Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Live Show Review: Skeletonwitch, Enslaved, Amon Amarth - 1/31/14

Skeletonwitch, Enslaved, Amon Amarth
Date:  January 31, 2014
Venue:  The Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD


I've learned a few things during my relatively brief time as a metal enthusiast/amateur anthropologist gone native - the opener and support bands are almost always just as awesome as the headliner, and every band worth their salt makes a sincere 200% effort to melt your face.  Absolutely no room for mopey wallflower behold-my-art bullshit.  These bands take pride in perfecting their chops and treating their fans to the most bang for their buck.  As expected, for an affordable $25, such was the case last Friday at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, with an awesome package tour featuring Skeletonwitch, Enslaved, and Amon Amarth.        


Skeletonwitch - Scott Hedrick, Evan Linger, and Chance Garnette (left to right)

Athens, Ohio, blackened-thrash five piece, animal welfare advocates, and all around good guys (hanging and posing for photos with fans long after their set) Skeletonwitch easily made my top ten albums list in 2013 with their monumental fifth LP Serpents Unleashed, so catching their opening set was top priority.  I had seen Skeletonwitch open for Swedish doom-metallers Ghost last July in Baltimore and was blown away, as I was again this past Friday.  As the delicate opening acoustic guitar lines of "This Horrifying Force (The Desire To Kill)," from 2011's excellent Forever Abomination, gave way to absolute sonic mayhem a massive circle-pit exploded in the center of the room.  The sweaty tumult didn't let up for the duration of their half hour set.


Skeletonwitch - Hedrick, Linger, Garnette, Dustin Boltjes, and Nate Garnette (left to right)

Dashing back and forth across the stage, gesticulating in a spiked arm-band and thrashing his mane wildly, frontman Chance Garnette screeched and growled his vocals with gusto while brother Nate Garnette burned up the fretboard on lead guitar - blasting through classics like "Beyond The Permafrost" from their 2007 sophomore LP of the same name, "Crushed Beyond Dust" from 2009's Breathing The Fire, and "I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)" from last year's aforementioned long player.  Not to be outdone, guitarist Scott Hedrick handled some crushing riffs, while rhythm section Evan Linger and Dustin Boltjes locked into a relentless rapid-fire groove on bass and drums.  Here's hoping these Midwestern road warriors make it back to the DC area soon for a headlining gig. 


Amon Amarth - Johan Hegg (center) "raise your horns!"

Up next - Norwegian progressive black metal veterans Enslaved. Like most second wave black metal bands of the early 90's, Enslaved shifted away from satanic themes long ago in favor of Norse mythology. Sounding a bit like Swedish prog-metallers Opeth, Enslaved slowed the tempo way down to spotlight some ethereal synth atmospherics and guitar textures.  Band founders Grutle Kjellson and Ivar Bjornson handled bass and synthesizer respectively, with the former trading a classic gurgling screech with the latter's clean operatic singing - giving the band an appealing beauty vs. beast quality. Despite a good effort, Enslaved came across a bit earnest if somewhat drab, and the crowd energy suffered as a result.


Amon Amarth - the crowd goes apeshit.
Finally, headliners Amon Amarth commandeered the stage, framed by a giant painted backdrop of Norse gods Thor and Loki in mortal combat, to the approving roar of a packed house.  Amon Amarth are a melodic death metal band hailing from Sweden and, though the veteran five-piece has denied the tag, they operate within the sub genre known as "viking metal."  Appropriately enough the band's entire aesthetic is steeped in viking imagery and Norse mythology.  Departing from Enslaved's dreary Nordic stoicism however, Amon Amarth relish in the classic Tolkeinian archetypes of the noble heathen - bearded, beer belied, and larger than life.

Already an imposing figure, lead singer Johan Hegg delivered his vocals in a guttural bellow complementing the band's thunderous rib rattling onslaught.  Despite the band's martial disposition, Hegg played the jovial host - bantering with fans and encouraging the crowd to raise their devil horns while shouting "It's Friday!  Are you having fun?  Are you ready to go ape shit?!" before launching into another raucous number like "Father of the Wolf" from their 2013 album Deceiver of The Gods.  Though Hegg mentioned he was suffering from a cold, he and his fellow bandmates kept the frenzied throng in a constant state of convulsion, punctuating the end of every song with the kind of genuine humility and gratitude that makes these bands so endearing - "Thank you so fucking much!"  I'll raise a viking horn goblet to that.

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