Saturday, July 20, 2019

Review: Gloryhammer at Gas Monkey Bar & Grill (June 17, 2019, Dallas, Texas)

Having just seen Gloryhammer opening for Alestorm back in September, I had decided I wasn’t going to make the trek to Dallas for this show. Then, they released Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex at the end of May, and given my previous experience, I absolutely had to hear some of those songs live.

I’m glad I decided to go. I’ve seen a ton of concerts in my lifetime, but I’ve rarely had more fun than I did on this night.

In all honesty, I’m starting to feel a little stalkerish in the way that I gush over all things Gloryhammer and Alestorm, but they just make me happy, so prepare for more of the same.

The weather cooperated much more than it did at the September show. While it was hot and humid, it wasn’t raining. Kudos to the merch booth, too, which opened before the doors this time and allowed me to grab a shirt before entering. (They didn’t have the one I wanted, but those are the breaks when you’re one of the last shows on the tour). I’d reserved a table for the family to try a different experience and lucked out on the best one in the place, front of the deck toward the center of the stage. After a rocky start to our last visit to the Gas Monkey, this experience began exceptionally. And that didn’t change when the music started.

First up were a couple of local Dallas bands, melodic/power metallers Dreamkeeper and the more proggy Infidel Rising. I was really impressed with Dreamkeeper’s set. I’d been listening to their album for a couple of weeks, particularly the song “Forever Fire,” but their live performance blew away the studio tracks.

Vocalist Taylor Dennis has a much stronger presence in person, reminding me, at times, of both singers from Savatage. He has the smoothness of Zak Stevens in his lower registers, but the ability to shriek like Jon Oliva. If you know anything about me, you know that’s about the highest praise I can give a vocalist.

Despite a few technical glitches, Dreamkeeper sounded great, and I definitely wouldn’t have minded if they’d had time to do a few more songs.

As the sun began to sink, the main event started with North Carolina-based folk/melodic death outfit Aether Realm. They were also new to me, though I had been giving their most recent record, Tarot, a few listens in the weeks leading up to the show. In all honesty, they’re a mixed bag for me.

I really like the more melodic songs like “Death” and “King of Cups” (featuring Gloryhammer/Alestorm mastermind Christopher Bowes on the album version), both of which they played, but the more death-influenced tunes aren’t always my mug of ale. That said, Aether Realm delivered their set with great energy, and it was a lot of fun. Like the headliners, they didn’t take themselves too seriously, and it seemed that everyone enjoyed it, whether they were familiar with the band or not.

We made our journey to the Kingdom of Fife around 9:30 p.m., with a full moon shining over the stage to set the perfect tone. The setlist was heavy on songs from Gloryhammer’s new album in the early going. Unlike many bands, though, that didn’t matter. The few hundred fans that packed the Gas Monkey already knew all the words and were more than ready to sing along.

Gloryhammer opened the set with “The Siege of Dunkeld (In Hoots We Trust)” with the notable absence of a dark wizard on stage. On cue, as the chorus on the track sang his name, Zargothrax made his entrance to introduce himself and challenge our hero Angus McFife (vocalist Thomas Winkler) to battle. As I’d expected, it was not Christopher Bowes, but his touring stand-in Michael Barber, who still plays the role to the hilt.

Once the battle was joined, the band introduced its namesake with the eponymous “Gloryhammer,” one of the songs that I’d been looking forward to hearing. The “Glory … Hammer” chant of the fans on the chorus was all that I’d hoped it would be and really got the show moving.

The U.S. fan base for Gloryhammer may not be the biggest in the world, but they mean it. They proved it over and over throughout the night, shouting lyrics to songs old and new back to the stage. It was particularly prominent later in the night on one of the band’s signature tunes, “The Hollywood Hootsman,” as they serenaded bassist James Cartwright with shouts of “Hail to Hoots!” on the chorus.

Before that, though, Gloryhammer had to deliver some fresh sounds. Four of the first five songs came from the latest album, broken only by “Questlords of Inverness, Ride to the Galactic Fortress!” from their second record Rise of the Chaos Wizards. Fans eagerly traveled to “The Land of Unicorns” and sang along with the catchy chorus hook of “Masters of the Galaxy,” songs that were only a couple of weeks old, but felt like old friends.

The band finally settled into some songs from their first two records with “Legend of the Astral Hammer.” One disappointment from the fall show was that Gloryhammer played a shortened set which didn’t include a couple of songs they’d performed elsewhere. Among those was a personal favorite, “Goblin King of the Darkstorm Galaxy.” They corrected that oversight here, which pretty much ensured my enjoyment of the evening. The other tune they skipped the first time around, “Magic Dragon,” also made it into the set, much to the crowd’s glee.

The main set closed with, in my opinion, the best song from the new album, “Hootsforce,” and “Heroes (of Dundee)” from Chaos Wizards. I wasn’t sure about that second choice, since it’s a bit of a slow-down moment, but when I saw it live, I understood.

In the crowd in front of us, fans swayed back and forth, arm-in-arm singing along with the chorus. They were folks of different races, different genders, probably different politics. Most of them had likely never met before that night, but here they were, completely united in their love of Gloryhammer. It was the culmination of a scene that had been repeated over and over through the night as people banged each other in the pit hard enough to make the security guards nervous at times, but then hugged it out once the song was over. It was exactly what a metal crowd should be, and it was a beautiful thing.

When Gloryhammer left the stage, the chants of “Hoots” went up as people stomped on the deck, sending tremors throughout the venue until they returned for the final three songs of the night. The encore opened with a rousing performance of “Angus McFife.” Just as when I’d seen them in September, Thomas Winkler probably could have gotten by without singing the chorus at all and letting the crowd handle it.

They followed up with “Universe on Fire,” which featured one of the most fun visuals of the show as Ser Proletius (guitarist Paul Templing) and Zargothrax kicked up their heels comically at the back of the stage during the tune.

Finally, they launched into their regular closer, “The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee,” telling the tale that started the Gloryhammer saga, that of Zargothrax sacking Dundee with an army of undead unicorns as fireballs and lightning rained from the sky. During the performance of the song, Angus finally smites Zargothrax on stage with the Hammer of Glory. There’s probably not a more over-the-top cheesy performance in metal right now, nor a more perfect one.

Then again, maybe there is one slightly more cheesy moment. In the band’s curtain call, the Hootsman is crowned as “The National Anthem of Unst” plays in the background and the rest of the band bends the knee to him. It’s the only possible fitting end to this performance.

I have to hand it to Gloryhammer. Only a few days after this show, they would be performing in front of a sea of thousands of fans at Hellfest in France and Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium, but they played to the few hundred who packed the Gas Monkey with every bit as much energy and left a smile on everyone’s face. I can, without a doubt, say it was one of the favorite concert experiences of my life.

When the fireballs finally finished falling and the smoke cleared, my family and I vowed that whenever the heroes of Dundee return to the U.S., we will always quest to help them defend the Kingdom of Fife, no matter how far we have to travel.

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