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Metal/Prog Metal DVD/Video Reviews

Amon Amarth

Wrath of the Norsemen DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

One thing I have found interesting as I spend time on message boards and progressive music forums is that there is a large subset of prog fans who also wildly embrace extreme metal. One might find that to be a difficult to resolve dichotomy; after all, progressive music is generally built on complex song structures, intricate/virtuoso playing, and often difficult to understand lyrics. The stereotype of extreme metal is that it is loud, unintelligible, and extremely brutal. While it is possible that the majority of extreme metal bands offer little more than volume and vulgar brutality, there are a number of practitioners of this art form that aspire to develop the style beyond its most base forms.

Amon Amarth (taken from the Sindarin name of Mount Doom in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings saga, thus providing a comparison point with progressive music) has been producing Viking-themes in black and death metal since the early 1990’s. Despite the above-mentioned stereotypes of these styles of music, Amon Amarth offers up melodicism, syncopation and musical complexity that elevate them above the more common black and death metal bands. Their material deals more with Viking and pagan themes, eschewing religious criticism and Satanic imagery in lieu of songs that seem to glorify the ancient Norse gods and lifestyle. Valkyries, oaths of honour, blood debts and the Norse pantheon figure heavily in the band’s C.V., a theme that has remained consistent through 8 full-length releases.

Wrath of the Norsemen is a black/death metal fan’s dream come true, as it compiles 5 complete Amon Amarth concerts from 2004 and 2005 on 3 DVDs.

DVD 1 is devoted to the band’s longest ever show, recorded live at the Live Music Hall in Koln Germany on 16 August 2005. The band pummels the crowd through a 22 song setlist, filmed with 11 cameras and presented in 16:9 widescreen with LPCM 2.0 stereo and DD 5.1 soundtracks. Video quality is excellent as befits such a large production, and the band is in excellent form. Additional to the main program is a mini-feature offering backstage footage, video of the show’s production, and interviews connected to this epic performance.

DVD 2 features two full performances, both presented in 4:3 (Academy) format. The first performance on this disc hails from Dinkelsbühl, Bavaria, recorded at the 2005 Summer Breeze festival (Amon Amarth will be returning to the festival for this year’s version as well). It is a far shorter performance than any on this release (save perhaps for DVD 3’s Wacken footage), and is somewhat less impressive than any of the other performances. It is followed by the band’s 2005 Metal Blade RRROOOAAARRR festival concert, featuring a unique and interesting set list, guests (including Metal Blade Records’ founder Brian Slagel on guest vocals), and a few tracks of a slightly more blasphemous than normal character. Of the two concerts captured on this disc, this one will likely garner more viewing time for the average black/death metal fan due to the unique character it offers.

The final DVD in this collection again presents two full concert performances. It opens with the band’s 2004 Wacken Open Air appearance. Wacken has been the setting for a number of great metal performances, and Amon Amarth’s is no exception. Another short concert, the band seems to be on fire throughout, exhorting the audience to action. It is presented in wide screen 16:9 format with an LPCM 2.0 stereo track. The disc and set close out with the band’s album release concert for their 2004 effort Fate of Norns, and was filmed live at the Rockfabrik in Ludwigsburg Germany on 5 September 2004. Video quality here suffers in comparison to the shows that precede it on this set, but the solid performance and good sound quality make up for this.

The band’s performance remains consistent throughout the 5 shows (and 71 songs!) released here. Their cuts are filled with energy, passion and a deceptive amount of skill. Amon Amarth is more than a bunch of Neanderthals bashing on their instruments; they show that a great deal of skill and ability is necessary to create engrossing and interesting extreme metal that offers more than just speed and volume. Fans new to the genre may find the repetition of tracks a little excessive (some songs appear as many as three separate times), but Wrath of the Norsemen is an excellent introduction to the band, and gives ample evidence of just how hard it is to play their style of music.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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