Amon Amarth / Goatwhore / Skeletonwitch
Friday, May 1, 2009
***Live Review & All Photos By Kyle Moore, The Metal Magnus
Due to an academic commitment, I was about 30 minutes late to the show, and thus missed the set of hitherto unknown opening act, The Absence. My main objective was to witness Swedish vikings Amon Amarth pillage the dickens out of the sad excuse for a city known as Orlando, Florida. Sadly, the venue was barely adequate for a lineup of such might. Club Firestone is Orlando’s smaller concert venue that feels better designed to accommodate a DJ and packs of tripping ravers, rather than a proper metal gig. The actual stage is utterly tiny! Loading anything more than a basic lightshow is probably not feasible, and band members already crowded by amps and drum risers have very little room to move. On the upside, the venue sounds pretty good for a club its size, and good audio quality should be any concert-goers utmost concern.
I came to this show completely ignorant of both Skeletonwitch and Goatwhore, so I was very curious to see if these two bands could impress a curmudgeonly old goat like myself. Skeletonwitch is a five-piece thrash/black metal band from Ohio with a couple albums under their belt, and their set focused mostly on their newest release, BEYOND THE PERMAFROST. Whenever I judge a band on their live set, I always look to a strong performance from their frontman to set the tone and energy level of the show – fortunately, vocalist Chance Garnette was more than up to the task. The man was a ceaseless windmill of manic energy, racing about the tragically tiny stage to incite his audience. I think I should also credit him for inventing a new style of headbanging – I’ll call it the “axechop” – in which Mr. Garnette drove his head and torso in a linear fashion down towards his monitors, instead of the usual restrained arc. While I can’t imagine that many audience members were familiar with Skeletonwitch, that didn’t stop a pretty strong pit from forming thanks to the solid stream of grinding blackish riffs coming from guitarists Nate Garnette and Scott Hendrick. Overall, I’d give their show a strong thumbs up and would happily see them again.
I’ve heard the name “Goatwhore” bandied about a few times in the underground metal community, and a name like that really sticks out in the crowd. Despite this, I had not heard a single song of theirs until this concert. Overall, they played a really tight, zippy set of solid, dynamic blackened death metal with some mild technical elements. Vocalist Louis Benjamin Falgoust II (love the name!) did a pretty good job keeping the crowd happy and moshing, encouraging us to play a game of “Satanic musical chairs” during their final number. Like Skeletonwitch, they played a 40 minute set before yielding the stage to the band I’ve been drooling to see for some time: the inimitable Amon Amarth.
Until recently, Amon Amarth was one of those bands that had simply passed me by. A very casual listen of FATE OF NORNS some years ago failed to grab my attention, and so I hastily wrote them off. But once their new album, TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GOD, landed in my CD player a few months ago, I was instantly hooked. Somehow, these Swedish titans managed to make brutal, uncompromising death metal that was simultaneously catchy and accessible.
Once they got on stage, it was pretty clear why these guys singlehandedly own the genre of Viking metal – they’re HUGE. Frontman Johann Hegg is at least two heads taller than any of the Americans who took the stage before him, probably 50 pounds thicker, and has a huge Viking beard to top it off. Not to mention the massive drinking horn attached to his leg. So the band that sings of long-dead gods and ancient battles actually look like the Vikings they honor.
After an interminably long sound check, Amon Amarth finally rolled onto the stage with aplomb and extreme fury. Thankfully, they had a decent light show set up, so I was actually able to see the band in colors besides soggy blue and darkroom red. They launched off with the anthemic title track from TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GOD and I was amazed at how many people were screaming along with the song’s obscenely catchy chorus – Amon Amarth has the closest thing to a Viking metal Top 40 hit with that song.
Playing four tracks from TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GOD, it’s clear that Amon Amarth wanted to push their excellent new material as much as possible. But they did not disappoint older fans, either. Performing material as far back as 1998’s ONCE SENT FROM THE GOLDEN HALL, they also drew heavily from their two most recent albums WITH ODEN ON OUR SIDE and FATE OF NORNS.
From a performance perspective, Amon Amarth’s front four poured out staggering amounts of energy without any letting up (though drummer Fredrik Andersson was unlit and virtually invisible.) I’ve heard of their synchronized windmilling before, but it was pretty impressive to see them pull it off live. Guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg played with a vicious intensity I rarely see in a live show, though Mr. Söderberg ‘s technique definitely showed its limitations while trying to imitate Roope Latvala’s shredding solo on “Twilight of the Thunder God.” Johann Hegg alternated his chilling roar with a huge grin and some relaxed banter with the crowd in between songs. He got a little cross with the monitoring engineer when his mic started repeatedly feeding back during “Victorious March,” turning his cheerful gaze into a murderous stare directed offstage, but after an instrumental break and a change of mic he returned to his previously cheerful demeanor. And, yes, they toasted the rabid crowd with a quick “skaal” from the infamous drinking horns.
Overall, Amon Amarth gave a top-notch, primally-satisfying performance that left me wanting more. It’s a shame they were confined to such a pitifully small stage with minimal props – I can only imagine how spectacular their live show could be with more stage room and a budget for some pyrotechnics.
Twilight of The Thunder God
Free Will Sacrifice
Varyags of Miklagaard
For The Stab Wounds In Our Backs
Runes To My Memory
Guardians of Asgaard
Fate of Norns
Bleed For Ancient Gods
Under The Northern Star
Death In Fire
Cry of The Blackbirds
The Pursuit of Vikings
***Thanks to Vince at Metal Blade Records for the press pass.