Taking place at the UNSW Roundhouse in Sydney, a venue I had not yet had the pleasure of visiting, I was greeted by a host of eager fans that filled out the large amphitheatre-like room. With a wide, circular floor area and an upstairs viewing area as well, the floor was bathed in violet lighting as orchestral music moved over the audience who stood in anticipation. It was clear from the outset, this was going to be a great evening.
As the pre-intro to Sabaton’s In the Army Now and the intro to March of War played over the speakers, the excitement grew to fever pitch. It wasn’t long before the Swedes walked out on stage to rapturous applause and chanting of their band name, and the bombastic opening to Ghost Division sounded in. From the moment go, the crowd was into it. Sabaton came out firing on all cylinders and didn’t let up once for the entirety of their hour-long set. Both bands tonight had been given full sets, and they certainly utilised this to its fullest. The Roundhouse had some of the best sound and lighting work of any venue I’ve been to, and the whole set up and how the acoustics still had perfect pitch no matter where you stood made the evening all the more memorable and engaging. The force of Sabaton’s sound came like an artillery barrage, and vocalist Joakim Brodén revelled in every minute he had the crowd wholly in his clutches. What helped make this night such a perfect evening was that both Sabaton and Amon Amarth share two of metal’s most charismatic and likeable frontmen in Brodén and Johan Hegg, respectively. And the strong friendship the two bands share was one that was felt from the very beginning, making the night even more relaxed and comfortable.
By second song Winged Hussars, the crowd was jumping, and when the time arrived for Brodén to introduce Sabaton’s newest member and guitarist, Tommy Johansson, to the audience (and by also celebrating Johansson’s very first time in Australia), Brodén performed the band’s skit of letting him decide what Sabaton will play next. Followed with a cheeky grin from Johansson and some rhythmic strumming, crowd chanting to the opening of Swedish Pagans chimed in and the tongue-in-cheek declaration from Brodén thereafter of, “Excuse my language, but you f***ing asshole”, Brodén laughed. The song was rapturously received, and it led then into a phenomenal performance of Carolus Rex. This was the song that especially proved it to me: Sabaton are, without doubt, one of the strongest live metal acts to grace the stage. Their sheer professionalism, charisma, and musicianship is undeniable and the band honestly could have taken tonight’s headline spot and not felt out of place in the slightest. This song also came with a personal highlight which saw Johannson and guitarist Chris Rörland headbang in unison to the tune of masterful riffing. The Last Stand and Resist and Bite followed, with the latter being one of Sabaton’s best of the night and even saw him sport a guitar and spout off some quality dad jokes.
Track Night Witches went off before Sabaton announced with pride a song that meant a great deal to them and dealt lyrically with a core part of Australia’s identity: none other than Cliffs of Gallipoli. By this point, this crowd was sizzling with anticipation and exuding energy. It was the perfect for Joakim Brodén to ask the crowds to sing with them and to jump with them. It was time for Primo Victoria! This was an utter pleasure to experience and to be a part of, jumping in time with the band and the audience to the uproarious echoing of the song’s brilliant chorus. These moments are what live music is all about.
As Sabaton wrapped up their set with the double whammy of Shiroyama and To Hell and Back (the former of which saw more hilarious on-stage antics), the power metaller’s went out with a huge bang leaving many smiles planted across many faces.
When the time came for Amon Amarth to hit the stage, they did so with a bang; bursting right into the classic, Pursuit of Vikings. The audience was in from the get-go, and when Hegg’s screams of “Are you with me, Sydney?!” came, the energy of the crowd exploded as Amon Amarth belted out As Loke Falls. Again, as with Sabaton, the sound and lighting work was superbly utilised, with deep greens and yellow hues adorning the stage. It served to bring out the charm and brutality Amon Amarth always carry with them in every set. “Are you ready to feast like Vikings?” Hegg asked, to which the response came in uproarious applause and which was soon followed with amusing shout-outs of “Fuck Melbourne!” that left the Swedes on stage amused and a tad bewildered. The double-edged strike of First Kill and The Way of Vikings from the band’s most recent studio effort, ‘Jomsviking’, hit next; earning a mighty crowd reaction that saw rough headbanging around the pit and an increasingly hectic circle pit erupting from the centre of the floor area. Amon Amarth sounded incredible live, with Johan Söderberg’s solo on the latter track soulful and striking.
It was here the night began to enter some truly great territory as the Swedes belted out Cry of the Black Birds, and had, by Hegg’s instruction, both sides of the crowd screaming in time with him in a most satisfying way. The excellent Deceiver of the Gods followed, and then, as a nice surprise, another track from 2006’s ‘With Oden on Our Side’ in Runes to My Memory – a song I hadn’t expected to hear live but which was as fantastic as you’d expect from the live arena. Crimson lighting which shone menacingly like blood coating the band saturated the stage as Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags rang in. After At Dawn’s First Light, this led to a personal favourite from ‘Jomsviking’ in A Thousand Burning Arrows, a song which epitomises the versatility of Amon Amarth as songwriters.
A brief respite from the carnage came and went as frontman Johan Hegg slowed things down and adopted the role of storyteller. Creating a narrative based on the Norse myths behind the apocalyptic Ragnarok cycle, this led to the soft blues of the ‘Jomsviking’ banner dropping from behind the band and revealing the harsh, fiery reds of 2011’s ‘Surtur Rising’ record and a song from that album based on its namesake, Destroyer of the Universe. Shredding up the stage, Amon Amarth’s rhythm section was a thing to behold. It’s here credit must be awarded to the band’s newest recruit in Jocke Wallgren, who joined the band as its current drummer in 2016 following the departure of former long-time member, Fredrik Andersson. Wallgren was an absolute machine, and for the entirety of Amon Amarth’s hour-and-a-bit set, he never once let up the pace or didn’t keep up with the carnage of the band or the audience. He more than held his own and really brought an intensity to Amon Amarth’s sound I thoroughly enjoyed. Tracks War of the Gods and the classic Death in Fire held over the still rapturous crowd, but it was what followed this that was truly special. For Amon Amarth, 2018 marks the band’s 20-year anniversary of their first full-length album, ‘Once Sent From the Golden Hall’. From this, Hegg spoke some words about where the time had gone and joked over the idea of it probably going to be an interesting challenge of performing these songs (many of which haven’t been played since those early days), but alas, they did and it was wonderful! Amon Amarth performed a small medley of tracks which covered the ‘Once Sent…’ era and it was truly a joy and honour to hear these songs performed live in so many years. It was a very special and rewarding moment, especially to those particular fans in the crowd who have likely been fans for many years.
A short interlude in which the stage was bathed in purple hues came next, accompanied by the atmospheric tones of rain and thunder rolling far off somewhere in the distance. It soon saw Johan Hegg and company return to the stage, silhouetted in dark lighting that painted them as otherworldly beings; avatars of their Norse gods. The imposing frontman stepped up to the microphone, gripping in one hand a mighty Mjölnir—the hammer of Thor—as he raised it high to the ceiling and the opening riffs of Twilight of the Thunder God rang it, before he slammed it heavily to the ground and Amon Amarth were back in full force. The audience had a ball, singing the chorus and chanting along. You really got the impression you were a part of something great.
The night was nearing its end, and it was time to raise a few toasts. Johan Hegg brought out his personal drinking horn, offered cheers, raised the Viking horns, and sculled it down as song Raise Your Horns drove the night onwards. Amon Amarth had reached the finale of their set, and what else could they end it than the ode to the protectors of the gods’ mighty home? The instantly recognisable drum and bass notes of Guardians of Asgaard slammed down, washing over the audience like a hammer on an anvil. Amon Amarth pulled out all the stops for this last one, delivering one of the strongest closes to any show I’ve seen to date. The night was only one-upped here when Hegg offered one last toast to the audience (with drinking horn in hand, of course) before being invited back for an encore of this that saw him cry out “Skål!” and then the night was done.
Photos by ANDREW BASSO