Amon Amarth/Enslaved at The Fillmore Silver Spring

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Monday, February 3, 2014

Despite the fact that they have toured in North America fairly often, I have never seen Amon Amarth live. While I haven’t been quite as crazy about their most recent full lengths (2006’s With Oden On Our Side is the last one I really loved from beginning to end), they were still a group I wanted to see perform on stage. This year the opportunity finally presented itself and I went to The Fillmore Silver Spring to check out Amon Amarth’s newest headlining run in support of 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods.

Unfortunately I got to the venue a little too late to check out Skeletonwitch, as by the time I got in the door and secured a decent spot to watch the action they were finishing up their last song. Thankfully the group is comprised of seasoned road veterans and tour fairly frequently, so I should have another chance to try and catch them before 2014 comes to an end. The first band that I did get to watch was Enslaved, another act that I’ve been meaning to catch live for a few years now. Although they were stuck in the support slot and therefore had a relatively short set considering how long many of their tracks are, Enslaved was able to make the most of it and not only included two songs from their most recent full length RIITIIR but even went all the way back to “Allfǫðr Oðinn” from 1992’s Yggdrasill demo. Unlike some of the other groups out there that have experienced some dips in quality over the years, these guys have managed to put out one consistently great release after the other and as a result no matter what they choose to play during their set it is guaranteed to catch your attention. While their earlier works are closer to traditional black metal, Enslaved’s trademark sound has become one that mixes progressive and psychedelic elements into a harsher base to create stunning arrangements with plenty of twists and turns. This translates extremely well live, as not only are the instrumentals and vocals perfectly mixed so that it is easy to pick out each element but the waves of sound wash over you and create a truly entrancing atmosphere. From the time that the group started performing until they were done I don’t think I took my eyes off the stage once, as it was that captivating to watch. Even with the sheer volume the clean and harsh vocals weren’t buried and sounded just as powerful as on record, and I came away with an even greater appreciation for Enslaved’s music than before. Hopefully whenever they’re ready to put out another album a headlining tour will be in the works, as I’d love to see them play for twice as long as they did on this particular evening.

What is neat about watching well established metal bands are the production values that go into their performance. Amon Amarth has hit that point in recent years and for this particular tour they had a huge backdrop featuring the artwork from Deceiver of the Gods and panels set up on-stage with additional art. It gave the stage a very striking look, but the group didn’t have to rely on flashy backdrops and bursts of smoke for too long as they came out with an immense amount of energy. Vocalist Johan Hegg said at one point that he had a bit of a cold, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him as his trademark growl sounded on point and he ran around the stage on a regular basis. Throughout the set the band really knew how to work the crowd and there were numerous moments where the sounds of the audience chanting the lyrics almost overpowered the actual performance. But even with a high level of energy and crowd pleasing moments, if your music doesn’t sound good live all of that is for nothing. Thankfully Amon Amarth was able to deliver in this regard, as their instrumental work had a very clear and crisp sound that took the heavy hitting melodic leads from the albums and brought them perfectly over to a live setting. Even though I haven’t been quite as crazy about some of the group’s recent releases because the riffs didn’t quite grab me as much as they had in the past, this isn’t as much of an issue live and I was able to enjoy the entire set. If you missed the band’s classic material set a year or two ago and were hoping for some older material this time around you may come away a bit disappointed, as the farthest back they seemed to go was “Death in Fire” from 2002’s Versus the World. But this decision makes sense, as the newest albums are the ones that have propelled Amon Amarth further into the spotlight and are likely what the masses that were at the show know the most. I should also mention that both in a live setting and on album, Johan Hegg remains one of my favorite vocalists to use the powerful low pitched growl in this type of death metal and I was really happy to see that all of the intensity comes from his performance and not studio enhancement. Even after two decades together as a band, Amon Amarth remains a compelling live act that is able to deliver an energetic performance that sounds just as good as not better than their recorded output.

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