events (or ‘raves’ in old money) than brutally loud heavy metal gigs… OK, I know there had been a few gigs there over recent months, and to be honest I had heard fairly positive reports, from both bands and punters…
Well, the venue turned out to be more less ideal for tonight’s purpose – a nice space, with a couple of large supporting pillars but nevertheless good views of the stage from wherever you stand in the room, a spacious stage and an excellent, if somewhat bassy, sound system. Even the security staff (some of whose predecessors had a reputation for showing disdain to metallers even daring to walk past the venue and its adjoining bar) were on top form…
Rising local stars Terminus open proceedings and definitely seem to be enjoying themselves: their classic metal with a modern twist causes you’re reviewer to scribble “quite possibly what Judas Priest would sound like if they had decided to play doom in their early days”, and the sound system lends a heavy bottom end to their sound. Vocalist James Beattie – who accentuates the Priest comparison by bearing more than a passing resemblance to Rob Halford, both physically and vocally – is worthy of particular mention, showing god-humoured crowd interaction and a commanding stage presence which undoubtedly won the basnd many knew fans among the slowly growing audience.
If Berkshire five-piece Primitai had been born 30 years earlier, they undoubtedly would have been seen as one of the standard-bearers of NWOBHM: as it is, they are one of the bands leading the charge to revive both the sound and the spirit of that area, and to great effect. However, tonight is a battle for them, as vocalist Guy Miller is suffering from a massive throat infection: almost from the beginning of the set, his voice starts to fail, and it is all but gone by the end of the set… but this does not stop him performing with passion and aplomb, cajoling the crowd to give as good as they are getting.
The rest of the band is a tight and efficient unit, with guitarist Nick Saxby stepping up to support his battling frontman while also joining baby-faced fellow shredder Srdjan Bilic in delivering a series of melodic riffs and blistering solos. The band finish their set by recalling their NWOBHM influences, creating an old-fashioned pyramid of guitarists.
Fortune Favours The Brave
Pound For Pound
The Line Of Fire
Scream When You See Us
With the booming tones of their ‘Anvil Of Crom’ intro, having suitably built the anticipation levels, the battle cry sounds and Grand Magus hit the stage with the power of Thor’s hammer, unleashing their dogs of war upon a ravenous horde baying for the fray.
In our interview earlier, bassist Fox had spoken of how much he, vocalist/guitarist JB and new drummer Ludwig enjoyed playing in the UK and how they had been looking forward to this leg of the tour – and they do surely look they’re having a lot of fun. Musically, they’re as tight as you would expect from a band of their experience – with new recruit Ludwig filling the drum stool as if he has been there all along – with JB revelling in the adoration of the crowd, who respond in kind.
The first truly memorable moment is a titanic (that seems an apt adjective for a gig in Belfast, doesn’t it?) rendition of ‘Ravens Guide Our Way’. Funnily while the likes of ‘Sword Of The Ocean’ and ‘Starlight Slaughter’ are impressive, it is older tracks such as ‘Wolf’s Return’ and the awesome ‘Like The Oars Strike The Water’ – which is followed by a new addition to the Grand Magus repertoire, a drum solo. These can be boring and needless, but Ludwig delivers his with both vigour and precision, keeping the rhythm effortlessly while indulging in an impressive series of crossover patterns.
‘The Hunt’ and ‘Valhalla Rising’ are the two highlight tracks from the current album, with the latter being followed by a rousing round of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Fox, as the audience throw him a party he won’t forget in a while…
Given the layout of the venue, JB is left standing in front of the bass bins and Fox and Ludwig hiding behind a curtain as the crowd scream for the encore, and are rewarded with a Valhalla-levelling ‘Hammer Of The North’, which leaves both the crowd and the band enraptured.
Anvil Of Crom (intro)
Sword Of The Ocean
I, The Jury
Ravens Guide Our Way
Silver Into Steel
Like The Oar Strikes The Water / Drum Solo
Hammer Of The North
Grand Magus’ hunt across the UK continues as follows:
Tuesday February 26th – Manchester, Moho
Wednesday February27th – Cardiff, Bogiez
Thursday 28th – Wolverhampton, Slade Rooms
Friday March 1st – Weymouth, Pavilion
Saturday March 2nd – Southampton, Talking Heads
Sunday March 3rd – London, Camden Underworld