Amon Amarth 04/24/11
House of Blues – West Hollywood, CA
Words/Photos by Reverend Justito
On Easter Sunday, the line to enter the House of Blues in West Hollywood, CA stretched well beyond the Best Western down the street. Rumor has it that by the time doors finally opened, the last person in line was standing outside of Pinches Tacos. A quick trip to Google maps tells you that the line was almost ½ a mile long and that the walk alone will take you 8 minutes. The most shocking thing about the line is that it was not for the venues World Famous Sunday Gospel Brunch. As a matter of fact, the line was full of rabid music fans looking forward to an action packed night from the melodic death metal band Amon Amarth. With their most recent album Surtur Rising debuting at #34 on the American Billboard Top 200 charts, the independent band is in the middle of a sold out “Evening With” tour of the US. Taking a page from the jam band playbook, the five men that hail from Tumba, Sweden are performing two sets each night. The first set is Surtur Rising from front to back, while the second set features fan favorites from the groups’ massive back catalogue.
Long before the first notes of Surtur Rising rang through the venues PA, it was clear the mostly male crowd was hungry for blood. In the massive line, a few fans with plastic Viking helmets screamed their plans to eat the first born of random individuals across the Sunset Strip at The Comedy Store. Inside the venue fans cheered each time the pre-show upcoming Live Nation concert reel showed a PSA warning of the dangers of texting and driving. The fans were not in approval of the message behind the PSA, as much as they enjoyed the images of violent car crashes designed to scare you into a hands-free habit. With many having waited upwards of three hours for the music to start, 9:30 pm couldn’t come soon enough.
As I have mentioned here before, I am a huge fan of bands performing entire albums live. While I knew I preferred two set of Amon Amarth vs. an uninspired opening act, I was curious how other fans would react to an onslaught of new material. It was clear from the first notes of the opening track “War of the Gods” that the album would be well recieved. For an album that has only been available legally for 26 days, fans have clearly taken the time to learn all ten songs. Fans sang along in unison to the material described by vocalist Johan Hegg as songs of hate and destruction. Massive circle pits grew out of control during “Destroyer of the Universe” and ‘Live Without Regrets.” Had the Easter Bunny shown up, there is no doubt that he would have been decapitated and devoured by the audience. While many bands must beg crowds to clap along in unison, on this night the fans needed no instruction to add additional rhythm during the opening notes of “The Last Stand of Frej.” The band, the crowd and the music were all in sync and while aggressive in nature the entire night had a truly special and beautiful feel.
While the album has a run time of just under 49 minutes, it took the band about an hour to complete the first set thanks to humorous banter from Hegg. While the material is new, you wouldn’t know that from watching the band. Songs like “Slaves of Fear” and “A Beast Am I” felt as if the five men had been playing them nightly for twenty years. By the time the band got to the albums closing number “Doom Over Dead Man” it seemed as if the only individuals ready for a break was the venues overworked security. In fact, there were mini pits during set break as the crowd was treated to classics by Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Pantera all while continuing to cheer for the texting and driving PSA.
What’s truly scary is that the opening set was simply a warm up for Amon Amarth. As the band opened set II with “Twilight of the Thunder Gods” the only words to describe the small floor at House of Blues are pure pandemonium. For as pumped up as kids were for Surtur Rising, the older songs sent the crowd into a whole new level of madness. With each song, the level of intensity from the band and the crowd grew to unhealthy levels. As the band played classics like “With Oden On Our Side”, “Varyags of Miklagaard” and “Live For The Kill” the massive arena caliber strobe lights in the small club not only shut my camera down multiple times, but had many individuals in the balcony fearing a seizure was imminent. If a seizure was not brought on by the strobe lights, then the ferocious drums and blistering guitars could have easily done the trick.
As if two lengthy sets were not enough, the band came back for a three song encore that kicked off with “Cry of the Blackbirds.” At times, the crowd managed to drown out the band when singing along, something that brought smiles to the bands face. When Hegg regretfully informed the crowd that they were out of time it was clear that 2.5 hours of Amon Amarth was simply not enough. Even with the extended middle section of “The Pursuit of Vikings” folks screamed for one more song long after the lights went up.
Constant touring and solid albums have brought Amon Amarth to a point where they can book a show in Los Angeles on Easter Sunday and have scalpers offer fans double the listed price for just one ticket. What is most beautiful about Amom Amarth’s triumph of America is that it’s as pure as the music itself. There is no radio play; you won’t hear Amon Amarth in the latest Volvo commercial. It has grown little by little with each album, each tour stop. Friends sharing with friends the magic of the music, that is a true token of success and judging on the reaction from Southern California on Easter Sunday 2011 – Amon Amarth will have success for a very long time.