Sunday, December 02, 2007

Amon Amarth with Sonic Syndicate and Thy Will Be Done [Worcester Palladium, 12/1/2007]

This is an ample reward for showing up early (for those who can't tell, the signatures are, counterclockwise from top left, Olavi, Johan (Soderberg), Johan (Hegg), Ted, and Frederik) and enduring the openers, who in total were more than a little uneven. Of course, even if you didn't have a kutte to get signed at this show, you still got a fucking balls-out set from Amon Amarth, and that should be reward enough in itself.

The drive in was pretty easy, being a weekend, and so I got through the line for doors in fairly short order, which was a definite positive with the thermometer in the teens. It wasn't nearly as cold or as far to walk as those black metal shows back in January that set a new benchmark for grimness, but the cold in your lungs heading in definitely set the right atmosphere. Once inside, I was somewhat disheartened by the Kindermenge; it's always good to see younger people into metal, but an inveterate pessimist can't help but conclude that this was a hangover from Bodom's crowd (Amon Amarth played with Bodom here last year), and these kids wouldn't provide the right atmosphere for a proper gig. Fortunately, I was completely wrong about this. One of these days, I'll start not thinking of the worst in people.

So I got a beer, and then stood around for a while, and the show didn't start, so I went and got some merch (Amon Amarth tourshirt, and Thy Will Be Done's CD), and then stood around some more. The show still didn't start, so I joined the line wrapping around the merch pod to get stuff signed. Most people were getting posters or their tickets signed, but I was using my ticket stub for taking notes, and most ways, toting a poster at a show will either tie up your hand for the rest of the night or get reliably destroyed. Also, five guys writing with sharpies will leave most tickets just a mass of black scribbles; I fortunately had a lot of free space around my patch from this band, and if it broke up the monotony of getting writer's cramp for the band, so much the better. There's also the side benefit that my rig is now significantly more awesome than it was before, but that went without saying right as soon as the picture loaded above.

After I got through this, I got back down to my 'usual' off-floor spot in time for the first band, who despite the weird fit, did get things roling properly.

Thy Will Be Done [4.5/7]
Though they come from Rhode Island, this band made a positive impression, at least at the start, by setting up in more of a European metalcore style, sounding like they were trying more to be Heaven Shall Burn than Shadows Fall. The sound decayed more towards straight hardcore as the set went on, like the band's half-life was running down, but they definitely did show some positive chops, at least after the sound board brought the guitars up to a normal level after the first song. Their set was a little short, but it was pretty decent, and people into this style probably enjoyed the hell out of this set.

During the set break, I got another drink, and ran into both Ken (MPD) and some Worcester people that I'd hung around with at shows before, and emphasized caution about Sonic Syndicate, as well as the positive fact that there was only one band more left. Of course, we'd rather have had two, but due to the tragic accident that took Vitek earlier this year, this tour wasn't an option any more for Decapitated.

Sonic Syndicate [3/7]
This was not a good performance from a fundamentally unoriginal and mediocre band. However, it was not the worst set I've ever seen, despite getting the worst crowd reaction that I've ever seen.

To understand why nearly everyone on the floor sat down about halfway through their set, and mostly stayed seated for the rest of the performance, we need to look at their setlist, which was probably more of a contributing factor than the band's Tokio Hotel haircuts.
1. Ordinary Story
2. [some In Flames song I couldn't immediately make]
3. Come Clarity
4. Goliaths Disarm Their Davids
5. Pinball Map
6. Hours Passed In Exile

Of course, they didn't actually play these songs, which might have even helped; what they did was take an obvious, fully-developed riff from the song in question, and then make a subpar "original" song around it, then play it indifferently, with a lot of mic problems and feedback squeals because, as usual, the Palladium soundboard was giving an opener the business. In the end, though, this couldn't disguise or ameliorate the fact that Sonic Syndicate is an In Flames coverband, and not a very good one, and absent Nuclear Blast's marketing push, there is no way they would be even signed and playing internationally, much less opening for Amon Amarth. The crowd recognized this, and acted appropriately.

Is sitting down en masse disrespectful? Yes, it is, but respect is neither universal nor a gift; it must be earned, and to the audience's credit, they did give Sonic Syndicate a fair shake. After three songs, when it was clear that they weren't going to get any better, they lowered the boom. If this is repeated enough, Nuclear Blast may eventually get the message and stop promoting them, at least until they can improve to the point where they don't need a label handing them everything on a plate. I didn't sit down, but I respect the decision of those who did; if Sonic Syndicate wants people not to sit down during their sets, they need to stop sucking or stop playing metal shows.

(Background for those who don't follow the Euro scene so closely: Sonic Syndicate did not come up via the normal route of demos, limited-release albums and EPs on tiny labels, and DIY touring. They won a contest sponsored by Nuclear Blast, for reasons that very few European metalheads have been able to understand, and have been massively promoted and oversold beyond their talent level ever since. They are as close to a 'made' band in the pop sense as exists in metal today.)

So after people stood up, it was fortunately a fairly short wait for Amon Amarth to go on. Though it wasn't quite as packed or as long a wait as Blind Guardian last year (one year to the day), the feel down front was much the same -- and fortunately, the awesomeness to come approached the same level.

Amon Amarth [7/7]
This wasn't quite the best set I've seen from these guys, but it was the best that I've seen indoors. With only two openers, they got a nice long set, and in the course of it played virtually everything you could want from the band (unless, of course, you were looking for Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds material or "Bloodshed") -- and if you missed something and actually feel bummed about it, there's something wrong with you. They dedicated "Fate of Norns" to Vitek, with also the wish that Decapitated will continue, as unlikely as that may be. There was an even mix of new and older stuff, and in their encore, they did "Victorious March", which I'm not sure I'd ever seen live; they didn't do it last time, and it's kind of wicked long to do in a festival slot. The sound was great, though not as good as this venue can do on those rare occasions when the stars align just right, and the overall experience was simply excellent.

Seeing this band really pack this venue nearly all the way up (though they didn't open the balcony) brought me back to the comments from their tourmanager on the Wrath of the Norsemen DVD; "I don't listen to heavy music myself," he said, "but this band could go very far. I don't think they've anywhere reached the peak of their popularity yet." This on a discbox that includes an appearance playing after midnight at Wacken, and it's certainly borne out by the way they've conquered North America to date. This is a death metal band that sings about vikings, and you don't really expect such to draw so strongly with both young and old, core metal fans and more peripheral people, as were in evidence at this gig. For an explanation, you have to look at the music: it's not enormously difficult to listen to, full of melodic hooks, but still powerful and stone-heavy, and it does in a certain way play into the revival of metal in the popular imagination that produces stuf like Dethklok and Brutal Legend. In a millieu where metal's sincerity is fodder for over-the-top irony, Amon Amarth stands straight in and goes merely right to the top; the deathviking thing is a hook for the culturally curious, and then the enduring power keeps people committed once they actually listen to the band.

Unfortunately, there was more than a little far-right feel down front at this one. On the one hand, this is somewhat to be expected given how the right has co-opted Norse heathen ideas and symbology; if rightists are going to listen to non-political death metal, it's probably going to be Amon Amarth. (The debate on whether Malevolent Creation is political in this sense is by no means settled.) On the other hand, this is a metal gig, and metalheads ought to know better. There are problems with our society that aren't being answered by the standing system, but the far right doesn't have the answers either, and they tend to cause a bunch of their own problems as well. If you're going to put your right arm up, put a fist or the horns at the end of it. Don't do the Roman salute: that wasn't cool 80 years ago, and it's not cool now.

The worst part about rightists is that they force digressions like this that take away from the actual events of the show. This was by any measure an awesome gig, and I certainly can't wait to see Amon Amarth again -- though hopefully with a more consistent undercard -- whether in Europe, here, or in a larger venue as they continue to gain support and interest.

Next gig's either tonight with Autumn Above if the weather cooperates, or Lair of the Minotaur headlining Watchmaker's curtain call Tuesday.

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