Amon Amarth review – berserkers, sea serpents and catchy death metal

Academy, Birmingham
Over heavy riffs and double kick drums, the folklore-obsessed Swedish band deliver a thundering theatrical spectacle

Vikings are invading again, although this time they arrive in a tour bus, not in longships. Sweden’s Amon Amarth (an Elvish name for Mount Doom, courtesy of JRR Tolkien) have been crafting Viking-themed metal since 1992, but after 11 albums they can fill good-sized venues such as this one. Their songs deliver tales of Viking folklore, wars, wolves, Norse gods and berserkers (elite Viking warriors who wore animal pelts, not armour) over a soundtrack of brutal but melodic and passionate death metal. Drummer Jocke Wallgren sits atop an enormous horned helmet.

With their long hair, thick beards, tattoos and leather accessories, the quintet cannot be accused of not looking the part. Vocalist Johan Hegg – a sort of gravel-voiced, metal Grizzly Adams – has a drinking horn attached to his belt and would make a convincing exhibit in Jorvik, York’s Viking museum. “Are you ready to do battle with me?” he roars.

Amon Amarth performing at Birmingham Academy.
Amon Amarth performing at Birmingham Academy. Photograph: Katja Ogrin/Redferns

The band have presumably pillaged Iron Maiden’s suppliers for theatrics. A giant, green-eyed, horned berserker brandishes a ram’s skull on a spear. Swordsmen do battle with huge shields. There are steam cannons and loud bangs. At one point, Hegg even mimics rowing a boat, prompting one lively couple to sit down and do the same. The music – powered along by Wallgren’s double kick-drum thunder – is relentless, but Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg’s twin guitar attack certainly delivers tunes. They don’t exactly have massive crossover potential, but the riff-heavy Guardians of Asgaard and Shield Wall are certainly catchy. Hegg leads a call and response routine and isn’t beyond sending himself up: “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the lyrics – it’s death metal!” The band members all raise drinking horns full of beer for, well, Raise Your Horns, then Hegg wields a huge rubber mallet to do battle with a giant sea serpent three times his size. It’s a silly way to make a living, but it looks like it is an enjoyable job.

• At the O2 Apollo, Manchester, on 29 November. At O2 Academy Brixton, London, on 30 November.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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