Sub-genres of metal were presented in the form of melodic death metal upstarts The Absence, from Tampa, Florida; black metallers Belphegor from Austria, Finland's self-described "heroic folk metal" in the form of Ensiferum and the headliners, Sweden's Amon Amarth, a melodic death metal band, heavily focused on Vikings and Norse mythology.
Fans lined up for over an hour outside the Garrick Centre, Winnipeg's favorite venue for "underground" metal bands. When the doors opened at 7 pm, we were greeted by signs indicating that Amon Amarth would be in the merchandise area of the lobby hosting an autograph session with free posters. I quickly made my way over to the line up, met each band member, bought their concert DVD and a t-shirt, as well as shirts at the Ensiferum and The Absence tables.
Less than five minutes after the doors were opened to the seating area of the venue, Tampa's The Absence took to the stage for an inspired but brief set of less than 30 minutes. Having listened to their current album Riders Of The Plague, a few times, I was familiar with both some of the songs as well as their overall sound, which has an emphasis on melodic guitar playing. There's a ton of similar bands out there and I would hope that The Absence will continue to focus more on melody and music that people can remember over speed and perceived heaviness. For the final song, they played Testament's "Into The Pit" from the 1988 album The New Order, as well as from Riders Of The Plague. It may take a while before they headline a show but I hope to see these guys again.
Austria's Belphegor are one of those bands who could easily get lumped in as inspiration for a new Spinal Tap film. Lead singer Helmuth growled and screamed his way through the set, careful to mention the prince of darkness' name several times, both in song and while speaking to the audience, lest anyone forget that they were flying the flag for black metal. They were fast but not as heavy due to their thin sound and tinny drumming style, so prevalent in European black metal. Not given a decent sound check likely contributed to the poor guitar sound, as well. They may have been exceptional guitarists, but you couldn't tell.