Not to completely state the obvious, but I really enjoy metal gigs. Shocker, right!? It’s not all what you think though, for there is a reason beyond the music itself that I love them – there is also something further, something in the atmosphere. The room, for want of a better word, feels genuine. Probably something to do with the fact that all the people within it are not giving a rat’s ass about how sweaty they are or where their shirts have flown off to, or who they happen to be punching/hugging/crying over at any point. The mood is something different, the crowd and the bands feel “connected” (I appreciate that you might be vomiting right now, don’t worry the corny moment is nearly over), controlled by the spell that’s cast by the musicians onstage who rule the rocking roost with a powerful, vital presence.
Honestly, this “heavy-metal-genuine-and-also-awesome-presence” exists. It’s not the liquor talking. And it was most certainly felt last night as Savage Messiah, Huntress and Amon Amarth rocked the stage at Stylus under Leeds University. A raw, electric energy stormed the room from the very beginning, stirring the crowd as the opening act, Savage Messiah, burst into rich metal with no gentle awakening. The heavy metal rockers from England have toured extensively since their culmination, and their experience in live performance indeed showed. The four-piece band produced flawless vocals, immaculately timed rhythms and, basically, dished out a perfect heavy metal platter to their hungry listeners. Not only this, but they were excellent rabble-rousers, encouraging synchronized fistbumping, headbanging and instigating the moshing merriment which would carry on throughout the night. It was the perfect act to kick-start the show – the kind of music which you could feel through the floorboards, shaking you. In particular their final number, ‘Minority of One’, prompted an enthusiastic response as the crowd screamed and formed quick, semi-naked moshpits (which were only going to increase in number and X-rated value throughout the night).
Savage Messiah, roaring heavy rockers who all have better hair than me
Post-Savage Messiah madness came Huntress. Trust me when I say that there is no way that I could state the following which wouldn’t be an understatement – that this band, out of all of the evening, had the most amazing, formidable presence and mighty stage power. Jill Janus, Huntress’ frontwoman, stalked onstage wearing a long, fur-lined cloak with massive spikes protruding from the shoulders, enchanting the audience with her jagged movements and incredible vocal range, the likes of which I could barely begin to comprehend. Indeed, it is especially apparent that this band has it all in the way of vocals – Janus can scream, sing operatically, reach both fever high and bassline low pitch. The crowd went wild for them, and were given the treat of hearing a new song – ‘Flash’ – from their upcoming album, which promisingly seems to foreshadow more excellent, ferocious music from these unique and talented performers. Indeed, they even joked with the audience in-between songs, an amusing contrast to the violent and rousing music that emanated when they played. The audience were also invited afterward to meet them at their merch stand after the gig, a friendly gesture that showed that not only do Huntress – apologies for my French – really fucking rock, they have a big heart for their fans.
Huntress, masters of live performance
Following Huntress came, of course, the headliners Amon Amarth, a Viking death metal band from Sweden. Coming up to this gig I was incredibly excited at the prospect of seeing these men perform live (just how Viking exactly would it be)!? You have to be pretty epic, after all, to be in a band which focuses largely on Viking history and mythology. There is little history of a finer ilk. More than this, I had read that Amon Amarth based their name on the Sindarin name of Mount Doom – that’s right, from J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle-earth. Ladies and gentlemen, it does not get more badass.
Except that it does. And that is when you see them live.
Flagged by an enormous backdrop on which you could only assume a legendary fight was occurring (as it sported a man wearing a large horned helmet and red cloak, and some sort of beast that I couldn’t quite make out but who was probably getting seriously murked), the men came onstage through dim blue lights and a heavy, eerily melodic violin intro. Johan Hegg, the frontman, immediately burst into screaming vocals, as the guitarists headbanged side-by-side in sync. The brilliantly responsive audience seemed to be on another level at this point (probably 70% of them also being a little bit drunk, myself included) raising their fists in homage to the band and shouting the lyrics back at Hegg. Again, there was absolutely no falsity from these musicians – they grinned at their audience, had a word or two in-between tracks and truly spread the metal love via choral invitation and punching allied fists in the air. From their synchronized movements to the impeccable harmonization of voice and instrument, you could really sense that this is a band who is truly meant to play together. And they love it. Johan Hegg belongs to a mic. Fredrik Andersson belongs to the drums. Ted Lundström belongs to his bass. And so on so forth. This is not a sense of belonging, either, that goes to waste, for everything that they did was worthy of admiration. Each track oozed complex musical craftmanship, every guitar solo more mindbending than the last. The vocals throughout were unfailingly gritty fueled by a warmongering stamina which never flaked. Amon Amarth have acquired, seemingly, the unnatural ability to never tire, as the night simply descended into heavier and heavier madness with really no guarantee of stopping. They inexorably thrived, their music coming alive through their organic and dynamic performance.
Amon Amarth: intimidating beards but really nice guys
Indeed, on comparing the performances given by each band last night, there are a few things that are obvious. Although all bands belong loosely to the same genre, and indeed complimented each other well onstage, they also all have their own, definitive styles. Savage Messiah are, in my mind, more classic, never-gets-old heavy metal rockers, whereas Huntress adopt an occultist theme and possess a hardcore frontwoman to boot. I may almost have said that Huntress stole the show, but Amon Amarth were nothing short of legendary and, of course, had the awesome unique twist of being, basically, modern Vikings themselves.
Another thing is, also, glaringly apparent. This music – although immense-sounding through your speakers – should be appreciated firsthand. The enigmatic presence of each band brought the music itself even further to life (I do get the pun, “death metal” that is “brought to life”, haha very funny) and the experience became that of a thrill, as opposed to just headbanging wildly in your computer chair. The moral of this tale, then, is this: see them perform. Catch this tour, if you can, because they really do work well together. For if what I witnessed yesterday was anything of a foretelling, Amon Amarth – as well as Huntress and Savage Messiah – have many great years of touring ahead of them.