October 20, 2014 Amon Amarth, Sabaton, & Vallenfyre conquer NYC 10-18-14
There is something to be said for the state of Heavy Metal music in 2014 when a bill comprised of three of the genre’s stalwarts can sell out the Best Buy Theater in Times Square, NY. That was the scene Saturday night, the 18th of October, when the throngs gathered to take in Amon Amarth supported by Sabaton and Vallenfyre, as the Deceiver of the Gods Tour marched into the bright lights and bustling chaos in the center of Manhattan. Excitement and anticipation reigned amid rumors that the Swedish headliners had something special in store for their stage set. Before even the first note was played, hordes of fans sporting Amon Amarth and Sabaton gear could be seen gathered in their little clicks, smiles plastered on every face. This was indeed going to be a night for welcoming the return of heroes home once more to New York.
The first band of the night hailed from the foggy shores of England. Vallenfyre, the creation of famed Paradise Lost guitarist Greg Mackintosh, is a monster of old school Death Metal riffs, and they tore into the crowd with vicious professionalism and a ton of exuberance. With an all-star lineup featuring Hamish Glencross (My Dying Bride) on guitar and Waltteri Väyrynen behind the kit, the crowd welcomed their double-bass laden grooves with open arms. When Mackintosh exhorted the crowd by growling “it’s called a mosh-pit, so fucking mosh,” the metal-heads down front responded with a massive surge of pushing and shoving. Perhaps feeling there might be a bit too much death in their Metal for the Pagan/Power-Metal hordes, Mackintosh further quipped “Perhaps we are too heavy for some. That’s okay, I like Kate Bush. Well, only the heavy songs.” Dry English humor always hits the spot, and the crowd reacted with a lot of laughs and further appreciation of the band’s performance. It is not often the opening act on a bill is this goddamn good, and Vallenfyre’s blistering set will surely earn them new fans going forward.
Next up were the Swedish lords of pomp and glory, Sabaton. For those who did not catch them last time around opening for Iced Earth, imagine if Helloween and Manowar had a baby and raised it on beer and the History Channel, and audiences will have an idea of what these exuberant lads bring to the table. Exploding on stage to “Ghost Division,” the crowd went immediately ape-shit. Jumping and moshing, voices were raised to eclipse charismatic frontman Joakim Brodén as he spun his tales of war and valor upon the front-lines of yore. “To Hell and Back” had the crowd jumping to the storytelling Power-Metal cadence encompassed within the fist-in-the-air ode to the experience of the soldier in war. Crowd-surfing, cheering, and a huge amount of the crowd singing every word accompanied every song. Brodén, complete with faux armor plated shirt and Top Gun sunglasses, had fans eating out of his hand. Brodén was at times speechless at the reaction he and his mates were getting from the New York City crowd. It was obvious he was completely humbled and genuinely surprised at how much the sold-out venue embraced Sabaton. “40-1” and “Swedish Pagans” had the walls coming down, with Brodén jokingly attempting to convince the crowd that Sabaton were just as ‘Viking-Metal’ as the night’s headliners, their countrymen Amon Amarth. The epic anthem, “The Art of War,” roiled the crowd into a frenzy, with fists and horns in the air raised high. Sabaton concluded their set with the melodic, Manowar-esque “Primo Victoria.” A jam-packed, deliriously happy Best Buy Theater crowd hung on every note the band played. The performance this night ensured that the next time Sabaton comes around, it will be as headliners.
Speaking of headliners, the excitement for tonight’s final act was more like a parish awaiting its savior than a group of people waiting for a band to play. When the lights went down the big rumor was shown to be true. A Viking longship, complete with dragon head and flaming red eyes, adorned the stage in front of a backdrop featuring the 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods artwork. Taking the stage to “War of the Gods,” the full arsenal of Amon Amarth was on display. A husky-voiced, raw-sounding Johan Hegg settled in nicely, at times bellowing his odes to the Norse pantheon while clinging to the prow of the long-ship. With the beard, the hair, and his overall look, only the microphone in his hand broke the spell that anyone but a long-lost Viking warrior was standing upon the stage. That, and his ever present grin,thrilled at the reaction of the crowd, showed he was clearly happy to be back in the Big Apple.
Amon Amarth’s riffs are entirely from the canon of old-school Swedish Death Metal, as “Runes to My Memory,” “Destroyer of the Universe,” and “Death in Fire” most certainly attest. Like countrymen Grave and Unleashed, Amon Amarth bring that sound so unique to the land of their birth. The epic and uplifting quality to their songs is what separates them from the rest of the pack. A seamless songwriting acumen gives them a tremendous advantage, as well as their ability to deliver top-notch Metal album after album. The band played a trio from their latest album, including the title track, plus “As Loke Falls” and the ultra-catchy “Father of the Wolf.” The center of the pit raged like a knot of berserkers descending on an isolated ninth century monastery. Hegg also expressed his complete pleasure at the crowd’s rapturous reaction. At one point he raised his drinking horn to his lips, extolling anyone who came in thus prepared to join him. After a hefty gulp he admitted that if he drank like that after every song, the band would have to perform an instrumental set without him. The jovial giant was clearly enjoying himself up on that stage. Ending their main set with “Victorious March” off their debut album Once Sent From the Golden Hall (1998), it was only moments before the band returned for what might be the best song they ever wrote. “Twilight of the Thunder God” is one for the ages, and all voices seemed to be raised as one, singing the words back to the band as if they had known them forever. Amon Amarth concluded with another classic, “Pursuit of Vikings.” All those gathered left breathless and happy, content that they had just witnessed one of the world’s greatest Metal Bands of the age in operation. A night of triumph all around, with the value of the entertainment provided far outweighing the price of admission.