AMON AMARTH w/ GRAND MAGUS & BEHEMOTH – Jäähalli (Ice Hall) Black Box, Helsinki, 13.12.2016

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The year is closing up, but December still offered a few shows that seemed like they’d be worth bundling up and venturing out into the dark-but-not-that-cold for. Amon Amarth released their latest album, Jomsviking, earlier this year to largely positive reviews. It makes sense then that the Swedes would eventually visit their neighbors during their album tour. On December 13th, 2016, Jäähalli put their Black Box together once more for this show, featuring Behemoth and Grand Magus.

Full gallery over HERE!

Listen to Behemoth and Amon Amarth’s sets on Spotify:

 

It has been too long since I’ve seen an Amon Amarth headliner show. I did catch them opening for Iron Maiden back in June, but it’s not quite the same as when they’re an opener. The last headlining show of theirs I saw was in October 2008 at MacEwan Hall in Calgary. I think that was the Twilight of the Thunder God Tour. Weirdly, though I did listen to the new album, I haven’t been following them much since TotTG either. I really like Amon Amarth live and they have some great music, but they haven’t done much to keep me engaged in recent years. Their last club show was at Kaapelitehdas, which is my least favorite venue in the city and one that I often avoid at all costs; the one before was in 2012 at Tavastia and I recall the cost of tickets being way overpriced for that venue. So… it was clearly time for me to get a refresher on Amon Amarth and remind myself (hopefully) why I liked them back in the day.

 

Grand Magus had already started their set by the time I made my way inside the Black Box (delayed by some rudeness from the guys at the door). I’m glad to see that this floor-only arena “venue” no longer seems exclusive to LiveNation, as it’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine for shows that bring in too many fans for The Circus to hold. This Swedish three-piece group was unfamiliar to me, but I’m pleased to say that I rather enjoyed their set. Their music was heavy, the vocalist had a rather pleasing voice, and the last song had a pretty nice crowd singalong. As their set ended, I wondered if I should look into their music sometime, as I know a few of the others around Musicalypse HQ would definitely recommend familiarization with these guys.

 

As Grand Magus’ stage set up turned into Behemoth’s stage setup, the place began to fill up properly. This seemed like an event for classic and/or hardcore metal people, as there were countless band patch -covered jean vests and there was even a guy in a plastic viking helmet with a foam warhammer in the true spirit of the event. Behemoth started their set at the odd hour of 19:55 with what looked like the same cool cobra-esque metallic mic stands are they had at Tuska. Unfortunately for me, the front right of the stage was not optimal sound-wise, as the vocals were far too quiet.

One thing I enjoy about Behemoth is that, given a close enough proximity to the stage, you have the potential to engage an extra sense: smell. With the incense on stage, there’s a little extra something else added to your experience that gives a really interesting vibe; the feeling is a bit unique to black metal, likely due to the religious connotations of the incense and the general black metal stance on certain religions. At one point I started to smell a campfire, which was unexpected (and slightly disconcerting) – I don’t know if that was from the stage or if something somewhere had caught fire. Another moment of appreciation should be dedicated to their light tech, who is always incredible and knows exactly how to make these guys look dark and amazing.

Musically, this gig alone was almost worth the cost of the near-50€ ticket. I have absolutely no interest in this style of music, but somehow, live, I really enjoy it. It almost made me want to listen to it at home. What can I say? These guys know how to perform. A mere two songs in and the crowd packed up to the front, proving that I wasn’t the only one who likes it when these guys take the stage. Ultimately, I really have nothing to complain about from their show. It was great. Consider that high praise from someone who’s not into their style and couldn’t name a single song by them.

 

The stage changeover before Amon Amarth started turned out to be a show of its own. They had a forklift to carry Behemoth’s drum platform off the stage for speed and convenience, but it ran out of gas right next to the stage; we had a nice show as the (very efficient yet panicked) roadies rushed to rip everything apart and get it all off stage, while a few others fetched some gasoline to get the forklift out of the way. It was by far the most fun I’ve ever had watching a drum kit get ripped apart.

And in spite of all that, Amon Amarth was still essentially right on time at just past 21:15. I was interested to note that their album-themed Viking ship prop had still not made it to this show, replaced with an arguably cooler though less historically accurate huge horned “Viking” helmet that surrounded the drum kit, complete with glowing eyes that changed color based on the lighting scheme. There were stairs behind the drums as well, which gave hope for a good stage show.

I had forgotten how lively these guys are on stage, as they pranced about to the starting track, “The Pursuit of Vikings.” The drums were a bit over-loud, but as a result, I found myself appreciating Dothraki warlord Jocke Wallgren’s chill heavy beat, which was mixed with enough short blasts of double-kick to keep the rhythm interesting. After the second track, Johan Hegg (vocals) greeted the crowd with probably the best and longest foreign Finnish effort I’ve ever heard anyone attempt on stage, and then changed to English to ask for some sisu and a fucking Viking party before introducing us to the first single off their latest album, “First Kill.”

Regarding the set, I still can’t forgive these guys for dropping “Valhall Awaits Me” from their set, as in my humble opinion it’s far superior to “Runes to My Memory”, but at least they’ve kept “Cry of the Black Birds” from the older material. I’ll also let it slide this time because they kept the awful new Doro song off the set as well. “The Way of Vikings” included a viking battle on stage, with the victor holding up a shield with the Finnish flag’s blue cross on a white background painted on it, while the loser sported the Swedish yellow on blue – it’s historically inaccurate, since Finland never had Vikings, but you can’t deny that the locals appreciate a little bit of pandering, as it got a big cheer. The same happened later on when Hegg said they were playing later in Sweden-Ruotsi (to a loud boo) but said that every time they play Helsinki-Suomi, the Finns prove they are the meanest, loudest motherfuckers around.. and then encouraged them to shout “Fire!” after he shouted “Death in..” a few times. Incidentally, the Vikings came back with bows around that time, aiming them at the crowd, but not releasing. In fact, throughout the show there were a lot of visual aids in this sense, like the skull-faced thing that came out later.

It was good to see the full band taking advantage of the raisers. Though the performance mellowed out a little after the first few songs in terms of movement, the whirling hair was of course maintained throughout. The Vikings returned again on the steps for “Deceiver of Gods”, holding flags this time instead of battling. This song seemed to be a crowd-favorite too, as they had a good chant going on in the middle. Hegg stepped off stage for a drink for a moment during this song and we were amused to note him still rocking out and headbanging while offstage. That’s a man who loves what he does for a living! He then greeted the crowd again to introduce “On a Sea of Blood.” “Destroyer of the Universe” was naturally accompanied by a bit of Norse mythology regarding Ragnarok, Yggdrasil, and of course, the great serpent. The set was actually rather long, with seventeen songs in total, including the encore.

“Raise Your Horns” is of course the new encore starter, complete with the traditional toast with their admittedly pretty epic drinking horns. And, even though “Guardians of Asgaard” and “Twilight of the Thunder God” are some of their my favorite Amon Amarth songs, I had to skip them to go see about dealing with the issue I had at the doors prior to the show.

 

So it seems that, while Amon Amarth hasn’t done much for me on their albums of late, I still get a big kick out of their live shows. That actually ended up meaning that Behemoth was a good pairing for them, since I don’t listen to their albums at home either. All three bands were worth seeing, with the Polish black metallers and Swedish Vikings in particular taking proper command of the stage. I was actually amazed that Amon Amarth was playing the Black Box, as I didn’t think they were that much bigger than some bands I’ve seen playing to a moderate crowd at The Circus. Maybe it was because they haven’t played here in a while, or maybe they’re just straight-up more popular, but regardless of the reason, they clearly earned this crowd with their elaborate stage props and willingness to put in the extra effort to make a show memorable, as well as their enthusiasm.

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

Encore:
15. Raise Your Horns
16. Guardians of Asgaard
17. Twilight of the Thunder God

Photos: Marco Manzi

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