Amon Amarth at House of Blues, 1/23/2014
As Houstonians prepared for another blast of icy weather on Wednesday night, who better to usher in the cold than a bearded Viking horde led by Amon Amarth? Like a gang of beer-swilling Leif Erikssons, the Swedish death-metallers have spent the past 15 years sailing on countless expeditions to the New World, and judging from the size of the crowd that greeted them Wednesday, Houston is on its way to becoming one of the group's favorite North American outposts.
Weeknight be damned, House of Blues was crowded and damp from almost the minute the doors opened on Wednesday. While it certainly didn't hurt that Amon Amarth is touring practically unopposed by big-name metal acts this winter, a lot of the credit for the turnout has to go to the stacked bill somebody put together. The opening act, Ohio's Skeletonwitch, has built a nice local following playing virtually every stage in town over the last three years or so, and fans turned up early so as not to miss them last night.
The moshing began early on in the evening as Skeletonwitch stabbed viciously at the crowd with slick, blackened thrash blasting out of guitar cabinets emblazoned with inverted crosses. I was expecting a set heavy on material from last year's critically acclaimed Serpents Unleashed album, but true to form, the band unchained tracks from throughout its decade-long career. New cuts like "Thunder From a Cloudless Sky" stood shoulder-to-shoulder with older chestnuts like "Beyond the Permafrost," whipping the floor into a cyclone of stomping and shoving.
Would've been nice to hear Skeletonwitch with the full power of the HOB sound system at their disposal rather than the lamer volume and mixing afforded openers. But singer Chance Garnette promised they'd be back soon, and having now seen them four times in two years here, it seems pretty likely that's a promise he'll keep.
Up next was Enslaved, the moody, mildly progressive black-metal troupe from Bergen, Norway. Like Skeletonwitch, Enslaved didn't shy away from older cuts, dusting off 1992's "Allfather Odin" on their way to the title track from their latest album, RIITIIR. I happened to prefer the older, crueler snatches of blood-curdling black metal that the band trotted out, but the more mature, tasteful bits employed in the band's newer music were certainly dynamic, if lacking a bit in brutality.
On newer songs like "Ethica Odini," the talented, counterpoint vocals of bassist Grutle Kjellson and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen helped to establish a melancholy, downbeat atmosphere onstage that was received by a more subdued audience than their tourmates. Such is black metal. While their Scandinavian brethren in Amon Amarth gleefully plunder the same Viking mythology as Enslaved for inspiration, the Swedes take a rather more rollicking, heroic view of their cultural heritage than their Norwegian buds.
Review continues on the next page.