There’s a wonderfully surreal moment in The Simpsons when Abe Simpson inexplicably proclaims, “the Swedish are coming! The Swedish are coming!”. Well, tonight in frosty Birmingham, that’s exactly what’s happening. Hailing from the land of Abba, Ikea, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, three of the finest exponents of melodic death metal have landed in Blighty to bang heads and kick bottom.
Playing a condensed version of their Bloodstock set from August, Hypocrisy set the Scandinavian wheels in motion with half an hour of sweat, riffs, and windmilling hair. Wild-eyed, straggly bearded frontman Peter Tägtgren still looks like the result of a drunken fumbling between Johnny Depp and Gollum as he snarls his way through belters such as ‘Eraser’, ‘War-Path’, ‘Fractured Millennium’, and of course a crowd-pleasing ‘Roswell 47’ to round things off in style.
All underarm bat wings and blue hair, Alissa White-Gluz has long since banished the spectre of former vocalist Angela Gossow. Whether she’s prowling the stage or jumping off the drum riser, she commands her audience with total authority, roaring and spitting out the lyrics to ‘My Apocalypse’, ‘War Eternal’, ‘Ravenous’, ‘Nemesis’, and ‘The World is Yours’ among others. Guitarist Michael Amott rarely leaves his preferred stage right position, while other axeman Jeff Loomis, and bass player Sharlee D’Angelo seem to be everywhere at once as they deliver another no-nonsense set, thankfully devoid of momentum-sapping interludes and instrumentals.
Even with only the briefest of turnarounds between bands, there is still an air of impatience in the air as the crowd eagerly await tonight’s hairy headliners. Amon Amarth have only made the slightest of tweaks to their formula over the years, and this adherence to their roots has served them well. Big riffs, powerful rhythms, mighty vocals, and ridiculously catchy songs about gods, swords, ships, battles, and shields, it doesn’t matter what they play, it will all be consumed just as rapaciously. Even when vocalist Johan Hegg explains his voice isn’t on top form because of a cold, nobody really believes his as it certainly doesn’t hamper his performance in any way.
Against the backdrop of a Viking helmet drum riser, the stage set becomes more like an Iron Maiden show with each tour. Viking warriors come out and do battle with axes and swords, Loki makes his usual skeletal appearance, a giant sea serpent emerges from the back of the stage, golden confetti explodes into the air, and Hegg gulps ale from his mighty drinking horn before smashing the stage with his oversized Mjølner/Mjölnir (a big fucking hammer for all of you non-Vikings). Even the sweaty, excitable crowd gets involved with another, now traditional ‘rowing pit’.
It’s pure theatrics for sure, but even without all the accessories and nordic silliness, the band are a cut above. Riffs, hooks, melodies, hair, beards and more riffs, you simply cannot argue with the likes of ‘Raven’s Flight’, ‘Runes to My Memory’, ‘Death in Fire’, ‘Deceiver of the Gods’, ‘Guardians of Asgaard’, ‘First Kill’, ‘Shield Wall’, ‘The Way of Vikings’, and the drunken anthem of ‘Raise Your Horns’. Ending with a rousing encore of ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ and a frankly immense ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’, people crowd surf and throw themselves around the pit like berserkers on a mission from Odin. All this meaning Amon Amarth can set sail happily from these shores, utterly victorious once more.