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Amon Amarth, At The Gates, and Arch Enemy Sailed Into the Riviera (Live Report + Photos)

I haven’t been to a big-ticket metal show in a while, at least since the last time I saw Cannibal Corpse in March (Blood Incantation opened — it was great), so finding myself at an Amon Amarth and Arch Enemy show was like being a stranger in a strange land. It was at the (all too packed, more on that later) Riviera in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. I’d never been and heard mixed things, so, with my fellow photographer compatriot Zak Kiernan at my side, we set forth on an adventure into the unknown.

We arrived a few songs into Grand Magus‘s set — just after the requisite “you get three songs in the photo pit” time period (so sorry, no photos), but just long enough to really know what was going on. I have a Grand Magus CD or two thanks to some media trading and eBay CD lot wins over the years. They’re good, pretty damn good for a traditional slab of heavy, epic doom metal, and it translates well to a live setting. It was thunderous, especially for a three-piece band, and a stirring, lengthy, audience-led rendition of their famed “Hammer of the North” closed out what was a fun set.

At the Gates at Riviera Theatre
At the Gates, photo by Jon Rosenthal

Surprisingly, At the Gates followed. This confused me. Why would At the Gates, an established, legendary band, open for Arch Enemy, their contemporary. I tried not to dwell on it so much, after all, I was in the photo pit, literally a breath away from Tomppa Lindberg and company. Having wanted to see them since I was a teenager — yes, I dawdled on seeing literally every tour they’ve been on since they reformed, sorry — this was, to me, a once in a lifetime experience. And they were kickass. Oh my god did they shred. Opening with a sped-up “Slaughter of the Soul,” I was beside myself with excitement. Lindberg owned the stage, running around like a madman and howling at the top of his lungs. At such a level of energy and perfection, you’d think they were only playing for us and going home to Gothenburg.

Arch Enemy played next. Again, weird to see them follow At the Gates, but whatever. Zak took over and ventured into the photo pit while I hung back and observed like a regular member of the crowd. Now, I haven’t actually heard a note of Arch Enemy since long before Angela Gossow stepped down to become their manager five years ago, so this was bound to be an interesting experience. Also, Jeff Loomis handling second guitar was more than a reason to diligently watch (I never got a chance to see Nevermore, so hey, what an opportunity). Though my taste and Arch Enemy’s metalcore-inflicted melodic death metal may have diverged long ago, it seems, I cannot deny how professional they are onstage. Vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, formerly of The Agonist, who I believe I saw open for Enslaved in 2007 (weird), strutted and fretted about the stage like it was hers. She had all the dynamic front-person poses down. It was really a sight to behold, and her performance was definitely powerful, fitting the whole “big-ticket” band aesthetic to a T. As a big bonus, burning through “Ravenous” and “Nemesis” took me back to my teenage years.

My biggest complaint? I had nowhere to stand! It’s as if The Riviera oversold the general admission area. I ended up missing half their set because there were just too many people and I had to hang back all the way to the merch area door. It really was unfortunate, especially as a short person who cannot see over the sea of vikings who were waiting for the headliner.

Amon Amarth at Riviera Theatre
Amon Amarth, photo by Jon Rosenthal

Amon Amarth is another band whose music and my taste diverged a long time ago, but everything up to and including With Oden on Our Side still means a lot to me. Hot on the tails of the aptly named (I did check it out afterward and was really pleasantly surprised) Berserker, the Vikings themselves were bound to put on a great show.

First off, the stage setting, or at least their drum riser, was incredible. A golden, horned helm which turns into a Viking longship? Be still my beating heart. I was suddenly 16 again and obsessed with Norse lore all over again. Such pageantry isn’t really a luxury which can be fit into the stage of a small bar, which is where I usually see shows. This was the next level, a treat which I really don’t get to experience that often.

Amon Amarth’s performance was electric, or pre-electric (get it? Vikings?). Like literal berzerkers, this troupe of Swedish men and their large, bearded frontman treated the venue like a battlefield (and were literally joined by an armored adversary onstage, it was really something). Burning through all the crowd favorites — I was very happy to be up front for “Runes Call to My Memory” — these Scandinavian folk heroes resolidified my love for them in one fell swoop. It was incredible, really.

Check out all our photos from the show in the gallery at the top of this post. The Amon Amarth tour hits NYC this weekend and concludes on October 26th in LA.

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