The Monday following Super Bowl sees the largest single-day rate of absenteeism from work, the perfect time for an invading horde to compromise North America. Luckily, this time it was just a band of friendly Vikings commandeering the stage at Theater Of The Living Arts (aka TLA). The Deceiver Of The Gods tour was in its final hours and like their ferocious countrymen of yore, despite an inevitable victory, the onslaught continued, showing neither fatigue, nor mercy, until the last enemy was vanquished. While most on this continent is only NOW warming to AMON AMARTH (witness their disrespected placement on domestic multi-band festival bills), they are glorious, certified headliners overseas, so the conquering spirit rages on, seeking new territories to claim their own. They could have and probably should have played a larger room. Fighting the world, or at least the New World!
"We come from the land of ice & snow..," true, but most of the Delaware Valley fears even a coating of white stuff (unless it's chopped, and aligned on a mirror). The heavens threw icy pellets on the ground, welcoming our Swedish friends, the season's fourth snowfall of at least 6 inches (and a record for ANY winter in the City Of Brotherly Love), but also forcing some to stay away. Strange to see the usually vibrant area a virtual ghost town. Tour routing prevented rescheduling or postponement, so in the great tradition of live theater, The Show Must Go On! Despite the dire predictions, the city streets were more than passable and the club was packed with fans.
Album artwork hung behind the band, while scrims of an armor clad skeleton army flanked drummer Fredrik Andersson. Even before they went onstage, kids down front were chanting "Johan's Beard." They opened with current single/video 'Father Of The Wolf', burly frontman Johan Hegg, in sleeveless Under Armor and alehorn strapped to his side, aped Miley Cyrus' tongue antics. The title track from Deceiver Of The Gods was next. In fact, there were no less than five tunes from that album, a trio of which were delivered early on. No matter, Deceiver might be the strongest album of their career, vying for bragging rights versus With Oden On Our Side.
A quick salutation and thanks from Hegg between songs, then it's a (increasingly rare, at least in North America) old school number, 'Death In Fire'. The majority of the set is culled from the last three albums. No flame cannons like overseas, so 'Death In Fire' sees pressurized smoke shoots skyward, in several explosions across the front of the stage, as the lighting takes on an orange hue, similar to that utilized on many of their album covers. The sweat inducing sing-along is the antithesis of the icy landscape outside the TLA doors. On a blue stage, 'Live For The Kill' ends in darkness, with the mournful cry of a lone, piped in violin. In contrast, 'As Loke Falls' is frenetic, the veil of green haze pierced by a storm of rapidly firing strobes. Overhead, a sea of fists pound out the concluding instrumental melody.
The beefy, bearded singer works all sides of the stage, then returns to the center and heandbangs maniacally. Alone, under a green light, Hegg kicks off 'Rune To My Memory' by reciting the chorus lyrics a cappella. A blitzkrieg of strobes attack, when the proper song begins. 'Varyags Of Miklagaard' sees Andersson pound out the opening rhythm as Hegg turns aerobics instructor, getting the audience to pogo up and down. Behind him, the band members pinwheel their hair. Shadowy figures sway back and forth on a blood red stage during 'Last Stand Of Frej', the brooding lethargy almost as punishing as a harrowing trudge through the iced over slush en route to the venue.
Again Hegg is a solitary figure, this time under white lights, telling the crowd, 'This town is a party town. We always have a good time in Philly. So we're going to play the best party song we've ever written." Care to guess? 'Guardians Of Asgard', under red and gold lights. The purple hued 'Shapeshifter' sees pinwheeling almost as violent as the tractionless, ice slicked tires as we headed home. Following 'Warriors Of The North' Hegg bellows, "We know you're fucking mental!" Perhaps that's why there were a pair of audience mics, one each side of the stage, this evening? Regardless, it's an interesting start to a blue tinged 'Destroyer Of The Universe' which sees some of the best syncopated headbanging of the evening, either side of the photo pit barrier.
Hegg punctuates each riff in 'Cry of the Blackbird' with his giant gauntlet encased forearm outstretched overhead. During the set closing 'War Of The Gods' he throws his head back and lets a roar emanate, as a teal lit stage reacts with jets of "steam." A short exit and the encore begins with a blackened stage, repeated rolls of thunder and strobe lightning greeting AMON AMARTH's return on 'Twilight Of The Thunder God', before ending with a rollicking 'The Pursuit Of Vikings'. World class!
More photos from Philadelphia can be seen here