On Saturday afternoon myself and the three younger male Hutchings' made our way to the infamous O2 Academy in Birmingham. A quick bite to eat at the fish and chip shop (I had a chicken wrap) prepared us for what was to come. The queue outside stretched all the way down the road before the doors were even open, but we didn't fret as the O2 priority saw us stroll right in. Thank goodness for the balcony seats, which provided my short little ass with a great view.
Grand Magus (8) were on first, soon after the crowd started to pile in and the room filled up quickly. This was my first time seeing Magus and I didn't really have any expectations of them. The opener to the set, I, The Jury, was an absolute belter. I did not expect such power from JB's vocals and the energy from this Swedish three-piece. The crowd were warming up quickly, head banging and getting ready to party. Sword Of The Ocean’ followed suit with mini guitar solos in the middle and again, a great vocal delivery. The crowd's vocals did not fall too far behind, with sing-alongs to Steel Versus Steel and Iron Will, everyone was clapping and cheering in unison. The subtle growls from bassist, Mats Skinner, for Iron Will were a nice addition. The 7 song set list was over too soon and left us wanting more. After the final tune, Hammer Of The North, the band thanked us by saying, "We are Grand Magus, we love you!"
After a prompt change over, Testament (9) were on next. Now this is a band I got into a little while back and was super excited to finally see them live. The band marched on stage and went straight into the title song of their new album, Brotherhood Of The Snake, which was out in October this year. This was an instant hit to the eardrums as to be expected from the old school thrash legends. The frontman, Chuck Billy, was running back and forth from left to right like a young 25 year old lad and this is a man who was diagnosed with cancer back in 2001. His relentless effort was most impressive. One thing that struck me the most was his sawn-off looking mic, which he insisted on using as a guitar, strumming away at any opportunity he got. Even with 3 guitars already onstage, Chuck's strumming added comic value to the show as he was so eager to join in with Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick and Steve DiGiorgio. The mic even glowed red, which I didn't notice initially, and made it look like it had overheated from him going at it so hard.
Rise Up with its screeching guitar riffs (in a good way of course) opened up the first pit of the night in what was a fully packed room by this point. The pit didn't stop throughout the whole song and neither did the band's energy. Testament were smashing tune after tune with little or no downtime in between. It was really refreshing to see a set that did not dip in the middle, not even once, in their 10 song set list. The New Order soon followed and the pit became brutal at that point, making the room incredibly hot in this already terrible venue. You may have noticed my dislike of the O2 Birmingham but I have my reasons, it's always boiling in there and the drinks choice is absolutely awful. OK rant over, back to Testament and the closest you'll ever get to a ballad with this band, Dark Roots Of The Earth, didn't seem to stop the people in the pit from rocking.
This was followed by another rocker, Stronghold, which was dedicated to Native American people. This song was my favourite on the set list and it was so fast, the pit seemed to struggle to keep up, which I found highly amusing as I was sat up on the balcony jamming in my own personal space. Next came, Into the Pit, which brought absolute chaos along with it. Nothing else can be or needs to be said and if you don't know this song then go away and listen to it now. The crowd surfers woke up towards the end of the set, perhaps due to Over The Wall, and they happily obliged Billy's powerful vocals when he told everyone to get “over the wall”. The Formation Of Damnation closed the set on a high. Brilliant performance by Testament and they did not disappoint in the slightest.
Another prompt change over and the mighty Amon Amarth (9) were coming on stage. This was my forth time seeing the five piece Swedish group, but this was the most I've been excited for them. No iconic boat on stage this time, unlike their Download performance in 2013, but very cool stage decor nonetheless, with 'stone' steps on each side of the stage. The centrepiece of the stage was comprised of a massive Viking helmet, the top of which also acted as a platform for Jocke Wallgren's drum kit. Hallelujah! The O2 staff had mercy on us all and the air con was finally switched on just before The Pursuit Of Vikings’ hit me on the head and pierced my eardrums. Words cannot describe the raw excitement and energy coming from both, the crowd and the band. My own soul was threatening to jump out of my chest, over the balcony and join Johan Hegg and the rest of the gang on stage. I must say, he is a mean looking bloke but he looked super cool in his outfit completed with a drinking horn.
The set was complimented by an intricate light show, especially for First Kill. As I predicted earlier in the night, the pit for Amon was bigger and more relentless. I am sure there would've been multiple pits going on if the people weren't so squashed on the floor already.
There is no real need to judge Amon musically. They are brilliant in and out, with jamming guitars, smashing drums and the most powerful vocals I've heard in the melodic death metal genre. For The Way Of Vikings, two 'actual' Vikings came on stage and had a full on fight. One of them was sadly defeated in battle and was dragged off of the stage by his opponent. The crowd was going berserk at this point as I don't think anyone was expecting to see a show within a show. The infamous Deceiver Of The Gods followed a couple of songs after, the song I have a personal attachment to. 'Deceiver' or 'to deceiver' is a term that I was labelled with when our music gang went to see Amon Amarth on a boat (Thekla) in Bristol, back in January 2015 and a LOT of cider was ingested. Embarrassing to say the least, but this time I was fully functional to enjoy this beautiful song, my absolute favourite, accompanied by two Viking bannermen on each side of the stage.
Johan's banter with the crowd was a nice touch, it's great to see at least minor interaction from the band. The crowd screamed their lungs our for Death In Fire and the Vikings were back on stage as archers for One Thousand Burning Arrows. Following on, we were welcomed by Loki, the master Viking with massive horns and a crowd poking spear, who appeared on stage during Father Of The Wolf. He looked like a satanic death Lord out of some horror movie, very theatrical and atmospheric. The band gets top marks for the stage show, not to mention various back drop changes, which complimented the setlist. The first encore consisted of Raise Your Horns, to which Johan came on stage with a mahoosive drinking horn and downed it with ease. Followed by Guardians Of Asgaard, with yet another appearance by the Viking men equipped with axes this time. The crowd was fist pumping the air non-stop.
The second and final encore comprised of Twilight Of The Thunder God, accompanied with sounds effects of thunder and lighting. This song had the most impressive stage show as we saw a giant mythical creature, a serpent that threatened to devour the band. Luckily Johan had Thor's hammer (Mjolnir - Historical Ed) to hand and managed to tame the beast. The man does not disappoint with his powerful growly vocals and Olavi Mikkonen, Johan Söderberg and Ted Lundström were killing it, with the blistering sounds of their guitars and a heavy bass. This is a very unique band that always delivers an entertaining high quality performance.
A thoroughly enjoyable gig!