Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Concert Review: Amon Amarth, Enslaved, and Skeletonwitch

Amon Amarth is heavy metal’s version of life imitating art: twenty-two years in, the beardy Swedes are laying waste to music venues more vociferously than ever and solidifying their place in the pantheon of heavy metal. Last year’s uncompromising Deceiver of the Gods opened at #19 in the US charts, the highest death metal album by a band not based on a cartoon, and yet many fans argue that Amon Amarth isn’t even the most important band on its current tour. They have a point, too, because when a concert boasts a one-two punch of Amon Amarth and a black metal titan like Enslaved, it’s bound to be one hell of a night. At the House of Blues in Boston, the pillaging was in full force as native opener Skeletonwitch knocked down the gates on a stupendous evening of Odin worship, heraldry, and fist-pumping metal anthems.

Half an hour before doors opened, fans were lined up for blocks in anticipation of the early 5:00 start. As the temperature dipped into the thirties, many stood in jeans and t-shirts to save themselves the $5 coat-check (or perhaps show off their Viking attitude), a lone hot dog stand making a killing as it provided relief from the cold. Finally, the gates swung open and the sounds of Judas Priest’s Painkiller welcomed fans to the House of Blues. With three levels and a capacity close to 2,500, the theater provides a variety of viewing options: for a laid-back experience, the upper levels give some space and save your ears, while those seeking a full frontal can hit the showroom floor to get up close and personal with the bands. The lower level features a perimeter of three full bars and two merchandise areas besides the actual stage, which at fifty feet wide allows a sizable crowd to ride the railing.

Skeletonwitch was first to take the stage, looking patently metal with their long blond hair and spiky wristbands. Vocalist Chance Garnette stalked the stage like a creature possessed as the band tore through a set of three-to-four minute blackened thrash bombs, providing perhaps the most energetic set of the night. Highlights included “Burned from Bone,” an explosive cut early in the set, and “Beneath Dead Leaves,” a driving At the Gates-style number from the band’s recent fifth LP, Serpents UnleashedStalwart fans were treated to “Within My Blood,” which closed both Skeletonwitch’s breakthrough effort Beyond the Permafrost as well as their set on this tour. Chance took a moment towards the end of the set to point out that it was lead guitarist Nate Garnette’s birthday, and that any beers sent his brother’s way would be very much appreciated. Notably, the number of Skeletonwitch shirts in the crowd actually rivaled that of Enslaved; while it represented an unusually strong turnout for an opener, the Ohio thrashers certainly earned the support with a highly enjoyable show.

“I still hear the baaaattle cryyyy!” More ‘Priest echoed across the floor, followed by billowing smoke machines. Visually, the concert changed demeanor between each act – for Skeletonwitch, bright green light bathed the stage, while upon Enslaved’s entrance, the scene changed to a more somber blue light. As the smoke cleared, Enslaved took the stage to raucous cheers, the upper levels of the theater now beginning to fill. Following the high-intensity display from Skeletonwitch, the Enslaved set seemed almost serene as the band allowed cuts such as “Thoughts Like Hammers” to build over the course of several minutes.

Not to be outdone by its predecessor, Enslaved eventually brought the crowd to a frenzy with “Ethica Odini,” the title track of 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini. Halfway through a six-song set, vocalist Grutle Kjellson apologized to the crowd for Enslaved’s abbreviated forty-five minute “special guest” slot, but declared that some “old shit” was in order for the long-time fans. Guitarist Ivar Bjørnson promptly broke into “Oh Suzanna” before Kjellson clarified that some old Enslaved shit was due, and “Allfǫðr Oðinn,” from the band’s 1994 debut, then flooded across the arena to the audience’s obvious delight. After concluding with the eponymous track of its Spellmannprisen-award winning album Isa, Enslaved took a bow and called it a night.

Following another fifteen minute break, the headlining Swedish titans took the stage under cover of darkness, which soon gave way to dramatic red lights and lasers. Fortunately for relatively new fans like me, Amon Amarth’s set list was heavy on new material, and “Father of the Wolf,” from its new album Deceiver of the Gods, kicked things off in dramatic fashion. Johan Hegg’s not-quite-guttural vocals were clearly audible by live metal standards, and Fredrik Andersson’s thrumming double-bass – the kind you can feel in your chest – seemed to give the fans a second wind. Amon Amarth wasted no time in getting to crowd favorites, as Deceiver’s title track burst forth with its epic introduction and tremendous chorus, while crowd favorites The Last Stand of Frej, Destroyer of the Universe, and War of the Gods anchored the fifteen-song main set. Returning for an encore, the band broke for some crowd interaction during its signature song, “The Pursuit of Vikings,” as Hegg challenged the crowd to sing along: “Let me tell you something, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the lyrics. It’s death metal – no one will know the difference!”And sing they did, like a band of jubilant mead-soaked sailors.
The party wasn’t nearly over, though; once the last notes faded and the sets were packed up, both Skeletonwitch and Enslaved decompressed with the fans at the merch stands. For those fans who had wished Enslaved to headline, it must have come as ample reward to meet the guys in a relaxed and intimate setting – no Meet & Greet passes needed. Though Chance (of Skeletonwitch) headed out early – word is he had plans with his girl – every other band member shared drinks and stories with their fans, signed posters and CD’s, took photos, and generally made their followers feel like they were not only appreciated, but integral to what each band was all about. Indeed, on this chilly night on the first of February at the House of Blues, it was all about Thor, triumph, and that awesome spectacle that only a killer trio of bands and their raucous fans can create.

Setlists and links:

Skeletonwitch (Facebook / Official Site)

1. The Horrifying Force (The Desire to Kill) 
2. I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)
3. Burned from Bone
4. Sacrifice for the Slaughtergod
5. Beyond the Permafrost
6. From a Cloudless Sky
7. Crushed Beyond Dust
8. Beneath Dead Leaves
9. Within My Blood

Enslaved (Facebook / Official Site)

1. Death in the Eyes of Dawn
2. Ruun 
3. Ethica Odini 
5. Allfaðr Oðinn 
6. Isa

Amon Amarth (Facebook Official Site)

1. Father of the Wolf
2. Deceiver of the Gods 
3. Death in Fire 
4. For Victory or Death 
5. As Loke Falls 
6. Coming of the Tide 
7. Runes to My Memory 
8. Varyags of Miklagaard
9. The Last Stand of Frej 
10. Guardians of Asgaard 
11. Shape Shifter 
12. Warriors of the North 
13. Destroyer of the Universe 
14. Cry of the Black Birds 
15. War of the Gods 
16. Twilight of the Thunder God 
17. The Pursuit of Vikings

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