Since I started going to metal shows again a couple years ago, it has amazed me how wrong my expectations prove to be. Being one of those guys that remembers wearing his hair past his shoulders, but long ago started shaving it before it wasn’t a choice anymore, I always expect the old school bands to bring the crowds. Exodus can’t even sell out The Bluebird, but Baroness can? Danzig plays the The Ogden while Black Label Society plays The Fillmore? Tom G. Warrior plays in front of 100 people at the Marquis Theater only a few weeks before Watain pack the house? Maybe it’s just a Denver thing or maybe I’m just getting old, but I find it odd that Cradle of Filth have been the biggest draw in a city that has had more than its fair share of extremely good metal shows since I’ve been here.
So I really wasn’t sure what to expect from An Evening with Amon Amarth. Sure, I know these guys are big, huge even. In terms of record sales, sound and physical stature, there are few post-1990 metal bands that stack up. Their latest album, Surtur Rising, debuted at #34 on the Billboard 200. Their sound is that of a Western European country being raided by a horde of Vikings…Vikings who listen to death metal full blast on their long boats. And Johan Hegg, seriously, that dude is massive! Even standing in front of a 30 ft. Norse giant wielding an axe as big as an erupting volcano, he looks large! But with only one band on the bill, I wondered how many Mile High Metalheads would make it out on a Sunday night.
A big band with a big lead singer. An even bigger sound with an image and mythology to scale. And they had the crowd to match! The line was wrapped around the 900+ capacity Summit Music Hall when we drove by just before 7pm; the line was wrapped around the building after we finished a couple beers across the street and the line was wrapped around the building an hour later. I cannot tell you the last time I waited 30 minutes to get into a show and I’m hoping it doesn’t happen again anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Denver kept Amon‘s sold-out streak going and I also think it’s great we have all-age venues here, but standing in line for a half hour surrounded by drunk kids telling fart jokes in between bragging about how many people they were going to punch in the face in the pit made me want to punch them in the face. I did feel a little sorry for these kids when I saw them puking in the trash can a little later though. They were just so excited for a show they will never remember.
What sets metal shows apart from the all the other music I see in a live setting is the early start times and the sheer number of bands on the bill. I still don’t quite get this but I’m not complaining. Tickets are always reasonably priced and who’s going to complain that you get to see too many bands for your dollar? But sometimes, when I don’t know the schedule, I can get stuck watching too many shitty metalcore bands before the headliner and sometimes I end up missing an opener I wanted to see because of short set times. It’s not often, in fact this is the first time, I have seen a metal show billed as ‘An Evening With‘ and to be honest, I was a little nervous it would be too much. Surtur Rising has been on heavy rotation for the past month or so and I was really looking forward to the entire album being performed as Set 1. But it was Set 2 that made me nervous. After hearing an hour long album performed live, I didn’t know if I would have it in me for another hour and a half of the same band. Turns out I did have it in me and as I should have expected, Set 2 and the encore were the highlights of the show. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The lights came down and the opening music to War of Gods came on at exactly 8:30pm and for the next 55 minutes we were taken track-by-track through Surtur Rising. As I mentioned before, I really like this album even though I am not a huge death metal fan and seeing it performed live I realized why. This is not your typical death metal. Sure, it sounds like death metal, but you can translate the death growls into words…there are understandable stories being told here. And there is a flow to the album. The rumblings began with War of Gods and the signs that something was about to blow were there with Töck’s Taunt, but it wasn’t until Destroyer of the Universe that they tore the fucking roof off the place. The energy continued to ripple through the venue, threatening to desecrate everything in its path (and causing youngsters to puke) and then, just at the brink of Armageddon, the Vikings took control of the chaos like only masters of the sea can, calming the waves with The Last Stand of Frej. But even Vikings are no match for the power of nature and before long the pit of pandemonium had begun again. ‘pure fucking violence and hate‘ is how A Beast Am I was introduced and I repeat it here because I’m not clever enough to come up with a better explanation for what ensued during that massive track.
Before we knew it, Surtur Rising and Set 1 were over….and I wanted more! I really believe if it weren’t for the Viking imagery and the death metal label, these guys could be the next Metallica in terms of popularity. These Swedes are true professionals. They know how to work a crowd, they write riffs that would convert even the harshest critic of the genre and they sound amazing live. This is amazingly tight heavy metal. Everything tuned perfectly. And for the first time at a metal show I felt like the vocals were perfectly set in the mix. Any band that I don’t know well that can hold my attention for an hour, much less over two hours, is a rare one indeed. I just hope they continue with the over-the-top imagery, if only to keep them from becoming the next Metallica in other aspects.
Set 2 by Brian H:
It would have been nice to have had another month to absorb Surtur Rising before seeing it played in its entirety, but I came out of this show more impressed with the album than going in. It is a perfectly written, perfectly paced album. Knowing this was going to be a two set night I was really looking forward to seeing what would be in the “greatest hits” set list.
There are multiple things that Amon Amarth excel at and opening with a great first song on every album is one of them. Part two of the show started with a variety of thunder sounds effect, which let the audience know we were going to hear the title track from the last album Twilight of the Thunder Gods. As soon as the first guitars came in you knew this set was going to be even more intense than the 1st. The band and the crowd had both stepped it up a level. If you are a longtime fan you had to be pretty happy with the set list, as it included songs from every album except Avenger. The song I was most hoping they would play, Thousand Years of Oppression, from the Versus the World album was a highlight. The unbelievable dynamics of the song are lost a little bit in the live setting, but it was still a great rendition, the middle section of this song is one of the greatest in any metal song ever. The band moved onto Without Fear from the first album and then closed the set with a medley of Victorious March, Gods of War Arise and Death in Fire.
After the required crowd chants, the band hit the stage for a three song encore that began with Cry of the Blackbirds and then moved on to the two highlights of the evening for me, Runes to My Memory and Pursuit of Vikings. Both of these songs have great crowd sing along choruses and Denver was up for their part of it, screaming every word. Honestly Pursuit of Vikings might be one of the best closing songs in all of metal. It has it all. A single note gallop type riff to start the song, before moving into an
infinitely hummable main riff and then one of the purest of all metal choruses…
“Odin! Guide our ships
Our axes, spears and swords
Guide us through storms that whip
And in brutal war”
If you have ever been a metal fan, anytime in your life, Amon Amarth is a band you need to check out. They represent everything that would have made you listen to metal in the first place. The fact that they get more and more popular with every album without sacrificing their original intent makes me love this band even more.
War of the Gods
Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II
Destroyer of the Universe
Slaves of Fear
Live Without Regrets
The Last Stand of Frej
For Victory or Death
Wrath of the Norsemen
A Beast Am I
Doom Over Dead Man
Twilight of the Thunder God
Masters of War
Live for the Kill
With Oden On Our Side
Guardians of Asgaard
Varyags of Miklagaard
Thousand Years of Oppression
Victorious March / Gods of War Arise / Death in Fire
Cry of the Black Birds
Runes to My Memory
The Pursuit of Vikings
Also, check out the newest album, by far one of my favorites of 2011…
Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising
(Metal Blade, 2011)
Despite the album artwork and lyrical content, Amon Amarth do not want you to call this Viking Metal. Well, whatever you want to call it, this is some hard hitting metal with an ebb and flow not often found on death metal albums. Another example of why this band is able to debut on the Billboard charts and sell out headlining shows while other bands in the genre struggle to make ends meet.