Monday, December 7, 2009

GIG: Amon Amarth 27/11/09

Amon Amarth are to Vikings and Norse Mythology what Blind Guardian are to Tolkien, Manowar to barbarians, and Motorhead to hard livin'. Up until recently I had made several attempts to get into them and found myself neither in the mood for them, or able to connect with the music. Not out of disdain, or disregard, they just didn't grab me. But, lo, a curious turn of events prevailed when recently the initial, title track, 'Twilight of the Thunder God' from the latest album opened everything right up for me. Struck as if by the proverbial lighting bolt, a curious aural alchemy took place, and I became an instant fan. I find that's all I need, that one song to connect with, and after that I embraced them and hacked through their catalogue, enjoying their narrative-driven, harmonic death metal and the unique presence of Johan Hegg, vocalist and lyricist.

Attending this show, part of their second tour of Melbourne, was very much a last minute thing, having 'discovered' the joy of their music since the announcement of the tour I was considerably relieved that tickets were still available. I was disappointed to go without Richard, who swore profound love and allegiance to the band a long time ago, and who I am certain has been dismayed at my lack of response to them. In hindsight if he felt this way I can understand, I'm a little surprised that I didn't catch on earlier.

Paramount to the success of Amon Amarth is Johan Hegg, charismatic clan-leader; his deep, accented voice, mellifluous and yet masculine. He has the demeanour, if not the sound, of a well regarded ship captain from days of yore, and the camaraderie that he engenders with his buoyant banter, Dickinson-esque playing with the crowd, and the impressive power of his vocal performance leave no doubt that is one of the best front men in metal I have scene. His voice is consistent with the recordings, varied, powerful, and intelligible throughout as he unravels his narratives. His band of brothers prove a worthy support, phenomenally loud, losing some of the harmonic nuance but little of the forceful nature that defines them.

Ripping into 'Twilight of the Thunder God' the band bombard us with a fulminating fusillade of favourites for the better part of two hours with one of the best set-lists they could have picked. I had no quibbles, no disappointments. 'Free will sacrifice', the rip snorting 'Valkyries Ride' with its curious Tom Warrior like pronunciation of 'Val-kyr-a-ree-ess', 'Varyags of Miklagaard', the hurled boulder riffing of 'Guardians of Asgaard', 'Where Silent Gods stand Guard', the near epic 'Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags', 'Live for the Kill', 'Gods of War Arise', the crowd pleasing 'Asator,' 'Runes to my Memory', and the relentless advance 'Death in Fire' which closed out the main set. Returning for encores they offered 'Cry of the Blackbirds' and 'Pursuit of Vikings'. During the latter Hegg broke the last song up with some hilarious call-and-response prompting the crowd with the lyrics only to add "It doesn't matter if you don't know the words, just make something up, it's death will know the difference." Hilarious. Regardless of his stature and stance, and the voice and the solemn severity of the text and form of the songs, Hegg possesses a welcome levity so missing in their particular genre.

In spite of the intensity of the mosh pit and the sheer unification of the roaring crowd, with many punters about me shouting every word, there still managed to a knot of the most mind-numbing muppets I have a encountered at a gig yet. To their credit, they seemed to know every song inside out but they fucked about so much I wanted to kill them: offering interpretive dance, ( including a pastiche of the Michael Jackson 'Thriller' number ), constant text-messaging and attempts at phone calls , and a discussion so intense I started to consider it a symposium on some weighty debate that made me want to scream at them to shut the fuck up and listen to the fucking concert. That drives me mental! Two hours! Two hours, that's it. All they need to do it stand there, have a beer, rock out, go home, blog, root, or send a text message and they're done. Not that hard. ( i won't even get started on the emotionally draining experience going to the cinema can prove to be. ) Also, true to a long standing tradition in Melbourne, a phenomenon I have mentioned elsewhere in my scribblings, some simian soul shouted out for 'Slaaaaaayyyeeerrr'.

Also, before I forget, I must mention too, that the gold medal, for synchronised wind-milling during a live performance goes to....Amon Amarth! Never have I seen such a wonder, without resorting to the light show and pyrotechnics of Maiden melodrama, as that of four men, feet astride, rolling their necks and swinging their hair in perfect unison. Brilliant to behold. If the drummer could have pulled it off, I'm sure he would have.

A quick note on the tour merch too. It's been ages since I've bought a gig tour shirt, Iron Maiden was probably it, for the majority of them are cheap, tatty, and more than i can afford on the night anyway, and they either end up never being worn ( so as to avoid fading ) or falling to peices, worn while doing housework, to paint in, or for L-for-leather to sleep in ( often much to her chagrin as she tucks down in an Exodus or Sodom shirt.) I have to say the Amon Amarth merchandise was, from I saw, consistently cool, in particular the domestic tour shirt with the red mjolnir printed across it. I raise my drinking horn to the publicity and design team resposible for those.

And, speaking of which, where do you get a good drinking horn? I saw at least half a dozen being waved about in the audience, amid clenched fists and horns held high. I would look from and lofty horn to my own plastic cup containing warm beer ( it was Billboards after all ), sigh and wish that I had a drinking horn. Typically, it's a case of drinking-equals-lack-of-horn for me. Boom boom!

Appropriately so, I left the venue to a virtual squall of pelting rain and sheet lightning.
The tattoo of rain, and the rumble of the night sky above as if applause; perhaps a sign that the Gods approve?

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