On one wing of the gloriously broad church that is modern metal we have the glowering kvltists, who take themselves very seriously indeed and occupy the darkest, most subterranean levels of the underground, where they pore over their bands’ unreadable logos. On the other wing 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 Dragonforce and Alestorm came along. These days, the likes of Sabaton play Wembley Arena and Gloryhammer’s UK tour is sold out. At a packed SWX, 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 onside with the infectious tavern singalong Drunken Dwarves from new album Wintersaga. 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 and should schedule a return invasion pronto.
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 Bristol 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 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 (when they rocked) about it.
A vocal coach by profession, Papadopoulos has an incredible range, reaching 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.
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, dude.
Now 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 shit up. But he obviously 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 (their previous Bristol gig was at the Fleece back in 2013).
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, channelling Ming the Merciless) and cheer The Hootsman, Astral Demigod of Unst (bassist James Cartwright) as he downs a pint to the strains of Also Sprach Zarathusa.
Founder Christopher Bowes, formerly of this parish, who does most of the heavy lifting in Alestorm, takes something of a backseat in Gloryhammer. This is a wise move given that Angus/Thomas has a much more powerful power metal voice. Musically, behind the unrelenting silliness it’s all sturdy, stirring, melodic, supremely well performed stuff with big chanted choruses custom built for air-punching, though you get the impression 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 Bristol want to hear another song about unicorns?” demands Angus. 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 Quo’s Rocking All Over the World ringing in our ears.
All photos by Mike Evans
Read more: Metal & Prog Picks: October 2019