After a late running interview with Grand Magus, I dart my way into the O2 Asylum in Birmingham and collect my press pass, getting inside just in time to catch the show begin!
The first band, and only UK act of the night, are Midlands death metallers Ashen Crown. Anyone aware of this band will immediately note that they are slightly odd choice for this classic metal lineup (they will also no doubt be aware of their debut album, 'Obsolescence' which came out a few weeks ago) This being said, the Lord of memes, frontman Kieron Scott and his band of miscreants fully own the slot, unleashing their crushing, relentless sound upon the unsuspecting early comers of the night, tearing through their set with a viscous intensity.
Afterwards, the band swiftly depart the stage with impressive efficiency. I've honestly never seen a vocalist carry that much drum gear off of a stage before and probably never will again, but together these guys managed to de-rig a whole stage in mere minutes. Credit to them after already knocking out a solid performance for a crowd that could easily have been split on this choice of opener.
The next act and main tour support are Wolf, also hailing from Sweden. This band is slightly more in keeping with the overall sound of the night and they play a hooky blend of pumping, driven, classic metal with an 80's tinge. Starting out with 'Shoot To Kill', the band make their intentions clear immediately, before following this up in quick succession with 'The Bite'. They lack the dark ambience of the other acts on the bill but they still pack a punch.
The band show off an impressive level of showmanship throughout the set, using every available inch of the Asylum stage as the members dart around the stage and play up to the audience. The axemen have taken their performance straight out of Iron Maiden's play book, holding their guitars in the air and 'firing' them at the audience while laying down some hooky riffage. This becomes particularly novel when it is combined with a Nikko McBrain style kick from the drums. Stringslinging frontman, Niklas Stålvind's high vocal cuts and soars above the mix as drummer, Johan Koleberg's huge kicks pummel out from the speakers, driving the tracks and locking the crowd in.
The band proceeds to smash their way through a set of 80's tinged, heavy metal offerings that have the crowd nodding along and moving throughout. The classic metallers finish up their set with 'Speed On' giving the audience one last taste of this modern nostalgia before leaving us to await the mighty headliners of the night.
Coming out to a rapturous reception and a huge folk-tinged battle intro, the Swedish 3 piece, Grand Magus take to the stage. With the now decently sized crowd raring to go, they slam into their renowned brand of dark sounding, heavy metal.
Opening with 'Wolf God', the hard-hitting title track from their latest album, the room immediately begins nodding and banging their heads as the band hit through an epic rendition of this classic metal influenced offering. They then follow this up with the slower, mid tempo grooves of 'Untamed', another new track which features some soaring dual vocals during the chorus.
After hammering through classics 'King Slayer' and 'Sword of the Ocean', they get to a track themed around mental strength - 'Iron Will', something we all need right now. This starts with a dark and sombre bass intro and the crowd chanting 'hey' along in time with the beat as it kicks in. This track opens up later on to see the whole room headbanging, getting fully into it and chanting passionately along with the chorus. This song gets everyone involved and sets the tone for the rest of the night.
There is a sense of 'Maiden meets Manowar' that becomes more apparent as the set progresses as they punch into songs like 'The Shadow Knows'.
Later into the night they hit into 2005 classic 'Wolf's Return', this old school offering features some great big doom soaked guitar lines. The whole crowd here seem to know this track inside out and heads are banging all around the venue.
After announcing it had been 4 years since their last UK visit, the crowd show they are all too aware of this and display a charged energy and response through the duration of the 1 hr 30 set. They may not come here often enough for the liking of some of this crowd, but they certainly deliver when they do! As a huge "Grand Magus" chant erupts from crowd, the band continues to take The Asylum into battle and onward to glory!
The band tie up the night with fan favourite, 'Hammer of the North', the title track from their 2010 release. This colossal song makes a more than fitting finish to the night and keeps heads banging until the end.
With the night at a close, we disperse with the crowd onto the streets and back to the car nearby. It's been a solid night of varied yet epic metal, and although the lineup was slightly disjointed, it still proved a strong night. With the uncertainty of the looming coronavirus, this may be one of the last shows that we see for a while, luckily it was a good one!