08 November 2016

REVIEW: AMON AMARTH, Testament and Grand Magus; O2 Academy, Birmingham – 5 November 2016

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Amon Amarth

It’s bonfire night and the scent of gunpowder hangs heavy in the air. The queue to get in to the O2 Academy is vast, eager metal fans out in the cold for this highly anticipated night. Inside, the crowd is in very good spirits, drinking horns are charged and the over-priced beer is flowing.

Grand Magus

Grand Magus

GRAND MAGUS is on stage as many in the crowd are still making their way through security. Their first track “I, The Jury” receives rapturous applause from those assembled. The Swedish heavy metal trio share themes with tonight’s headline act; Norse mythology and battle but in a more accessible way. This is feel good music; there is much singing along and plenty of merriment being had tonight. “Varangian” from this year’s album “Sword Songs” went down particularly well, as did their 2010 title track “Hammer of the North”, which closed the set. As the band take a bow, the crowd are still harmonising along to the now non-existent music – in high spirits indeed.

Testament

Testament

Our special guests, legendary Bay Area thrashers TESTAMENT, need very little introduction. The band is famous for their consistently good output and tonight’s ferocious performance is no exception. Whereas the more commercially successful Big Four thrash bands can be hit and miss – TESTAMENT exude quality and energy in equal measure. Their eleventh studio album “Brotherhood of the Snake” was released just days before the show but the new tracks, such as “Pale King” and the title track, go down a storm. Naturally the classics, “Into the Pit” and “Over the Wall”, are particularly well received by those with a proclivity for moshing and crowd surfing. You’ve not lived until you’ve seen a guy in heavy chainmail ploughing through a mosh pit dripping sweat and beer.

A relatively short changeover and a huge horned helmet is revealed on stage, the first blasts of AMON AMARTH’s “The Pursuit of Vikings” rings out and the crowd surges. In the very eye of the storm, I’m in the midst of a Viking shield wall, bodies push up against each other, my view is limited, beer splashes through the air and I feel bones breaking beneath my feet (ok, it may have just been discarded plastic cups). With only my reviewer’s notepad and pen as defence, I plant my feet, say a silent prayer to Thor and embrace whatever fate the gods have in store for me.

Amon Amarth

Amon Amarth

The Swedish melodic death group’s stage shows seem to get more and more dramatic each time I see them. “The Way of Vikings”, from their 2016 album “Jomsviking”, brings us a staged duel fought between two armoured Vikings. One of my personal favourites from “Jomsviking”, “One Thousand Burning Arrows”, offers a change of pace; an epic ballad to a fallen king. Before the living embodiment of Loki, the trickster, joins us for the rousing “Father the Wolf” from 2013’s “Deceiver of the Gods”.

The crowd are clearly relishing every moment of this gig. Drinking horns raised aloft; the pit hasn’t stopped churning. There is something about AMON AMARTH’s colossal tales of heroism and battle that many metalheads find irresistible; particularly when combined with the band’s crushing rhythms. Johan Hegg’s rich thunderous roar is on fine form. If I ever went back in time and met a real life Viking and he didn’t sound like Johan I’d be bitterly disappointed.

The encore is upon us, my neck will surely ache in the morning and I’ve been punched in the face (don’t take your eye off the pit when you’re that close; not even to headbang). Johan strolls out on stage for the anthemic “Raise Your Horns”; he downs a drink from what is as the biggest horn I’ve ever seen, surely leaving everyone else in the room feeling pretty inadequate. The night draws to an end with flashes of lightning, the arrival of the humongous sea-serpent Jörmungandr and Thor’s hammer Mjölnir for “Twilight of the Thunder God”.

A night of spectacle and escapism comes to a close; the crowd filter out into the night, the sound of thunder ringing in their ears. The fans embraced the mix of genres on offer tonight; each band offering something different but at the highest quality. It was certainly a memorable one.

Rebecca banner

Photography by Paul Thrupp – full gallery here.

Grand Magus setlist

  1. I, The Jury
  2. Sword of the Ocean
  3. Varangian
  4. Steel Versus Steel
  5. Like The Oar Strikes The Water
  6. Iron Will
  7. Hammer Of The North

Testament setlist

  1. Brotherhood of the Snake
  2. Rise Up
  3. The Pale King
  4. Disciples of the Watch
  5. The New Order
  6. Dark Roots of Earth
  7. Stronghold
  8. Into the Pit
  9. Over the Wall
  10. The Formation of Damnation

Amon Amarth setlist

  1. The Pursuit of Vikings
  2. As Loke Falls
  3. First Kill
  4. The Way of Vikings
  5. At Dawn’s First Light
  6. Cry of the Black Birds
  7. Deceiver of the Gods
  8. On a Sea of Blood
  9. Destroyer of the Universe
  10. Death in Fire
  11. One Thousand Burning Arrows
  12. Father of the Wolf
  13. Runes to My Memory
  14. War of the Gods
  15. Raise Your Horns
  16. Guardians of Asgaard
  17. Twilight of the Thunder God