Amon Amarth/Grand Magus/In Solitude
Mandela Hall, Belfast
Wednesday 14 March 2012
Review by Mark Ashby
Photography by Jamie Hunter
This was part of a short series of dates, built around the annual Hammerfest extravaganza in north Wales, and marked a much welcomed return to Belfast for two of the three bands – and especially for the mighty Amon Amarth, who had skipped the city on the first leg of their ‘Surtur Rising’ tour, by virtue of having teamed up with Children Of Bodom and visiting only Dublin on last year’s Irish leg.
In Solitude arrived with a reputation preceding them as one of the most promising up and coming young Scandinavian pure metal bands.
With a reputation cemented by their recent nomination for a vaunted ‘Golden God’ – and a sizeable portion of the satisfyingly strong midweek crowd had turned out early to greet them.
In return, the Swedes delivered a solid but slightly dissatisfying set of NWOBHM-infused twin guitar attack metal.
With strong elements of Diamond Head, Mercyful Fate and, especially, Angel Witch, marked with long instrumental passage and frontman Pelle’s histrionic vocals –
…although his delivery and stage presence left much to be desired and the sound was muddied throughout.
Grand Magus were a totally different proposition,Seasoned pros compared to the inexperienced newcomers.
“It’s great to be finally back in Belfast… and in a proper Viking setting as well!” beamed guitarist/vocalist JB, as the band ploughed into an accomplished and highly pleasing set – surprisingly aided by what turned out to be the best sound mix of the night (the headliners’ suffered with a lot of bass and bottom end, perhaps attributable to the shape of the venue).
Given a good hour plus to win over the crowd, the trio did so early on, with the rousing ‘Silver Into Steel’ and the majestic doom of ‘Wolves Return’, complete with its Slayer-esque intro. ‘Hammer Of The North’ had the entire basement venue singing along gleefully while ‘Iron Will’ produced much fist pumping and devil hornery as the band ripped the place apart with their brand of anthemic Viking metal.
For all the strength of Grand Magus’ set, however, Amon Amarth were in a completely different league.
Despite not being able to fit the much-promised ‘Runes’ set into the building, never mind onto the stage itself (and problems with backlines blowing up in soundcheck!), this setback seemed to actually work in the quintet’s favour, as they stripped everything back to the basics – with triumphant results.
Giant vocalist Johan Hegg paused momentarily to soak up the response of the adoring 400 or so crowd, before he and his fellow Vikings launched into the ferocious opening couplet of ‘War Of The Gods’ and ‘Live Without Regrets’, Hegg cajoling and encouraging his warriors with arms upraised, toasting the fans with pints of Guinness.
‘Destroyer Of The Universe’ rushed pell mell into the apocalypse, while ‘Runes To My Memory’ brought what little was left of the house down: this is how heavy metal is supposed to be played – loud and proud, aggressive yet melodic, with the attitude of “fuck you if you don’t get it, or like it”!
This was very much a festival friendly set – an 85 minute run through of fan favourites and Viking death metal anthems… but done with style, aplomb and no small dose of humour. ‘The Beheading Of A King’ did exactly that, ripping the skulls of non-believers from their shoulder, while ‘Where Is Your God’ was epic in its tsunamic impact, and contrasted brilliantly with the melodic progression and almost delicate touch of ‘Under The Northern Star’.
‘Cry Of The Blackbirds’ sent even the oldest, most cynical rocker rushing pitwards, turning the room into a seething, spinning mass of humanity (security had all but given up trying to enforce the house ‘no moshing’ rule) while ‘Death In Fire’ brought the main set to a tumultuous conclusion, before the masterstroke encore of ‘Twilight Of The Thunder God’ and ‘Guardians Of Asgaard’ provided the perfect ending to an almost perfect set: indeed, Hegg was enjoying himself that much he stayed on stage well after the outro music had died and the house lights were raised, fist-pumping and high-fiving fans, and grinning from ear to ear in the process.
Belfast will be awaiting the return of the thunder gods. Hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later…
For Video footage of the gig please click on the following links!