Concert Review – Amon Amarth (Sound Academy, Toronto, ON, 10/10/2014)

The most powerful Swedish Viking horde in the world attacks Toronto once again, setting the city on fire on a chilly night.

OPENING ACTS: Skeletonwitch and Sabaton

Amon-Amarth-PosterAs the fans of Game Of Thrones like to say, “Winter is coming” pretty soon, which means it’s getting colder and colder here in Toronto and, of course, in the entire Canada. So why not turning up the heat with some brutality, Viking music and good beer on a Friday night at the Sound Academy? The bands chosen to make our lives a lot warmer were American Thrash/Death Metal band Skeletonwitch, Swedish Power Metal band Sabaton and the main attraction of the night, Swedish Melodic Death Metal icons Amon Amarth.

Opening the night with the same energy of a stampede of raging bulls and still promoting their latest album, the insane Serpents Unleashed, the ‘Witch were absolutely awesome from start to finish, even with very limited time to deliver all their havoc. Chance Garnette’s unique devilish vocals and Dustin Boltjes killing everything on drums were the highlights of their wicked performance, with songs like I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived), Serpents Unleashed and Within My Blood being so brutal I’m pretty sure most of the people who were already at the venue during Skeletonwitch might have an “interesting” pain in their necks and bodies until today. Chance said they’re returning to Toronto in the Spring, so I guess we have enough time to recover until we break our fuckin’ necks once again with more of their demonic metal.

Setlist
1. More Cruel Than Weak
2. I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)
3. From a Cloudless Sky
4. Burned from Bone
5. Beyond the Permafrost
6. Unending, Everliving
7. Stand Fight and Die
8. Serpents Unleashed
9. Within My Blood

Band members
Chance Garnette – lead vocals
Nate “N8 Feet Under” Garnette – guitars
Scott “Scunty D.” Hedrick – guitars
Evan “Loosh” Linger – bass
Dustin Boltjes – drums

IMG_2975Having recently released their seventh studio album, entitled Heroes, Sabaton had the tough mission of entertaining a crowd extremely avid for Amon Amarth. Well, although I myself consider their music somewhat generic, they did a pretty good job and got a great reaction from the audience, especially during songs such as 40:1, Swedish Pagans and Metal Crüe. Frontman Joakim Brodén has a very limited vocal range if compared to many other Power Metal singers, but his interaction with the fans, in special his jokes about Canada always beating Sweden in ice hockey, were sufficient to avoid any negativity from the crowd and to keep everyone awake and pumped up for the main attraction. The only problem is, as aforementioned, their generic lyrics and musicality: how many other bands, and you can limit your analysis only to Sweden if you prefer, have songs with the words “pagan”, “warrior”, “fight” or “metal” in their names, and those more-than-generic galloping riffs? If they fix that, they can go a lot further in their career.

Setlist
1. Intro (The March To War)
2. Ghost Division
3. To Hell and Back
4. Carolus Rex
5. 40:1
6. Swedish Pagans
7. Resist and Bite
8. The Art of War
9. Primo Victoria
10. Metal Crüe
11. Outro (Dead Soldiers Waltz)

Band members
Joakim Brodén – vocals, keyboards
Pär Sundström – bass, backing vocals
Chris Rörland – guitar, backing vocals
Thobbe Englund – guitar, backing vocals
Hannes van Dahl – drums

AMON AMARTH

IMG_2983Perhaps one of the most stable band formations in the history of heavy music, with the same band members being together since 1998 (and three out of five since their beginnings in 1992), Swedish Viking horde Amon Amarth delivered almost everything their fans were asking for, except for their Viking ship and fireworks, which couldn’t be part of their performance due to venue limitations.

However, the absence of fireworks and other theatrical items was completely forgiven and forgotten when the band started playing their unique epic metal. It was pure brutal headbanging, fists and horns in the air, beer drinking and lots of singing throughout their whole concert, with everything getting even heavier and more fun during classics like Death in FireGuardians of Asgaard, Cry of the Black Birds, and of course the highly anticipated Viking hymns Twilight of the Thunder God (where frontman Johan Hegg entered wearing a Viking helmet and holding the Hammer of the Gods as usual) and The Pursuit of Vikings, with all fans screaming as loud as possible its famous epic chorus nonstop, for the band’s total delight. The sincere smile on Johan’s face was priceless.

IMG_2984In addition, their newer songs from their latest albums, Surtur Rising (2011) and Deceiver of the Gods (2013), also worked really well, with highlights to For Victory or Death, Father of the Wolf, Destroyer of the Universe and War of the Gods. I love metal music when it’s played as fast as the band is capable of, which was the case for all those songs. I just thought there were very few mosh pits, maybe because it was getting really late and all fans were exhausted after a long day at school or work, and after so many hours of energetic heavy music. Being a headbanger demands a lot of our bodies, especially when you have such electrifying bands like Skeletonwitch and Amon Amarth playing live in front of you, don’t you agree?

Anyway, during one of his many fun interactions with the crowd (while drinking beer from his horn), Johan Hegg also spoke about ice hockey and the NHL, which makes me wonder if this is the biggest connection between Canada and Sweden, or if Heavy Metal is indeed what makes these two cold but totally amazing countries be so close to each other. Based on the happiness and level of energy spread among all fans that attended the concert at the Sound Academy, and as a true heavy music lover, I have to go with the second option without a shadow of a doubt. And now, all that’s left for us fans is the never-ending wait for another Viking invasion of Canada.

Setlist
1. Deceiver of the Gods
2. Runes to My Memory
3. Death in Fire
4. Free Will Sacrifice
5. As Loke Falls
6. We Shall Destroy
7. For Victory or Death
8. Varyags of Miklagaard
9. The Fate of Norns
10. Father of the Wolf
11. Guardians of Asgaard
12. Warriors of the North
13. Destroyer of the Universe
14. Cry of the Black Birds
15. War of the Gods

Encore:
16. Twilight of the Thunder God
17. The Pursuit of Vikings 

Band members
Johan Hegg – lead vocals
Olavi Mikkonen – guitar
Ted Lundström – bass
Johan Söderberg – guitar
Fredrik Andersson – drums

The Year In Review – Top 10 Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Albums of 2013

Christmas is just around the corner, and it’s that time of the year where our ears are tortured by those boring old songs (unless you listen to something like this, the best Christmas song ever!), but at least our stomachs are rewarded with some delicious food and drinks. It’s time to look back and see what went right in our lives, our mistakes, and make plans for the coming year. And why not listing the best Heavy Metal and Hard Rock albums of 2013, which pretty much constituted the soundtrack of both our good and bad moments this year? Here are my top 10 albums of 2013, excluding EP’s, best of and live albums. I hope you enjoy the list!

Helloween_Straight Out of Hell1. Helloween – Straight Out of Hell
The German Power Metal masters are back with their most awesome album since The Time of the Oath.
Best song of the album: Straight Out of Hell

Chthonic-Bu-Tik2. Chthonic – Bú-Tik (REVIEW)
The best Heavy Metal band of the East delivers another superb album full of strength and creativity.
Best song of the album: Defenders of Bú-Tik Palace

TriviumVengeance3. Trivium – Vengeance Falls (REVIEW)
A brilliant lesson in heavy and fast riffs from Matt Heafy and his crew, proving why they are a reference in the world of heavy music.
Best song of the album: Brave This Storm

Outlaw_Gentlemen_&_Shady_Ladies_Album_Cover4. Volbeat – Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies
This band from beautiful Denmark takes another huge step to conquer the world of music.
Best song of the album: Dead But Rising

Serpents_Unleashed5. Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed (REVIEW)
A magnificent and gruesome Thrash/Death Metal album from one of the most prominent new bands in the U.S.
Best song of the album: I Am Of Death (Hell Has Arrived)

Motörhead_Aftershock6. Motörhead – Aftershock (REVIEW)
Do you enjoy some good old Rock N’ Roll? If so, you must listen to this album.
Best song of the album: Do You Believe

Nemesis_by_Stratovarius7. Stratovarius – Nemesis
Stratovarius delivers an amazing album, their best since Timo Tolkki left the band in 2009.
Best song of the album: Halcyon Days

Amon-Amarth-Deciever-of-the-Gods8. Amon Amarth – Deceiver of the Gods
Not as unique as Surtur Rising, but still a mighty and powerful album from this Swedish Melodic Death Metal band.
Best song of the album: Father of the Wolf

Black_Dog_Barking_(Album_Cover)9. Airbourne – Black Dog Barking
As long as our mates from Down Under are alive, Rock N’ Roll will never die. Get ready to rock!
Best song of the album: Live It Up

SuperCollider10. Megadeth – Super Collider
“MegaDave” and his band return with a very interesting mix of Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Country and Folk music.
Best song of the album: Kingmaker

And here are the other albums that would make my top 20 list this year:

11. Black Sabbath – 13
12. Lordi – To Beast or Not to Beast
13. Carcass – Surgical Steel
14. Tarja – Colours in the Dark (REVIEW)
15. DevilDriver – Winter Kills (REVIEW)
16. Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart (REVIEW)
17. Children of Bodom – Halo of Blood
18. Six Feet Under – Unborn
19. Dream Theater – Dream Theater
20. Pink Cream 69 – Ceremonial

These are some of the new releases already announced for 2014 that deserve to be listened to, and that will most probably be reviewed on this blog:

Axel Rudi Pell – Into The Storm
Chrome Division – Infernal Rock Eternal
Iced Earth – Plagues Of Babylon
Primal Fear – Delivering The Black
Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead
Within Temptation – Hydra
Steel Panther – All You Can Eat
Behemoth – The Satanist

And finally, maybe we’ll have brand new material from giants such as Iron Maiden, Slayer and Judas Priest, who knows? Or something new from great bands that have been “quiet” for a good period of time like Exodus, Arch Enemy, In Flames, Cannibal Corpse, Testament, The Agonist, among others. Let’s wait and see, or even better, let’s wait and LISTEN!

Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year! See you in 2014!

Album Review – Skeletonwitch / Serpents Unleashed (2013)

The ‘Witch returns with 31 minutes of pure destruction.

Rating4

Serpents_UnleashedThe first time I saw or listened to Skeletonwitch was back in 2011 when they were one of the opening acts for Arch Enemy here in Toronto (the other opening acts were DevilDriver and Chthonic, just so you can imagine how awesome that night was), and since then I’ve become really interested in their brutal music. Now this band from Ohio is back with another extremely heavy album, Serpents Unleashed, which is already being considered by many the best Thrash/Death Metal album of 2013 (you can listen to the entire album here) . And after listening to it, I kind of agree with that.

The opening track (and also the title-track) Serpents Unleashed is Hell on Earth! What a ferocious and intense massacre! Moreover, I like the fact they usually add many Black Metal elements to their music without sounding like a Black Metal band, which is already clear from the very beginning of the song. Beneath Dead Leaves keeps up with the devastation with its insane drums, pretty good riffs and crazy solos, while I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived) is heavy, fast and has all the elements the fans of the band love in it. I saw the video for it a while ago and I have to say that it wouldn’t have been so great with a different song; it’s the best song of the album in my opinion.

The next tracks are From a Cloudless Sky, which has a nice intro and captivating riffs, and I can imagine how crazy the circle pits are going to be when it’s played live;  Burned from Bone, another fast tempo song with some more Black Metal elements (especially the riffs); and Unending, Everliving, a song that starts slowly if compared to the previous tracks, but then resumes the accelerated speed of the album.

SkeletonwitchThe second half of the album begins with Blade on the Flesh, Blood on My Hands, an intense song full of non-stop drums and riffs and a good chorus. It’s definitely another recommended track for some good mosh pits if played live. Then comes This Evil Embrace, which reminds me a little of some old Slayer songs, with a chorus that is pure Black Metal and the best guitar solo of the whole album. The worst song of Serpents Unleashed is Unwept: despite not actually being a bad song, it sounds too generic for me and lacks some creativity. The following track has the coolest name of all, Born of the Light That Does Not Shine, and delivers some more musical brutality for the delight of all Skeletonwitch fans. The album ends with its longest song More Cruel Than Weak (the only one with over 4 minutes), which provides us some high quality riffs and drums, and of course, a lot of violence.

The lyrics are gruesome as usual, but I guess you’re not expecting them to start singing about butterflies and unicorns, right? And finally, the album has an astonishing front cover: it looks like they hired a very talented Gothic artist from the 15th century to paint it! I love when the album art is not some generic computer-based image and adds a lot to the whole concept of the album, like what happens with Serpents Unleashed.

In summary, the ‘Witch proves again why they’re considered one of the best bands of the Thrash/Death Metal scene, with Chance Garnette doing an exceptional job with his unique guttural vocals. That guy sings like the most evil and hideous witch in the history of mankind, something that became a trademark in Skeletonwitch’s music. One might say the songs are too short, but remember that’s how Slayer has always released their albums, and all songs in Serpents Unleashed are as heavy as they can be. It’s just a matter of quality over quantity.

One final interesting fact about Serpents Unleash is that the band is even selling a pretty cool cassette tape version of it, just when we thought those types of media were long gone. Well, a lot of people thought heavy music was dead and gone years ago, but as you can see with bands like Skeletonwitch pulverizing everything, they were fuckin’ wrong.

Best moments of the album: Serpents Unleashed, I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived) and This Evil Embrace.

Worst moments of the album: Unending, Everliving and Unwept.

Released in 2013 Prosthetic Records

Track listing
1. Serpents Unleashed 2:11
2. Beneath Dead Leaves 3:07
3. I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived) 2:47
4. From a Cloudless Sky 2:48
5. Burned from Bone 2:39
6. Unending, Everliving 3:03
7. Blade on the Flesh, Blood on My Hands 2:26
8. This Evil Embrace 3:39
9. Unwept 2:25
10. Born of the Light That Does Not Shine 2:18
11. More Cruel Than Weak 4:18

Band members
Chance Garnette – lead vocals
Nate “N8 Feet Under” Garnette – guitars
Scott “Scunty D.” Hedrick – guitars
Evan “Loosh” Linger – bass
Dustin Boltjes – drums