Amon Amarth, Salle Metropole Lausanne, 15.11.16

 

I had high hopes for Switzerland being a metal country. Huge mountains, Celtic Frost, general atmosphere of gloom- all of this has great metal potential. So perhaps it’s just the city of Lausanne letting the side down, because I was the most metal person in that crowd on Tuesday night. And that’s not a good thing.

Let’s be clear; earplugs are NOT METAL. Metal is SUPPOSED TO BE TOO LOUD.

At least half the people I saw were surreptitiously wearing earplugs. The man I stood next to in the crowd was shirtless, rippling with muscle, covered in tattoos, some of which bordered on the right-wing, his shaved head nodding furiously. But the tell-tale piece of blue plastic in his ear told me that ‘You sir, are a pussy’. And the way he eyed me sheepishly showed that he knew it too. He stood aside politely as I headed into the pit.

I was bemused by the sheer number of so-called metalheads with bits of chewing gum in their ears. Going to a heavy metal concert with earplugs is like going to an art exhibition wearing sunglasses. I wondered if they had been issued on the door due to Swiss noise protection regulations, and perhaps my husband and I had just slipped by unnoticed. Earplugs should in fact be confiscated at the door of metal concerts, on principle, along with the drugs and weapons.

But aside from the too-sensible crowd, the music tonight was wonderful. Another irritating thing about Switzerland is that things really do start on time, so we missed the first act, Grand Magus, as we were still having sushi down the road. But we made it just in time for Testament, my main concern of the evening.

As Testament’s biggest and most annoying fan, I am somewhat biased, but they were sublime. Precise, energetic, and playing their best music yet.  I was eager to hear them perform tracks from their new album, Brotherhood of the Snake, which is a concept album about, well, snakes. More specifically, a secret society set up by draconian aliens to exploit the earth, as told by 6000-year old Sumerian scriptures.

Concept albums have a reputation for self-indulgence, unfairly so because there’s no rule that says a record has to be an unconnected list of songs. It’s not as if Vivaldi threw a bunch of random stuff together to create the Four Seasons. Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion is a concept album.

And heavy metal is all about taking its listeners to a fantasy world, so why not. I was sold.

Brotherhood of the Snake was reportedly produced in a rush and under duress, but it has turned out wonderfully- aggressive thrash, but with new elements brought in from melodic death metal and jazz. Surprising changes of metre and register make this Testament’s most innovative album yet.

Chuck Billy’s versatile voice was on point, and he somehow manages brutality with an infectious grin. Alex’s playing is so effortless that it’s easy to forget he is playing the most difficult solos to be found in metal. Their inventiveness increases with every album, the world of thrash benefitting enormously from his study of jazz.

It’s hard to believe that Testament are a support act, but Amon Amarth, the Swedish melodic death metallers, are having an extended moment due to the current trend for Vikings and all things Scandinavian.

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This was one for my husband to enjoy. In general he loathes metal; he only chaperones me to these things because neither of us trusts me not to run away with someone with a waist-length beard. He may hate metal but he does love Vikings, and he delighted in the elaborate set of a Nordic longship and giant horns, and the costumed extras brought on to simulate axe-fighting. There were even two archers who pretended to fire arrows into the crowd, which was frankly quite unnerving.

Amon Amarth are another band with a concept album out, and lead singer Johann Hegg was clearly revelling in his role as the wronged hero from the Jomsviking legend.

Amon Amarth get away with their Viking silliness because of the high quality of the music; they play the most elegant and cinematic death metal, with heavily down-tuned riffs over blast beats contrasting with beautiful harmonised thirds. They even manage the unlikely feat of producing a ‘sing-along’ death metal anthem with ‘Raise Your Horns’.

An amazing evening which exemplifies the very high standards metal is reaching this year.

But next time, Switzerland, try without the earplugs. Go on, you might like it….

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