Every once in a while a heavy metal tour rolls into town that you just have to see. This particular tour, sporting the immense Savage Messiah, the unholy Huntress and the Viking overlords Amon Amarth was one such tour and, on a snowy Friday night, the tour rolled into Sleepy Leamington Spa and utterly laid waste to the Assembly Rooms. To get three such bands in one package is nothing short of manna from metallic heaven and, judging by the insane smiles sported by punters leaving the venue, the bands did not disappoint.
The Assembly is an awesome venue for this sort of thing. With decent lines of sight, excellent sound throughout, plenty of space for merch. and a decent bar that doesn’t charge approximately one human soul per drink (see O2 Academy – it can be done!) it’s the perfect venue for this sort of event and it was heartening to see the venue heaving with metal fans at a time when it seems to becoming increasingly hard to encourage people to head on out. If there’s any negative at all from the night, it’s that a strict curfew meant that Savage Messiah started incredibly early (around 7:15), played a comparatively brief set and had the smallest audience of the night, but even so, the UK thrashers made one hell of an impact.
I’ve made no secret of my love of Savage Messiah in the past. A band that have successfully combined the melodic elements of classic heavy metal (notably Judas priest and Iron Maiden) with the relentless brutality of thrash, Savage Messiah are without a doubt one of the UK’s finest heavy metal bands and, with a recent award from the British Phonographic Industry (which led to the rather bizarre sight of the band playing the channel four news), it seems that there are many who agree. With just half an hour in which to win over the slowly swelling crowd, Savage Messiah hit hard and hit fast, offering up a wealth of material from the amazing new album ‘the fateful dark’ with a precision that is little short of jaw-dropping. Opening with ‘Iconocaust’ is a masterstroke, the powerful riffs instantly causing the crowd to collectively lose their minds. From then on it’s a non-stop frenzy of hammer-blow riffs, fret-destroying solos and classic tunes. With ‘cross of Babylon’ giving the band the perfect opportunity to practice their Iron Maiden stage moves and ‘hellblazer’ unleashed like an airborne toxic event, the highlight comes with a stunning rendition of ‘the fateful dark’ and the climactic ‘minority of one’. It’s a show so mind-blowing it’s hard to believe the band are opening and not headlining and from the large quantities of Savage Messiah shirts present it’s clear that many agree.
Rather more classically minded Huntress are a potent mixture of Motorhead, Judas Priest and Alice Copper and, like Savage Messiah, they have the stage presence of a headline act. Singer Jill Janus is a bewitching, slightly terrifying presence who commands attention and it’s no surprise that the band have been busy touring with everyone from Arch Enemy to Amon Amarth – certainly their stage-craft is honed to perfection. With highlights like the gloriously sleazy ‘I wanna fuck you to death’ (thanks Lemmy!), ‘black tongue’ and ‘eight of swords’, Huntress happily gain themselves a fair new fans, and I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing much more of them over the year.
With no disrespect intended towards either of the previous bands who delivered near-flawless sets, the moment that the crowd had undoubtedly been waiting for was the unveiling of the Amon Amarth stage. Shorn of the gloriously over-the-top trappings of their festival performances (no Viking long boats or giant flaming dragons this time out) Amon Amarth demonstrate quite clearly that they need no props to hold the attention of a packed room full of metal heads. This is a band who have patiently and through years of hard work built up a passionate following and with such a stunning back catalogue it’s hardly surprising. Leaning heavily on excellent new album ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ the band unleash hell upon the heaving throng and it’s clear from the energy levels flowing from the stage that the band are enjoying it every bit as much as the audience. As excellent as the band are, Johan Hegg is a powerful figurehead for the band. Possessed of a mighty Viking roar, and built like the proverbial outhouse, what really lies at the heart of the powerful connection between audience and band is the fact that Johan is so obviously having the time of his life. His giant grin, his wonderfully absurd stage raps and his unfailing ability to get the audience to do whatever he commands, whether it be to sit on the floor pretending to row (no, really) or singing the words to ‘the pursuit of Vikings’, he is a born showman and the crowd love him for it.
Highlights of the set? How about the title track of the latest album, the stunning ‘free will sacrifice’, the ever-awesome ‘twilight of the thunder god’ or ‘war of the gods’? They’re all played with passion and power and plenty more besides, making the choice of highlights somewhat arbitrary. Most notably the show passes in a heartbeat and before anyone really realised what was happening the gig was over and the venue was emptying rapidly into the cold night air.
All three bands proved excellent in Leamington. The sound was top-notch throughout, the bands friendly and seen regularly wondering through the crowd greeting fans as old friends, and each one gave a presentation that could easily see them headlining in their own right. The band of the night entirely depended on whom you were there to see and while, for SonicAbuse, the highlight was Savage Messiah’s stunningly tight display, both Amon Amarth and Huntress were so close behind you’ll undoubtedly get different answers from other attendees. All in all it was one hell of a night and if you have even the slightest opportunity to get to any of the remaining nights of the tour you should move heaven and earth so to do. Three excellent bands, one amazing night – what’s not to like?
Amazing live photography courtesy of Jola Stiles