Last time Amon Amarth did a full UK tour they brought a stripped-down production and played intimate venues. This time around they’ve gone all-out and have brought a big stage show with them to some of the UK’s biggest club venues. Unfortunately, I don’t make it to the siege in time to witness Sweden’s second biggest Viking-themed metal export, Grand Magus, lay waste to Birmingham’s O2 Academy – but I am just in time to see the mighty Testament.
Testament – [2.5/5]
The Californian thrash legends don’t have the best sound to work with. With the mids largely scooped out of their mix, the guitars struggle to command any presence whenever they’re not ripping through a ferocious solo. If all I wanted to hear was drums and bass, then I’d have gone to a rave. Even Chuck struggles to overcome the gremlins; his part-melodic, part-aggressive burly bark buried beneath the low end.
The thrash veterans have clearly chosen their setlist with their target audience in mind, drawing predominantly from the polished attack of their most recent three albums, with a couple of oldies thrown in for the diehards. By the time ‘The Formation of Damnation’ concludes proceedings, the sound seems to have more-or-less cleared itself up and it feels like the quintet have only just reached fifth gear before letting the engine die.
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Amon Amarth – [5/5]
The Swedes’ recent decision to move ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ from the end of their set to the very beginning is one of the best they could have made. What a riff to walk on stage to! The guitar tone is thicker and crunchier than a Cadbury’s Crunchie bar full of gravel being fed through a meat grinder, and new drummer Jocke Wallgren sits high above the stage on what is quite possibly the most ludicrously high drum riser I have ever seen.
As one might expect, the setlist leans heavily upon new album Jomsviking, ‘First Kill’ and the rousing ‘Raise Your Horns’ sounding notably colossal in a live setting. ‘One Thousand Burning Arrows’ adds a new dynamic to Amon Amarth’s live show that has until now been missing in that it is the nearest song the Viking hoard has to a ballad. It provides the band with the opportunity to slow things down before moving into the third act with a particularly explosive ‘Father of the Wolf’.
Most noteworthy about tonight’s performance – and it’s something that I personally struggle to get on board with – is the increasing prominence of the onstage theatrics. The drum kit forms the centre piece of a giant (historically inaccurate) horned helmet, which takes up the entire width of the stage. It looks impressive, but given that the association of Vikings and horned helmets actually originated in 1876 when costume designer Carl Emil Doepler decided that the opera singers of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen didn’t look scary enough, it’s a bit of a Viking faux pas.
Am I taking this too seriously? Possibly. Metal, by its nature, is supposed to be fun, and it has a long-standing love affair with onstage theatrics (hello, Iron Maiden) – but I personally find them to be an unnecessary distraction from the music, which is a real shame when your material is as ridiculously strong as that of Amon Amarth. That said, I can appreciate that I’m in the minority, and the crowd seem to enjoy the Viking skirmish between two onstage warriors during ‘The Way of Vikings’ – and these characters reappear several times throughout the set, leering over the crowd with axes and bows.
As they move into the one-two titanic set closer of ‘Guardians of Asgaard’ and ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’, a giant serpent’s head appears towering over the stage and rocking back and forth as the onslaught thunders on beneath it. It’s all very impressive, but with such a colossal, perfectly-executed sound pouring forth from the stage, it could not seem less necessary.
I am convinced that there is no other metal band out there who sound as utterly vast and destructive as Amon Amath in a live setting. These guys have the potential to become the next big major metal band on a scale with Metallica and Maiden and that, from a death metal band in 2016, is pretty fucking impressive indeed. Bring on the next invasion!