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Gig Review : AMON AMARTH ‘THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY’ TOUR THE HALLS, WOLVERHAMPTON

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Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

The hallowed halls formerly known as the Civic have been closed for a while, during which some extensive redevelopment and updating has been undertaken, primarily they have added an extra balcony extending the capacity to a mighty 3000 folk.

Now, having just recently re-opened, it has a number of high-profile bands already lined up. The staff, some of which are new to the role of hospitality may still be a little wet behind the ears, but, the organisation and the willingness to help everyone is a breath of fresh air. Long may this continue.

Tonight, we have the Swedish melodic death metal band, AMON AMARTH gracing this newly decorated establishment. Getting there reasonably early sees a welcoming queue of eager fans. The Security ask the growing queue if there is anyone here for ‘Lukas Nelson’, Willie Nelson’s boy who is appearing around the corner at the Wulfrun Centre, I doubt there is but they ask anyway, kudos guys.

Hitting the stage first is the Glaswegian 5piece ‘BLEED FROM WITHIN’. Formed in 2005 and hailing from north of the border in Glasgow. They are no strangers to venues south of Hadrian’s wall having already toured with the likes of Testament and Megadeth, and played at the metal festival that is Bloodstock. They have previously toured with tonight’s headliners, ‘AMON AMARTH’ back in 2013 as part of Metal Hammers, ‘Defenders of the Faith 4’ tour.

Over the years they have, like a lot of young bands, gone through a change in their line-up, Scott Kennedy has remained the growling brutal vocalist, but in 2017 Steve Jones joined the band on second guitar but also added a clean vocal to the bands unique sound, an amalgam of Metalcore and Melodic Death Metal, the hard-hitting breakdowns punctuating a brutal growled vocal interspersed with Jones clean lyric over the top of riffed guitars and the essential blast beats from the feet of Ali Richardson. A recipe for a great opening set.

They get the proceedings underway with a trio of earth tremblers from the latest album ‘Shrine’. Opener, ‘Stand Down’ is slammed out hard full of down tuned nastiness, the band are on it with windmilling hair and a guttural vocal from Kennedy as he patrols the stage, his foot on the riser as he howls in to the microphone.

This is going to be a dark set, their large white logo hiding the Amon Amarth set for later, that means they are pushed well forward on the stage. The faster tempo of, ‘Sovereign’ continues the onslaught, they have set their stall out nicely with concussive drums and a wall of nasty guitar. The vocal is dark and brooding and the crowd seem to be behind them already as a mosh pit has opened up behind the front few rows without the asking, they are giving it large. A wall of death is eventually summoned on vocalist Kennedy’s command.

Kennedy comments on how beautiful the movement was and asks for it to continue with ‘Levitate’ the final of the new trio, which starts with a drum riff and Steve Jones clean vocal, this is only temporary as Kennedy takes over and the gates of hell are unleashed with his scowling vocal delivery. The punctuated clean vocals and melodic guitar harmonies of the band, provide an excellent counterpoint to each other. The breakdowns so far have been destructive in their power.

Kennedy gives the usual banter asking how Wolverhampton is doing, He screams that they are ‘Bleed from Within’ from Glasgow, Scotland. Amongst the cheers there is ‘allegedly’ a boo, he responds quickly with “you can take the piss outa my band but you can never take the piss outa my country” isn’t that a Mel Gibson line? The crowd cheer and whistle the connection anyway, as Kennedy jokes.

He points out that it’s been 9yrs since the band last played Wolverhampton which is met with a tumble weed moment. Again, he’s on it “Jesus Christ Wolverhampton, wake the f*&k up, I thought this was a Metal show”, “We’re next door to Birmingham, the home of heavy metal and you guys are asleep tonight, what the F*&k is going’ on! That got a response, “maybe this will wake up all the old school metal heads in tonight, it’s called ‘Into Nothing’ from the 2020 album Fracture.

The dark riffs blast out as the screamed vocal assaults your ears. This is going down with the athletes in the circle pit as they race around clearly having the time of their lives during the scorching break downs. The night continues with ‘Pathfinder’, dedicated to a young man in the crowd, it’s another from the earlier album, Fracture. We are being treated to a set comprising the last two albums, both feature a guttural vocal bookended with walls, full of destructive bass beats and scorching drop tuned guitar runs.

Through-out the set Kennedy is asking for a bigger circle pit, which the crowd eagerly oblige. It’s a night of high energy and the temperature in the hall has risen exponentially along with each song’s ferocity, this continues with ‘Flesh and Stone’, another concussive grenade of a song by this young band, I say young they have been going since 2005 so are well versed in putting a show together. Kennedy points out that the band is down its Bass player Davie Provan who is at home dealing with family issues, however the wall of sound is such that the bass rumble, or lack of, isn’t immediately apparent.

The onslaught continues with blast beats and scorching vocals, standing at the back of the room, your almost pinned to the wall with the concussive waves coming from Ali Richardson’s fast hands and feet. The clean vocal and melodic harmony sing along sections allow you to catch your breath before your beaten to a pulp as the breakdowns try to dismember your body.

‘I Am Damnation’ continues to destroy all in its path. The circle pit is huge and the runners and riders are bouncing around like snow in a snow globe, each one of them has a smile from ear to ear as they bump and bounce around, picking each other up, as is the rules, as they go. Kennedy screams out that “the guys at the back look pi$$ed off that we aren’t Megadeth”, before continuing with the guttural onslaught, the dropped tuned guitars grind away in yet another great track from the new album.

The set is finished with a visit back to Fracture for the Visceral ‘The End of All We Know’ a fitting end to the night, The song is preceded with the usual thanks to the crowd and AMON AMARTH for having them on the tour. Scorching guitars and snare drum herald this high-octane final song. The staccato delivery has the crowd going nuts. The breakdown has a right free for all rumble going on in the circle pit. Kennedy makes his way onto the barrier. He screams for the crowd to gather in the middle, The crowd are up for it as he is carried aloft into the crowd as he continues to growl the lyrics. This is Kennedy’s Lion King moment as the crowd has now encircled him as he is held above the heads of the crowd, the band powers on as he enjoys this moment.

A great finish to the set, as Kennedy is helped back over the barrier, the crowd are cheering and clapping. BLEED FROM WITHIN have broken Wolverhampton, after a few sticky moments that the band worked through they have gotten the crowd onboard and subsequently, the roof is being lifted in appreciation. A band to watch out for if you like your metal hard and fast with a touch of the Bravehearts thrown in. Now that’s how you warm a crowd up.

While set change occurs a curtain is put up to shield the eager eyes from the AMON AMARTH set. Having seen them when they toured with MACHINE HEAD and The HALO EFFECT late last year, it’s a set I know is going to be A killer.

For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they’re from Sweden, their name is the Elvish Sindarin name for Mount Doom from J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous series of books, he was heavily into Norse mythology and several of his characters names can be found in Norse folklore. They formed in 1992, but prior to that they presented as a Grindcore band called ‘SCUM’, which parted its ways after a failed demo in 1991. With a couple of new members, the Death Metal band Amon Amarth was formed. After two demos released as AMON AMARTH the band had picked up and following, and the rest is history so they say.

They signed to Pulverise Records in 1996 and released a mini cd ‘Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds’. Around this time, drummer, Niko Kaukinen left the band, he was replaced by Martin Lopez, he would later leave and join ‘OPETH’. In 1998 they released their debut album on Metal Blade Records, ‘Once Sent from The Golden Hall’ full of driving buzzsaw riffs and Hegg’s booming, guttural, black metal roar. In the June, guitarist Hansson left as did Lopez. Frederik Anderson joined on drums and Johan Söderberg joined on guitar. They went on to release ‘The Avenger’ in 1999, this didn’t go without the band issuing a quote referring to a short-lived feud with HAMMERFALL. ‘The Crusher’ followed in 2001 and is thought by many to be their most brutal of offerings. ‘Versus the World’ was released in 2002, ‘Fate of Norns’ came in 2004 and ‘With Odin on Our Side’ in 2006.

In 2008 their recording contract was duly extended to include another three albums. And, following the 2009/10 U.S. tour the first of these albums, ‘Surtur Rising’ was released the following year, 2011. By 2013 they had grown in popularity to the point they appeared at several festivals throughout the following summers, Wacken in 2012, Hellfest, Download, and Sweden Rocks in 2013 to name a few.

In June 2013 the 9th studio album was released, ‘Deceiver of Gods’. To critical acclaim. The line up had remained unchanged until, drummer Andersson decided it was time to leave, the band were part way through the 10th album so session drummer Tobias Gustafsson was drafted in to complete the recording, the album ‘Jomsviking’ was released in 2015. A year later Jocke Wallgren was taken on as the full-time drummer. He went on to record the latest albums ‘Beserker’ in 2019 and ‘The Great Heathen Army’ in 2022. This final album being toured with Machine Head and The Halo Effect in 2022 on the ‘Vikings and Lionheart’ World Tour.

Their music style has been dubbed ‘Viking Metal’ but the band insist they are a Melodic Death Metal band who base they’re songs on Norse Mythology, Pre Christianity , Blood, Thunder and battles. They are a victim of their popularity driven by their choice of anthemic themes of factual significance, what-ever the genre you decide, they are a powerhouse of a band that bring the Scandinavian theatre to each and every show.

With ‘Run to The Hills’ by Iron Maiden played through the house PA, the crowd singing along, the cheers erupt as the music fades and AMON AMARTHs prelude to ‘Guardians of Asgaard’ plays, the curtain finally drops and Hegg is up front towering over the congregation before him. Behind his massive beard and long hair are young eyes twinkling with pride as he smiles like a Cheshire cat. He’s straight into the deep brutal growl as the band provide a wall of sound that crushes into the nodding heads along the barrier and further back.

The chants continue to flow from the crowd as Hegg swaps sides as he delivers to the crowd. The flurry of fast feet swiftly change as ‘Ravens Flight’ from 2020’s ‘Beserker’ continues with soaring guitar more Viking cries. A song smashes hard as it bounces along. The Mosh Pit is hard at work. As guitar harmonies and crashing cymbals sound all the world as a battle is being fought.

Johan Hegg address’s the crowd, He stands proud on stage soaking up the atmosphere, He asks Wolverhampton if they’re ok, they are screaming back in response to his deep, bass voice as he announces, “you really are ‘The Great Heathen Army’. Hegg’s singing vocal is so deep its abnormal as this one crushes. Wallgren sat between the horns of his kit has a great view as he slams into his kit hard. The ‘Hails’ fly from the crowd in response to Hegg. Two warriors have appeared on the set and are striking threatening poses to all.

A flurry of drums and guitar continue as ‘War of The Gods’ from Surtur Rising continues the onslaught. The 32nd notes on the kick drum are slaying in their precision. The crowd are singing along, fists are being punched as the song plays out. The second song from the latest album is up next and I have to admit it’s my favourite, for nothing else than it’s about a Goat, the tree of life and milk for the warriors. ‘Heidrun’. It’s got a super bouncing riff as Hegg introduces her. Heads are nodding along “who is the goat” bellows Hegg “Heidrun” replies the crowd as one. Brilliant I love that song. The two huge inflatables are deflated quickly.

Hegg tells us we’re going back to 2002 and ‘Versus the World’ for ‘Death in Fire’. He plays with the crowd getting them to scream “FIRE” after he’s bellowed “Death In”. “Not one of the better-known songs on the set but let’s pretend it is” continues Hegg. As the song plays out, he screams to see the “horns”. The hall is being pulverised with fast feet and scorching guitars once more as the crowd are teased with a false start into ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ from ‘Fate of Norns’. The commanding presence of Hegg is powerful as he leads a round of “Hails” with the crowd. The guitars are sawing away as they power through the riffs swapping sides and somewhat teasing the crowd into a fight.

‘Deceiver of the Gods’ follows, the title track to the album of the same name. The band are joined by LOKI who weaves his way around the band amidst the smoke. LOKI is the deceiver, as he tries to turn the band members, Hegg sees LOKI off in good time. The crowd join in with the singing along to the repetitive guitar riff as the song finally plays out.

Eight songs in and we’ve already visited seven albums. The next is another from 2022’s The Great Heathen Army called ‘Find a Way or Make One’. It’s introduced by Hegg saying “when ever life throughs something at you, you can always Find a Way or MAKE ONE”. The familiar guitar sound rips out, it’s a marching anthem that has a good stomping back beat. The guitars have a Priest sound to them as Hegg tells everyone to stand tall and fight.

With a set bathed in blue light the crowd have already guessed what’s coming, they are sat on the floor in rows. A wind and rain effect is played over the PA as the crowd start shouting ‘ROW’ ‘ROW’ ‘ROW’. This can only mean its ‘Put Your Back into The Oar’ released in 2022 before the latest album release, as a single. Hegg motions for the crowd to sit down, they are down before he has finished his words. This is the metal version of ‘Upside your head’.

Hegg says “get down, this is where you row like f*&king Vikings”. The hall is full of longships being rowed as the band keep time. The ‘ROW’ chant is repeatedly called out by the crowd as they do so. A great sight to see as young and old put their backs into imaginary oars. Hegg’s final roar is greeted with huge applause.

How do you follow that one, it seems ‘Destroyer of the Universe’ from ‘Surtur Rising’ is the answer. The crowd sing along as this one powers along with the subtly of Thor’s hammer. The guitars scream and soar as the beats from Wallgren continue to punish. ‘The Way of the Vikings’ from the eighth album to be visited tonight, ‘Jomsviking’ released back in 2015. The military precision of the drums slam hard as the brutal growls of Hegg sings about best friends fighting until their last breath. It’s a brutal song about brutality and expectations of two warriors. The music video is based around a bare-knuckle fight showing how Viking lore is ever present in modern life.

‘The Beserker at Stamford Bridge’ continues with the punishment, the guitar intro is soothing as it is mournful, Hegg interrupts the lament with his slow brooding delivery about this battle, introducing the giant Beserker. The crowd are head nodding to the beat, its hard not to as is the power of the delivery, after the previous songs ferociousness this one appears to be almost a Ballad. ‘First Kill’ sorts out the universe, the band hadn’t gone soft. Great guitar harmonies introduces the song, a bubbling bass line slams through as Hegg erupts into a power house of guttural roars. The crowd are bouncing along as the riffs fly and the heads rock back and forth amidst the smoke and strobing lights.

Another pose for the crowd as Hegg laps up the cheering, He Screams for a ‘Shield Wall’, another from Beserker. The Blue lights change and the riser is lit by orange the warriors are back on the riser with their shields. The band continue to patrol the stage as Hegg, His foot on the riser growls at the crowd who are steadily clapping along as the lights flash and pulse. The song finishes with Hegg on a riser pointing at the sky.

The set is finished with the crushing ‘Raise Your Horns’ from 2015. It’s a powerhouse of a song, it thunders along with all the grace of an invading horde. Hair is being moved as the crowd bounce along to this, another Norse filled, anthemic tune. Those with horns raise them when asked, those without show the horns with their fists. The crowd erupt when it finishes, but fear not, we are treated to one final track in ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ another from 2008.

Full of thunder and lightning and an almost Iron Maiden style guitar before the brutal scream and a steroid fuelled drum riff that motors like a high-speed train. The guitars are screaming to keep up with the pace the riffs a blur as Hegg brutalises the vocal once more. Necks are going to be sore tomorrow as they strive to keep up with the punishing speed, the tempo change is welcome break.

The song continues with a tasty solo of fast licks and screaming runs before the battle commences once more. Driving riffs and thundering drums bring the song and the night to a climactic conclusion.

AMON AMARTH have delivered the goods once again. A night of Scandinavian Brutality, delivered in a show equal to anything I’ve seen from the likes of Iron Maiden back when they played the smaller 2k-3k venues.

I’m not sure what they are feeding their kids in the schools over there, but the bands coming out of Scandinavia today are immense, they bring the show and leave nothing at home. This is yet another band to get aboard, the express train to Ragnarok is going to be one hell of a trip with these boys.

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