By Adrien Begrand
1200 years ago, a meeting between Vikings and Gauls would have been decidedly less than festive, but on this balmy spring night on the Canadian prairies it couldn’t have been a better combination. On one side, the swarthy Swedish warriors Amon Amarth, and on the other, Swiss troubadours Eluveitie, the two bands uniting for one of the more intriguing, not to mention genuinely fun metal concert bills touring North America right now. Factor in that these are two of the best live acts you’ll come across these days, and you’ve got yourself a can’t-miss show, something that was not lost on the folks packed into the Odeon, everyone arriving good and early to make sure they didn’t miss a minute.
Before the festivities could begin in earnest, it was up to Los Angeles foursome Holy Grail to set the tone for the rest of the evening. A traditional metal band formed by three former members of White Wizzard, they played an adequate half-hour set heavily derived from Armored Saint and Tokyo Blade with some solid speed metal tossed in for good measure. Their debut EP Improper Burial is a promising start, definitely a step up from White Wizzard’s somewhat dicey first two EPs, but for all the flash and preening by lead guitarist Eli Santana, it’s clear the young band has a way to go yet. Singer James Paul Luna was off and on, displaying the ability to carry a tune, but lacking the persona and presence that traditional metal demands from a frontman. He often seems in his own little world, shaggy hair always obscuring his face when he should really be engaging the crowd, and although his intentions are obviously sincere, the rail-thin singer still looks like a scene kid “playing” at classic metal. Still, the band was tight, the two guitarists pulled off the twin solos and harmonies really well, and they even pulled out their cover of “Fast as a Shark”, which, sadly, most of the kids probably thought was an original composition.
The floor was full of people long before Eluveitie took the stage, the anticipation made palpable by the crowd’s rather comical reaction to the line check, as every non-traditional metal instrument, be it hurdy gurdy, violin, bagpipes, mandolin, or whistles, was greeted with a big, nerdy cheer. It’s amazing how word of mouth has spread regarding Eluveitie over the last couple years. People know that not only are they a cool band on record (one of the few bands certain to outlive the “folk metal” fad), but they absolutely bring it live as well, and it’s really nice to see them so warmly received in North America today. At their first US show was at the New England Metal & Hardcore fest in 2008 the obnoxious Massholes in the crowd were very skeptical of all the folk instruments, muttering how “fuckin’ lame” it looked, but half an hour later, they were all dancing like crazy as if a ceilidh had suddenly broken out in the middle of Worcester. On this night, though, everyone knew what to expect and the place erupted from the second they started.
It was an exuberant 45 minute set, frontman Chrigel Glanzmann snarling away, flanked by violinist Meri Tadic and hurdy gurdy player Anna Murphy, who spun their long hair like dervishes. The highlights included “Quoth the Raven” (one of the stronger tracks off their new album), the ubiquitous “Inis Mona”, and the rousing, epic closer “Tegernakô”, which had the place absolutely jumping. If there’s one thing I personally missed, it was the presence of brothers Sevan and Rafi Kirder, who had a stage presence that made shows even more fun. They left the band in mid-2008, but despite coming off as considerably more static, their replacements were nevertheless very good from a musical standpoint.
As opposed to the combination of muscle and nuance that Eluveitie excels at live, Amon Amarth is always strictly about brute force. No frills at all, just five guys taking the stage and hammering out an hour and a half’s worth of rousing tunes. Led by the gregarious, downright jolly Johan Hegg, the band hunkered down and regaled the hot, sweaty crowd with a considerably longer set than their first North American tour, which was certainly a nice touch. Although they focused most of their attention on the last two albums (six from Twilight of the Thunder God, five from With Oden on Our Side) and ignored early albums The Crusher and The Avenger, it’s a decision yours truly, not to mention the majority of the people there, were perfectly fine with, as the last two records are by far their most consistent work. Especially Thunder God; every time they played a track from it, be it “Free Will Sacrifice”, “Varyags of Miklagaard”, or “Live For the Kill”, the place went nuts, each song a perfect balance of brutality and melody. Those six songs were obvious highlights for many, but the requisite “Death in Fire” definitely got the biggest reaction, the yellow/orange/red lighting they used during the songs creating a clever visual effect, looking like they were playing right smack in the middle of the fiery Tolkien mountain that bear’s the band’s name. Goodness knows it was sweltering enough to feel like it, too, as the climactic sing-along of “Pursuit of Vikings” sent everyone staggering home happy, wishing more Viking metal came around these parts more often.