REVIEW: GLORYHAMMER @ HEAVEN, LONDON (18.10.19)
On one wing of the gloriously broad church that is modern metal we have the glowering kvltist bands like Behemoth and Watain, who take themselves very seriously indeed. They occupy the darkest, most subterranean levels of the underground, where they pore over their bands’ unreadable logos. On the other side of things are jolly buffoons who simply cannot wipe the silly grins off their faces and are happy to invite anyone along to the dressing-up party.
Power metal was a largely European phenomenon, dismissed by the snooty cognoscenti as being of appeal primarily to mulleted Germans, until the videogame-inspired DragonForce and swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean fanboys Alestorm came along. These days Sabaton play Wembley Arena and Gloryhammer’s UK tour, which I was attending that evening, was sold out. At a packed out Heaven game punters are eager to subscribe to the galactic panto, with plenty of inflatable hammers, unicorn horns and even the occasional cowl in evidence.
Adding to the party atmosphere are two mighty fine if very different support acts. Proof that Pisa has more to commend it than that leaning tower, Wind Rose’s (“We don’t write songs, we smith them against the anvil”) position in the venn diagram of metal is at the intersection of folk metal and power metal, where they’ve carved a niche for themselves by writing songs exclusively about dwarves – mostly of the Tolkien stripe. They’ve only got a 30 minute opening slot, which is probably just as well given that stocky frontman Francesco Cavalieri must be sweating like a pig inside that heavy outfit. But they hit their stride and succeed in getting the entire audience on their side with the infectious tavern singalong "Drunken Dwarves".
A metal reworking of the "Diggy Diggy Hole" meme keeps up the momentum and has everyone bellowing along with the chorus as though they’re the headlining act. There’s only one way they can top that - the epic "To Erebor", whose video introduced Wind Rose to a grateful world, notching up two million YouTube views. They may be unusually tall for members of the dwarven community, but these crazy, hairy Tuscans won plenty of new friends tonight. They should schedule a return invasion pronto!
ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10
Imagine an alternate universe where being in an old-school ’80s-style metal band was the coolest thing you could possibly do and nobody ever suggested otherwise. That’s where Beast in Black come from, regardless of what the internet may tell you about Helsinki.
“Does London want some true heavy metal?” screams Yannis Papadopoulos. We’ll take that as a rhetorical question. The leather-clad frontman’s shiny dome and all that synchronised headbanging make the Judas Priest comparisons inevitable, but there’s a smidgen of eurodisco in the mix too (think "I Was Made For Loving You"-era Kiss).
Originality may not be this lot’s strongest suit, but they do have a knack of writing songs so catchy that even if you’ve never heard them before you wind up singing along by the end of the first chorus. "Sweet True Lies" even has more than a dash of early Bon Jovi about it. A vocal coach by profession, Yannis Papadopoulos has an incredible range that reaches right up into dog-bothering falsetto.
Guitarists Kasperi Heikkinen and Anton Kabanen are no slouches either, giving it some serious heroics between those mighty choruses. Best of all, they serve it all up with a total absence of irony. “Bloody marvellous,” remarks Papadopoulos of our response. Same to you, pal.
ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10
A huge cheer goes up as a roadie brings out a life-sized cardboard cut-out of... erm... Tom Jones and places it centre-stage in front of the microphone. We then get to sing along with gusto to "Delilah" – yes, all of it. Why? Who knows. It’s Gloryhammer! It’s inflatable hammers aloft as a huge cheer goes up to greet Angus McFife XIII Crown Prince of Fife, as he bounds on in a flowing cape, wielding his trusty hammer. Fact fans may wish to note that this goblin-vanquishing pretend Scotsman is actually Swiss - his real name is Thomas Laszlo Winkler and he’s a notary public who runs his own law firm. I am seriously not making any of this up!
Obviously, he gets out of the office enough to hone his craft as a commanding frontman with a commendably straight face, unfazed by Gloryhammer’s booming popularity. Grand operatic opener "The Siege of Dunkeld (In Hoots We Trust)" gets the power metal party started in style, prompting a huge “Hoots!” chant. You don’t need to know anything about the daft Gloryhammer universe of goblins, unicorns, Scotland, the Hootsforce and hammers (lots and lots of hammers!) to enjoy this stuff, though, alarmingly, plenty of people here seem to know every word.
Like all good pantomimes, there’s much audience participation along the way. We’re encouraged to imitate the sound of a laser-powered hammer striking a goblin’s head, scream in terror at the sight of Ser Proletius Grand Master of the Deathknights of Crail (guitarist Paul Templing excellently channelling Ming the Merciless in this role) and cheer The Hootsman Astral Demigod of Unst (bassist James Cartwright) as he downs a pint to the strains of "Also Sprach Zarathusa" (Woo! - Ed.). Founder Christopher Bowes, who does most of the heavy lifting in Alestorm, takes something of a backseat in Gloryhammer. This is a wise move given that Angus McFife/Thomas Winkler has a much more powerful power metal voice.
Musically, behind the unrelenting silliness it’s all stirring, melodic and supremely well-performed stuff. Their big, chanted choruses are custom built for air-punching. You do get the impression thought that "Hootsforce" and "Angus McFife" would have fitted perfectly into the Alestorm catalogue had they been about pirates rather than warfare in outer space.
Finally, after 90 minutes, the last goblin has been slain and those inflatable hammers are starting to wilt in the heat. But Gloryhammer aren’t done yet. “Does London want to hear another song about unicorns?” demands Angus McFife. Do we ever! They leave us with "The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee", which is particularly impressive for just about managing to cram the mouthful that is the entire title into its chorus. There are big cheesy grins all round as we file to the exit with Status Quo’s "Rocking All Over the World" ringing in our ears.
ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10
Words by Tom Da Silva