Thanks to some appalling traffic, and a queue outside the venue which took nearly ninety minutes to clear, and even though I thought I’d left plenty of time to spare, I still somehow managed to miss opening act, Grand Magus. Grrrrr!
Eventually though, and with teeth moments away from chattering like the wind-up toy ones due to the rather brisk Bonfire Night conditions, I thankfully entered the venue in plenty of time for Bay Area thrashers, Testament.
Any thoughts of cold weather conditions were promptly forgotten as the band tore into the title track of new album Brotherhood of the Snake (Nuclear Blast). ‘Rise Up’ and newie, ‘The Pale King’ followed, while the crowd, although eager and bouncy, seemed to be saving themselves for something else. That something else turned out to be an utterly savage ‘Disciples of the Watch’. From that moment on, the crowd went from a mild banging of heads and polite applause to hurling themselves around the pit in an orgy of flailing hair and sweaty body parts. This didn’t let up for a moment, and unsurprisingly went up a gear for a particularly mauling, ‘Into The Pit’.
Guitarists Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson shredded like their lives depended on it, bass legend Steve DiGiorgio stood above them imperiously, and drummer Gene “The Atomic Clock” Hoglan smashed his way indelicately through a set filled with very little in the way of balladry. Vocalist Chuck Billy was in fine fettle as usual, all big grins, full-throated roars, and patented air-guitar-played-on-the-mic-stand stage moves.
If there was one slight niggle, it was that the drums seemed to overpower everything else during the first couple of tracks, but it was nothing to be concerned about as everything soon settled down, allowing the band to hit their stride properly.
Setlist: Brotherhood of the Snake, Rise Up, The Pale King, Disciples of the Watch, The New Order, Dark Roots of the Earth, Stronghold, Into The Pit, Over The Wall, The Formation of Damnation
With their increasingly elaborate stage sets, Viking-obsessed Swedes Amon Amarth are definitely transforming into Iron Maiden. Musically, there’s already a distinct similarity thanks to the twin guitars of Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg, but with an increasing reputation for brilliant, but completely preposterous sets (we get a giant Viking helmet this time), the metamorphosis continues apace.
It’s not all about having a big helmet though (ooer). Oh no. Hairy men appear onstage holding longbows, axes, and flags. A battle to the death is fought between two mighty warriors armed with swords and shields, Norse god, Loke (no, not Tom Hiddleston), makes an appearance, and vocalist Johan Hegg fights a giant sea serpent with a massive hammer.
The show is utterly ridiculous from beginning to end, but the musicianship and presentation is flawless. Hegg makes a formidably hirsute and suitably imposing frontman, which combined with his infectious broad grin and charming personality, endears himself even more to the gathered throng.
Opening with a thundering explosion of ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ and ‘As Loke Falls’, the band quickly begin to draw from latest album Jomsviking (Metal Blade). Some bands can falter when playing newer, slightly more unfamiliar material. But not Amon Amarth. New tracks such as ‘First Kill’, ‘The Way of Vikings’, ‘On A Sea of Blood’, ‘Raise Your Horns’, and ‘At Dawn’s First Light’ are greeted with the same rapturous applause reserved for older songs like ‘Death In Fire’, and ‘Guardians of Asgaard’.
If you like songs about longboats, pillaging, swords, gods, battles, fire, and beer, then this show would have been pure heaven (or Valhalla anyway). Of course, there are still those who claim Amon Amarth are just a poor man’s Unleashed. Those people would not have been welcome on Saturday night.
As their popularity and reputation as one of the best live acts around continue to grow (a first time and long overdue headline spot at Bloodstock Open Air next year helping confirm this), Amon Amarth finally look ready to take another big step forward.
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY GARY ALCOCK