Wrath of the Norsemen (Metal Blade)
by Tim Den
Perhaps the greatest Viking metal band of them all, Sweden’s Amon Amarth present us this sprawling three-disc DVD set that features five full concerts plus additional backstage material. When you’re through with Wrath of the Norsemen, you’ll be spent from the onslaught of death metal glory, as well as be in complete awe of the quintet’s prowess.
The highlight of the disc is the show at Live Music Hall in Cologne, Germany, where the band rip through 22 songs without tiring themselves or the audience out. Did you read that? 22 songs! For a death metal band, such endurance is unheard of. And the fact that the packed crowd is with ’em every step of the way only proves how popular and worshipped Amon Amarth have become over the last decade. The band are in tip top shape, especially vocalist Johan Hegg, whose bellowing, intimidating voice – though not stereotypically “grunted” like those of, say, Suffocation – could very well be the most muscular, penetrating, and commanding in all of death metal. The songs, of course, are steeped in majestic Viking mythology and unmistakably Scandinavian melodies, riding forth like bearded warriors of the North in all their sea-worthy swagger. Sure, Amon Amarth are obviously musically influenced by the likes of early Amorphis and Unleashed, but I dare say no other act can fully capture the Scandinavian spirit quite like these guys. The visions of conquest and victory are simply huge.
But what makes the Cologne show even more special is how far the band went to create an atmosphere. With an ominous intro and elaborate Viking/Pagan stage props accenting the songs’ already triumphant nature, the show also includes Viking fight reenactments and an encore that features warriors at guard with real torches! Holy living shit! I know it may sound cheesy in print, but believe me when I say that it’s a sight to behold. You’re almost humbled by the sense of proud heritage and culture, because everything is carried out genuinely and gracefully. The entire show almost transcends entertainment and becomes a holy ceremony. The hairs on my arms stood up when I saw the clanging of the swords and shields. Very spirit rousing.
The other full concerts look and sound almost as good. Noteworthy are the Metal Blade Rrroooaaarrr show in Stuttgart and Wacken Open Air 2004 in the Netherlands. The former included a Six Feet cover and a set comprised mostly of older material (though the crowd is inexplicably subdued), the latter a 2 am set that nonetheless got the entire festival going nuts. Bad ass.
At some point during the viewing of Wrath of the Norsemen, it suddenly hit me: There’s a reason why metal bands tend to write about war and history. Not because of superficial reasons like shock value or gore, but because the very nature of the music – militant rhythm patterns, stomping grooves, anthemic songs written for the crowd to chant along with and pump their fists to – remind the humanity in us of our past. Of a time when cultures used similar melodies and rhythms to rally troops into battle. When Amon Amarth play “Pursuit of Vikings,” you imagine a scene as out of a honest-to-god pre-Christianity battle ritual. Metal is simply the modern extension of themes, hymns, and folklore that’ve united humans for eons. It awakens the warrior in all of us because this music shares the same characteristics as the kind that gathered our ancestors for war. It’s undeniably powerful, and – in the hands of Amon Amarth – eternal.
Stand proud and fight!