Monday night. Hours after a severe weather incident. In most cases, a metal show in Philadelphia on such a weeknight after such a crippling storm would’ve kept longhairs and horn throwers home. A venue vacant, save its sadluck staff. Tonight, however, Philadelphians surprised. They came out in droves not just for the headliner, Amon Amarth, but from kick-off band Skeletonwitch and Norwegian Viking metal originators, Enslaved. The Theatre of Living Arts (TLA) was packed to the gills and, for Philadelphia, that’s quite a rarity. Of course, it might have something to do with Conan-powered Amon Amarth headlining, but let’s give the supporting acts some credit, too.
Skeletonwitch looked comfortable on the TLA stage. They raced track-to-track, with a few choice numbers coming off the group’s recently released Serpents Unleashed effort. Guitarist Scott Hedrick riffed his way to oblivion next to bassist Evan Linger. The two of them looked be having a ball, watching bodies fly over the barricade and kids lose their mind to Skeletonwitch’s brand of potluck metal. Guitarist Nate Garnette was on the opposite end, burly and hairy like he just finished trying out for Amon Amarth’s to-be-added third guitarist position. He looked stoic, but thrashed through the set admirably. Chance Garnette’s obviously the fulcrum of Skeletonwitch on stage. He bantered about this thing and that thing (maybe he uttered “pussy” once or twice), cawing and screaming about blood moons and black vomit. Soundwise, the ‘Witch had the guitars dialed in. Hedrick and Garnette’s twin attack was up front and the solos audible. Sort of half the battle, really. Skeletonwitch ended their 30-minute set triumphantly, the crowd joyous in their appreciation of hearing a no-holds-barred metal attack.
From Skeletonwitch’s tear down to the members of Enslaved entering the pine, the transition between bands was brief. That being said, the TLA crowd got their eyeballs full of stupid tour announcements for Robin Thicke and J Ballz Breezy and more urbanite pop-hop horseshit via a stage-sized projection screen. Enslaved hit the ground running, with two songs from RIITIIR. “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” and “RIITIIR” had an odd effect on Philadelphia—much like when the Norwegians puzzled the shit out of Cheesesteak City at the Trocadero on the Monumension tour. Their brand of dreamy, dynamic metal appeared to sail—via Viking longship of riffs and movements—right over heads and out into South Street. When “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” ended, the TLA was remarkably hush. Maybe kids don’t like Pink Floyd in their metal these days, or maybe they had just been mind-blown, with neophytes expecting something more like the horrifyingly inane Alestorm and getting something much more valuable sonically and aesthetically. The crowd did pick up when the Norwegians pulled out “Allfaðr Oðinn” from the Hordanes Land EP. I remember frontman Grutle Kjellson saying, “This song’s 23 years old.” And then pointing to some punter in the audience, “Older than you!” Needless to say, “Allfaðr Oðinn” is as killer today as it was in 1993. Enslaved ended their “Odin”-themed setlist with “Isa”. All things told, the Norwegians projected and projected well, despite Philadelphians looking slightly bewildered by the whole ordeal. In fact, I’ve never heard them sound this good, and that goes back to the group’s debut US tour with Incantation and Kataklysm.
Clearly, the main event tonight was Amon Amarth, Swedes who’ve risen to proverbial power through AC/DC like consistency, tireless work ethic, strong imagery, and Johan Hegg’s burly uncle on-stage demeanor. As usual, Amon Amarth were good—maybe even great by the time “Varyags of Miklagaard” passed. Sonically, they were pro. Guitarists Johan Söderberg and Olavi Mikkonen held down the fort, while Hegg growled and grinned his way through a 15-song set of hits and semi-rarities. Highlights of the night were “The Last Stand of Frej”, “As Loke Falls”, and “Deceiver of the Gods”, though many more Amon Amarth tunes sounded perfect. The main issue with the Swedes and a setlist of this length is that the tempo hardly varies. The Swedes have this mid-tempo stride that’s hard to mistake for anyone else, but 60-plus minutes of the same tempo wears on the brain a bit. The crowd itself didn’t seem to mind and more power to them. They were in Hegg’s back pocket the whole night, chanting, humming to choruses, and hand waving. If I had a single wish, for this night, it would’ve been a nod to the distant past in the forms of “The Last with Pagan Blood” and “The Arrival of the Fimbul Winter” or for Amon Amarth, Enslaved, and Unleashed to tour together. Then again, beggars can’t be choosers. It was a cold Monday night in Philadelphia. And Philadelphians, finally, had the balls to show up.