Photos By Scott Hobbs
The crowd for the October 7th Amon Amarth show in Thunder Bay was made up of the usual suspects. Whereas the folks who had come to see Lacuna Coil a few weeks earlier looked like an intersection of several different kinds of people and music fans, at this show there was a lot more black, denim, leather, and plastic Viking helmets.
Ohio’s Skeletonwitch have come through Thunder Bay several times, but vocalist Chance Garnette pointed out that this was to date the largest crowd to which they’d played in the city. His explanation: “It’s because of Amon Amarth!!!” Skeletonwitch managed to raged their way through several songs in their very short time slot. I’m not familiar with the band’s output, and so I wasn’t able to catch the names of song when they were mumbled or growled in death metal speak (I know one was called “Stand Fight and Die”). Garnette knew how to be the center of attention. He put his whole body into his singing, and at several times he was close to the floor, motioning with his arms as though to bring forth the growls emanating from his chest. Skeletonwitch were as thorough and professional as one might expect.
I’d never seen or heard Sweden’s Sabaton before this show, but their performance took things to another level. The band was a well-oiled machine on stage, with members dancing to and fro amongst one another and at several points jumping in unison while still playing. It was easy to see why Joakim Brodén is so popular – he is most definitely a performer. He engaged not only the crowd but also his band mates, and there were several bad Canadian and Swedish jokes to go around (including requisite snarky comments about hockey teams and championships). But it was not all charm and humour. At one point, before going too far down the road of silly, Brodén reared back and said “How ‘bout we shut the fuck up and play some metal?” The band and crowd were all too happy with the suggestion.
Sabaton put on a slick, professional, and entertaining show. They opened with “Ghost Division” and ended with “Metal Crüe,” and other songs included “The Art of War,” “Swedish Pagans,” and “40:1.” At one point Brodén demonstrated his guitar “mastery” by playing the simplest riff from “Smoke on the Water,” to which the band’s guitarists responded by playing the opening riffs of “Master of Puppets” to shout him down. It was antics such as these that kept the energy going. Even weeks later, it still feels like Sabaton may have upstaged the night’s headliners.
Amon Amarth came on stage to the tune of “Deceiver of the Gods” and then proceeded to go into “Runes To My Memory.” Vocalist Johan Hegg towered over the crowd, his head seemingly almost touching the massive pipes in the ceiling above him. At several points he was able to reach up and hang on to the roof as he leaned out over the crowd. When he spoke, the light was on him, leaving his band mates literally in the dark. It was clear there wasn’t a lot of room on the small stage for so many Viking-sized men.
The mixing was clear, but, given who was playing, one would expect some thunderous volume. Instead the loudest thing on stage was the drum kit. While the Lacuna Coil had been marked by unnecessarily ear-splitting volume, the Amon Amarth show lacked bass for most of the set. Though I tried standing at several vantage points throughout the venue, it didn’t necessarily feel like I was seeing the band live when I couldn’t feel it in my bones.
At first Amon Amarth’s interactions with the crowd were inspired and relevant. Hegg noted that that the band had often stopped in Thunder Bay on the way to somewhere else. However, as he told it, “Then we thought, if we play metal about the Thunder God, then we’d better play in Thunder Bay!”. As the show went on, however, there was increasingly little said from the stage, a direct contrast to the stage presence of Sabaton. Though Hegg did introduce himself and the band, most of what was said was simply barked thank yous and the titles of songs. Amon Amarth mostly appeared to be all business, with very little space for spontaneity. That may have been because the set list was enormous, and they may have felt pressured to get through the entire thing (songs played included “We Shall Destroy,” Free Will Sacrifice,” “Fate of Norns,” “Father of the Wolf,” and “Guardians of Asgaard”). As a result, the show seemed to go on too long, and it times it was almost boring because there was little to differentiate one song from another.
Things improved again toward the end, after playing a series of what Hegg (in a moment of self-awareness?) referred to as “ballads.” After imploring the crowd to “go crazy!” the band then worked through high-energy renditions of “Destroyer of the Universe” and “Cry of the Black Birds.” When the opening chords of “Twilight of the Thunder God” were heard, the back of the stage lit up with LEDs mimicking falling rain, and Hegg reappeared on stage, brandishing a massive hammer. They ended the night on a high note with “The Pursuit of Vikings.” Their powerful closers, however, left questions as what had happened in the middle of the show, when there was seemingly a lot less energy and a lack of stage effects. None of what I noticed seemed to dampen the overall spirits of the hearty crowd, who definitely seemed to enjoy and appreciate the whole thing.
Want to see more photos from the same tour? Check out this post with photos by Justin Richardson.