It has been a while since a large heavy metal festival has been operational and financially responsible within Australia. The announcement of Download filling that space has meant smaller steps to establish a solid market share with the first annual festival being held only in Melbourne. Of course, many bands on the bill also conducted tours in states where their fan base was likely to turn out in force. So it was that tonight’s Swedish double header of Sabaton and Amon Amarth had the UNSW Roundhouse venue seriously packed. Sabaton take power metal and harness it with military related stories of various levels of familiarity but with an infectious sense of fun. By contrast, Amon Amarth is like a battering ram of melodic death metal that is deeply entrenched lyrically and visually in Viking folklore. Both bands are very different stylistically yet strangely enough worked well together giving great value for money with a broad appeal for metal heads with varied tastes.
Inside the venue huge merchandise line snaked around the room. As the room filled up, Sabaton’s large backdrop was illuminated in blue light and subtle smoke machine bursts. Lights dimmed and various keyboards and vocal chants were lightly played over the PA for an unusually lengthy twenty minutes, gradually increasing intensity until lights dimmed further and the pre-recorded cover of Bolland & Bolland’s ‘In the Army Now’ from Carolus Rex introduced the Sabaton set.
On marched the band, decked out in camouflage pants as ‘The March to War’ played and lighting arrays shone down. Front man Joakim Brodén, instantly recognisable in his trademark vest with metal plates and sporting sunglasses, launched straight into the set, announcing ‘Ghost Division’ from The Art of War whereby the band tore into the song with tightly rehearsed precision. ‘Winged Hussars’ followed in which seven string guitarist Chris Rörland took centre stage to play his solo whilst newer six string guitarist Tommy Johansson flung his hair around pulling a vast array of rock poses before he introduced ‘Swedish Pagans’ after a bit of humourous call and response banter with Brodén.
The energy continued as the Carolus Rex title track gave the crowd interaction a boost. It had been five years since Sabaton had initially invaded our shores but given the crowd reaction, there were plenty here tonight who would have been at that initial performance. Hannes van Dahl hammered his drum kit with conviction. Brodén briefly left the stage whilst the guitarists convened centre stage for some twin guitar harmony leads. Playing the title track from their most recent The Last Stand album, the band’s impressive vocal harmonies were in full force. Brodén then sported a guitar and offered some Michael Jackson commentary with a brief attempt at the ‘Beat It’ riff before the band kicked off ‘Resist and Bite’ from the Heroes album.
Guitar solos were traded effortlessly and then ‘Night Witches’ was introduced with an air raid siren as Brodén darted across the red lit stage, in line with the song’s fast energy that included more feisty guitar soloing. ‘Cliffs of Gallipoli’ followed and a fairly tame yet predictably irritating circle pit erupted and recorded additional keyboards were obvious, not that anyone cared. The crowd jumped along to ‘Primo Victoria’, retaining energy as ‘Shiroyama’ from The Last Stand sped along with a groove metal beat as van Dahl’s snare and cymbal work demonstrated a good use of attack to accentuate vocal parts.
Brodén thanked the crowd, the set was concluded with the ‘To Hell and Back’, introduced with the unmistakable keyboard whistle riff over the PA. More fast drumming and a hi-hat rhythm kept the song’s pace light. Finishing the song with a big farewell crescendo, Sundström jumped atop a raised platform as the rousing song concluded and various show souvenirs such as drum sticks, plectrums and scrunched up set lists were thrown into the crowd. The victorious Sabaton thanked their fans whilst ‘The Ballad of Bull’ played over the PA closing of an entertaining 55 minute set.
As the crowd dispersed around the venue and the Viking hordes replenishing their thirst in the beer garden began to take up their positions for Amon Amarth, a huge backdrop with the impressive Jomsviking album artwork was revealed. The stage clear, using some great live show technology made the massive drum riser with a huge double bass kit on stage that much more imposing. Whilst there were no long ships constructions on this tour, the backdrop set the tone of Amon Amarth intent to sonically destroy.
The venue became considerably more packed as the lights again dimmed and the intro offered atmospherics. The crowd roared as the five piece metal marauders took up their positions led by bearded front man Johan Hegg whose powerful presence and growling vocal delivery hid his friendly demeanour. In fact, as the band let rip with ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ from Fate of Norns to open the show, their camaraderie was evident. Guitarists Johan Söderberg and Olavi Mikkonen were tight and offered a huge sound that was enhanced by the powerful delivery from new drummer Jocke Wallgren. ‘As Loke Falls’ from Deceiver of the Gods picked up the pace and flashing bursts of yellow and green lighting coloured the stage with five string bassist Ted Lundström dominating the power behind the song.
Hegg addressed the hyped crowd to let loose a couple of tracks from their tenth album, Jomsviking. Some full on drumming powered ‘First Kill’ whilst ‘The Way of Vikings’ saw the hammering, marching vibe continue. ‘Cry of the Black Birds’ from With Oden on Our Side had Söderberg deliver a nifty guitar solo that suited the song and was swiftly followed by ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ with fast time signature parts, windmilling hair and guttural vocals.
The tremolo bounce riff of ‘Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags’ from was delivered with a great galloping style. Smiles adorned the band’s face as they whipped through ‘One Thousand Burning Arrows’ with plenty of impressive drumming. Enthused by the crowd response and with the backdrop now changed to the Surtur Rising album artwork, Hegg introduced ‘Destroyer of the Universe’ in a low growl. The older material continued as the band then delved into a medley of highlights from Once Sent from the Golden Hall, released over twenty years ago, that included the hammering power of ‘Ride for Vengeance’, the fast, syncopated assault of ‘Friends of the Suncross’ and the slower galloping rhythm of the ‘Victorious March’ song which was played in full. Of course, ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ was due and when it hit, it had the crowd engrossed in the flawless performance of the main set closer.
Having thanked the screaming crowd, the band grabbed their hollowed out Viking horn goblets to drink down some amber fluid by way of introduction for the song ‘Raise Your Horns’. Comparatively slower than the night’s earlier songs, a slight groove feel gave the heavy driving riff a certain old school metal feel. Amiable and promising a return visit, Hegg then kicked off ‘Guardians of Asgaard’ to close tonight’s show. Amon Amarth delivered a massive ninety minute set to a packed venue and clearly had a great time doing it.
In the Army Now
The March to War
The Last Stand
Resist and Bite
Cliffs of Gallipoli
Hell and Back
The Ballad of Bull
The Pursuit of Vikings
As Loke Falls
The Way of Vikings
Cry of the Black Birds
Deceiver of the Gods
Runes to My Memory
Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags
One Thousand Burning Arrows
Destroyer of the Universe
War of the Gods
Death in Fire
Ride for Vengeance/Friends of the Suncross/Victorious March
Twilight of the Thunder God
Raise Your Horns
Guardians of Asgaard