The last few years have seen a dramatic increase of interest in the metal community. With more and more audiences flocking to shows, metal, it seems, has never been more popular. Each of the evening’s three acts: Amon Amarth, Enslaved and Skeletonwitch, has enjoyed an increase in popularity as of late, and for well-deserved reasons.
Though drastically different stylistically, openers Enslaved and Skeletonwitch each put on excellent performances. After releasing Beyond the Permafrost (Prosthetic Records) seven years ago, Skeletonwitch has made a name for itself as one of metal’s most persistent groups. The band maintains a seemingly never-ending touring schedule, with a string of solid records. The thrash/black metal combo effectively riled up the crowd, as everything from shoes to shirts were ejected from the rapidly expanding mosh pit.
After the chaos of Skeletonwitch’s set, an admittedly hungover Enslaved took the stage. The past few years have seen Enslaved gradually shift from a die-hard black metal band to a progressive band with black metal undertones, and judging by the latest offering, RIITIIR (Nuclear Blast Records), change is good. Enslaved’s traditionally existentialist lyrics and black metal drumming patterns combined with softer sections. Clean vocals made a surreal set that is truly worth witnessing. Though the performance was excellent, 45 minutes seemed entirely too short for a group like Enslaved, whose compositions typically last for a minimum of six or seven minutes.
Occasionally, a group will construct a set that is so well-balanced and crafted that it becomes almost as impressive and memorable as the performance itself. Amon Amarth did precisely that. By the time Odin’s favorite sons finished their 17-song, 90-plus-minute set, the crowd was left awestruck by the Swedish quintet. In an era where a headlining performance typically lasts anywhere from 50-70 minutes, other acts should take note: this is how you properly construct a headlining set and ensure your fans get their money’s worth. No song sounded out of place, and filler tunes simply weren’t present. Even the eight-minute ballad “Warriors of the North” never dragged on in the slightest.
Opening with new single “Father of the Wolf” (see the recently released 10-minute short film here), the performers erupted into a dizzying cyclone of hair during most of the set. With a thematic emphasis on camaraderie, pagan mythology and standing your ground until the bitter end, lyrical tales took new life as the audience raised fist and beer can alike, creating a triumphant tavern-like vibe throughout Center Stage. Fans of Amon Amarth’s latest series of records should rejoice, as 13 of the 17 tracks played came from the group’s latest three records; though since the material is regarded as the group’s strongest, it seems doubtful that even longtime fans will have qualms.
While the group was playful and interacted with the crowd frequently, it never once felt like pandering. “It’s pretty motherfucking cold here,” frontman Johan Hegg quipped, with a smile on his face and his trusty war horn strapped to his side. “Not for us…we’re from Sweden! But for you guys.” Amon Amarth is a group that know its audience well, yet have the ability to keep newcomers interested. By the time the final chorus of “The Pursuit of Vikings” kicked in, even admitted novices were in on the fist-pounding fun. If Deceiver of the Gods (Metal Blade Records) is any indication of the future, Amon Amarth has a trajectory ahead of them that is as bright as their beloved Thor’s lightning hammer.