Cheers erupt from the crowd as the intro tape of Finland’s Ensiferum [5/5] begins to play. Band and audience connect instantly; literally seconds into the opening song, ‘From Afar’, the moshing commences and the crowd begin singing along.
They blast through a brief but energetic set filled to the brim with heroic, folk-influenced battle anthems such as ‘Iron’, ‘Into Battle’ and ‘Twilight Tavern’. The band’s ever-hyperactive bassist Sami Hinkka thumps his chest and runs around the stage like Steve Harris on crack whilst guitarist Markus Toivonen performs the impressive feat of jigging and playing a solo at the same time.
As the final notes of closer ‘Iron’ ring from the stage, it’s clear that Ensiferum have won over more than a few fans tonight, whilst those already converted are left wondering why they aren’t far bigger in this country.
Next up are Swedish melodic death metal heavyweights Amon Amarth [4/5], who are currently promoting their freshly released eighth album Surtur Rising and open with the first song from that album, ‘War of the Gods’. Their setlist consists overwhelmingly of songs from their three most recent albums (‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ being the only exception), which unfortunately means that earlier classics such as ‘Death in Fire’ are neglected.
Musically, Amon Amarth are on top form tonight. Johan Hegg, the band’s bearded man-mountain of a frontman, stalks the stage with a menacing grin; somehow managing to be immensely friendly and quite scary at the same time. Modern classics such as ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ and ‘Guardians of Asgaard’ whip the crowd into a fist-pumping, circle pitting frenzy and the songs from ‘Surtur Rising’ blend in seamlessly with the older songs.
After Amon Amarth have left the stage, it’s easy to wonder whether headliners Children of Bodom [3/5], a band notorious for their inconsistency in the live setting, will be upstaged by their two immensely strong support bands. To start with, they seem less enthusiastic and energetic than the opening acts. They aren’t exactly dull, but compared with the sterling performances of both Amon Amarth and Ensiferum, they seem slightly limp. Despite this, the songs themselves sound as good as ever and the band appear to improve as the set progresses.
The setlist is comprised mainly of songs from Hatecrew Deathroll, Follow the Reaper and the band’s new album Relentless Reckless Forever, as well as an impromptu performance of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ accompanied by keyboardist Janne Wirman after he reveals that tonight is frontman Alexi Laiho’s 32nd birthday.