Amon Amarth, HiFi Bar, Sydney, 14/04/12.

Amon Amarth are one of the most epic bands around, in my opinion, and I was stoked to finally get a chance to see them live. On top of that, it was my birthday weekend, so this review will be somewhat tainted by the two litres of Lowenbrau I drank before the gig, but that seems somehow fitting. If only I could have imbibed it from a drinking horn rather than a beerstein.

Due to the aforementioned drinking, I missed the support bands. According to some reports from friends inside, I didn’t miss much, but I’ll reserve judgment. Besides, it’s all about the Swedish Vikings, so it doesn’t matter. Much as the temptation exists to call Amon Amarth “Viking metal” (and, in casual conversation, that’s exactly what I do), we should try not to. According to monolithic frontman, Johan Hegg, “We’ve never called ourselves Viking metal and like most musicians, we just don’t like to put labels on ourselves. In our mind, it’s very much associated with bands that come out of Norway who are playing a very black metal oriented music and that’s not what we play.”

He’s right, too. Amon Amarth have a distinctive, recognisable style and sound that’s very much their own. A two decade career of unwaning brutality and originality is testament to that. But I love the use of Norse mythology in Amon Amarth’s music – Norse battles, treacherous gods, warriors standing side by side, giants with swords of eternal flame. There’s no doubt they are a Viking band in that respect. The sheer monstrosity of their riffs and Hegg’s relentless vocals roaring out delivering those Norse legends never gets old for me. So call it what you like, this is the best of the Viking stuff. It’s hard, heavy, heart-crushing and powerful, the musical equivalent of a Mjölnir to the brain. (Look it up.)

On Saturday the crowd was well warmed up by the time the lights dropped and the Vikings took the stage. They opened with War Of The Gods, the opening track of their latest full-length, Surtur Rising. We were off and running. It has to be said that the Hi Fi Bar in Sydney is a shit venue and the sound is often awful. The space is just a high box, meaning there’s nowhere for the bass to get into you and everything tops out. The opening couple of tracks suffered for that, but full marks to whoever was working the sound on Saturday, because they got a better mix in the Hi Fi than I’ve ever heard before. And, thanks to the shape of the place, the guitar leads and solos were crystal.

The band moved on to Runes To My Memory from With Oden On Our Side and then back to Surtur Rising for Destroyer Of The Universe. They stayed with the new album for Live Without Regrets. I’m a big fan of Surtur Rising, but I did wonder how much they would play from their huge body of work. I had no need to worry. They moved on, with Thousand Years Of Oppression, from Versus The World.

My favourite Amon Amarth album is Fate Of Norns. I don’t tend to go into the mosh pit these days, mainly because I’m over it, but also because moshes are often lame now. I prefer to get the sound and experience from a bit further back.  But I told my friends that if they played The Pursuit Of Vikings, I would be in there in a flash. And well, fuck me, if they didn’t kick off that brilliant riff only six songs in. And in I went. It turned out the sound was really good right in front of the stage and the miasma of heat and sweat, with Viking hair spinning over us, was awesome. I was right about the mosh pit though. Seriously, Sydney metal fans, what the fuck is up with that? I tried twice to kickstart the mosh, and both times it petered out after about thirty seconds. Pick up your game, Sydney!

In the end the band covered most of their discography – something for everyone. I was stoked that they played The Pursuit Of The Vikings, but I’m sure many people didn’t get their favourite. It’s unavoidable with a back catalogue as vast as the mead hall of Valhalla. But even people who didn’t get their favourite can’t have been disappointed with this gig.

Johan Hegg engages well with the crowd and is a tremendous presence on stage. He introduces tracks, gees up the crowd (which really didn’t need much encouragement, lame moshing notwithstanding) and kept a fantastic level of energy throughout. The band finished the main set with Victorious March from Once Sent From The Golden Halls and then came back for a slamming encore of Twilight of the Thunder God and Guardians Of Asgaard for a truly memorable pillaging of the Sydney metal scene. The two litres of beer may have helped to colour my experience, but I’m pretty sure everyone would agree with me: Amon Amarth are brilliant and they smashed Sydney on Saturday night. Long may they reign and soon may they return. In the meantime, may your hammer arm be ever strong.

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