Pittsburgh gets a double dose of Amon Amarth

It wasn’t exactly Wacken, but it was as close as I was going to get on a balmy Tuesday night in the United States. But instead of a giant field in Germany, the evening’s events took place in an old church converted into a music venue, and the crowd was decidedly smaller than what you could fit into an open air space.

Walking into Mr. Smalls in Millvale, a flood-prone old mill town outside of Pittsburgh, the smoke rising from the new grill sites easily made the juices flow, and it really did feel like an evening of sunburnt music was ahead. That’s a nice addition by Mr. Smalls, not only for the increased food selection but just for the ambiance. For a moment, I imagined this is what Wacken might smell like. Inside, grown men with drinking horns, people wielding large foam war hammers, and dudes who looked like they were here for a beheading anxiously awaited the arrival of Amon Amarth for an entire evening of music. No openers, no standing around waiting for the main event, just immediate gratification when the clock struck 8 and the lights dimmed.

Pittsburgh is a popular stop on any Amon Amarth tour, as the hulking Swedish Vikings bring their show here every time they get a chance, but this night they brought something a little bit special. This tour provided a whole evening with the band, as they opened by playing their latest album “Surtur Rising” in its entirety, and after what frontman Johan Hegg called “a short beer break,” they stormed the stage anew with a complete set of catalog favorites. No one could have walked away and complained he or she didn’t get his or her money’s worth. In fact, considering tickets were under $30, it was an insane value that was maybe a step short of a steal on the audience’s part.

“Surtur Rising” was a grower for me. I unabashedly love Amon Amarth, and the fact they’re kind of like death metal’s AC/DC is something that endeared the band to me. But the new record’s a little different and doesn’t have that immediacy of their other discs, but hearing them play the songs live gave me an even greater appreciation for the album (and it already had grown on me by the time this show took place). The passion with which the band plays the songs is undeniable, and the tracks certainly have resonated with their audience as the folks packed (and it you barely could move in there) spent the evening shouting back the words (and not just the choruses) and screaming out the name of the next song before the band could launch into it. That made for a really cool scene seeing a large group of people so passionately immerse themselves in the band. As for me, I’m a stander and a listener, so I absorbed the whole thing and heard guitar sections I never realized, noticed quirks in the drum playing I never picked up on, and really got the knack for the infectious nature of these songs. My favorite cut on “Surtur Rising” is “Live Without Regrets,” and hearing them perform the beast live was damn near cathartic. Ever since the show Tuesday, I’ve spent even more time with “Surtur Rising” and really feel like I gained, as a listener, from hearing the band interpret these songs live. I hear it through ears blessed with increased knowledge.

After the break, they exploded with title track from “Twilight of the Thunder God,” with the crowd exploding into the chorus of, “Thor, Odin’s son, protector of mankind, ride to meet your fate, your destiny awaits!” like their lives depended on it. From there, it was a mix of old and new, launching directly into “The Last With Pagan Blood” from “The Avenger” and “For the Stabwounds in Our Back” from “Versus the World.” They visited “Guardians of Asgaard,” “Runes to My Memory,” “Free Will Sacrifice,” “Death in Fire” and “Victorious March” among many others. They took another quick break and re-emerged with a three-song encore of “Cry of the Black Birds,” “Valhall Awaits Me,” and, of course, “The Pursuit of Vikings.” All in all, we got 25 songs over the entire evening, and everyone left exhausted but satisfied.

You can see some photos above, taken by my shitty Blackberry camera. I did have a photo pass for the show, but some idiot realized 10 minutes into his drive that he left his camera at home. This is what happens when you rush around all day. So they’re not the best, but whatever. At least you can kind of get an idea of what you’ll experience live. The show definitely was worth the drive and the evening packed into a room of sweaty  people, most of whom were males taller than I am. And I’m just a tick under 6 feet tall. It’s a really great show, performed by a powerful band, led by a jolly, charismatic frontman, and it’s a blast. I’ll never pass by a chance to see Amon Amarth live, but I almost fail to see how they’ll top this evening. But I’d like to see them try.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.amonamarth.com/

To buy “Surtur Rising,” go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/11748/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/english/content.php

For more Amon Amarth tour dates, go here: http://www.amonamarth.com/live/upcoming-dates/