Words: Alan Daly
Pics: © Olga Kuzmenko Photography
It is said that in 922AD, the Vikings established a stronghold on the site of King John’s Castle on King’s Island, in Limerick. They used the river Shannon and its tributaries to travel far and wide, laying waste to villages and pillaging their valuables. Almost 1100 years later, the Vikings have invaded once more; not from Norway this time, but from Sweden, in the form of melodic death metal brutes Amon Amarth. The local Christians feared the invaders on both occasions. Monasteries were raided and burned for their precious artefacts giving medieval monks just cause to be afraid. But now, the faithful flock of holy Catholic Ireland is worried about the satanic influence cast by support act (or should I say co-headliners?) Behemoth on the impressionable parishioners. I was half expecting to see two bewildered clergymen waving placards warning “Careful Now” and “Down With This Sort Of Thing” at the gate.
Instead, we are met with an enthusiastic congregation of heavy music fans, many of whom have had to travel hundreds of kilometres from the usual seat of touring metal shows in Ireland. These migratory metallers are welcomed by hordes of resident revellers, who may not all be ardent death or black metal fans, but dare not miss out on this epic event. The arena for tonight’s open-air show is within the massive courtyard walls of King John’s Castle, built in the early thirteenth century at the behest of its namesake after the Anglo-Norman invasion and settlement of “the Lordship of Ireland”. Considering the historical 800 years of English oppression, the Irish might ask the Python-esque question “What have the Brits ever done for us?”. Well, they left us this very nice concert venue for one. Cheers, lads.
Given the early stage time of 7 pm, we’re not sure how the dark, gloomy sounds of Polish pariahs Behemoth will come across on this (un?)seasonably warm and bright mid-Summer evening. The recorded intro ‘Solve’ quickly builds excitement and transports the believers to their inner darkness as Adam “Nergal” Darski and his blackened brethren take to the stage with ‘Wolves of Siberia’, the first of a handful of tracks plucked from their most recent release I Loved You At Your Darkest. One of the advantages of an outdoor show is the relative relaxation of restrictions on pyrotechnics; something that both bands are eager to exploit for the first time in Ireland. Jets of fire shoot from the stage in every direction, enhancing the hellish atmosphere as the Poles forge ahead with crowd pleasers from Evangelion and The Satanist.
Nergal occasionally addresses the crowd, admiring the surreal setting and the legion of loyal fans before him. Dressed in his customary black cowl and corpse face paint, he makes a point of highlighting the bigotry expressed by at least one closed-minded local politician who tried to have their “satanic” performance banned in the city:
“We came here with an understanding that an ex-mayor of the city that doesn’t want us to play in Limerick would show up. What do you think about it? Where we come from, our home country of Poland is full of wannabes like that. It’s full of attention whores, so-called politicians who try to capitalize on this, on you, on us. What do you think about it? Let me ask you another question. Can anything, any force, any authority, any religion, any policy, stop free-thinking music-worshipping people? Say fuck no! Raise your fingers and say fuck no!”
With the audience suitably riled up, he introduces ‘Conquer All’, the only song of the evening from Demigod, helped on vocals by long-standing bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski and live guitarist Patryk “Seth” Sztyber. Along with Zbigniew “Inferno” Promi?ski on the drums, it would be hard to fault the musicianship of the quartet, who succeed in delivering a damning dose of darkness despite the shafts of setting sunlight shining sideways across the smoky stage. Unsurprisingly, one of the highlights of the performance is ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’ with its slow ominous build up to a crescendo of wailing guitars, thundering drums, and probably the most emotive sing-along of the title chorus from the audience. For many, Behemoth was the main attraction for tonight’s event, and they were surely content with their alms, even before the second act has begun.
As the stage is readied for the Swedes, there is little doubt that we are in for another spectacular show. Renowned for their elaborate props, the drumkit is raised on a huge horned Viking helmet which dominates the podium, flanked by two giant Elder Futhark runes for the letter A (although they look like F’s to the uninformed). With the sun still above the horizon, Amon Amarth charges the castle with ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ from their 2004 album Fate of the Norns. Those who thought Behemoth brought the fire are about to have their barbarian beards singed by the relentless pyro erupting from the stage at every opportunity. ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ and ‘First Kill’ keep the momentum flowing and fists pumping, prompting crowd behaviour one might expect at such an event – head-banging, moshing, crowd-surfing and even some lesser-seen antics including an acrobatic lady balancing upright on her partner’s shoulders as they navigate through the bustling audience. Unfortunately for them, and for anyone who surfed over the rail, event security crew are heavy-handed in ejecting anyone deemed “misbehaving” on a first offence. Probably the only criticism we would have of the event, as the staff are obviously unfamiliar with acceptable etiquette at a metal gig, and that injuries sustained are worn as badges of honour rather than excuses to litigate amongst the metal community.
Backdrops change frequently depicting various album artwork, and appearances from battling Viking warriors and giant dragons complete the theatrical spectacle as frontman Johan Hegg leads his bandmates through a barrage of pummeling tracks spanning twenty years of their unmistakable fighting (and drinking) songs. As the sky finally begins to darken and the show nears its end, Hegg makes a toast to the fans: “Nothing beats the hearts of the Irish. I’ll raise my horn to you. I have my big one. Slainte! Skol!” With that, all five down their drinks and tear into ‘Raise Your Horns’ from Jomsviking. Hammering the stage with explosive effect to begin the finale of ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ the show ends on an incredibly energetic high. With some twilight remaining, the crowd is genuinely saddened by the lack of any further encores despite their pleading, but the strict curfew is respected. Maybe it’s for the best. With tonight being such a massive success, maybe we can hope for more such events in the future. Hell… let’s turn it into a festival…