Two Vikings flank the entrance to the Underworld, shields raised and sure of gaze.
On the left, the quietly confident Joao. On the right, the mighty Maximas, flaxen-haired and sure-footed leader of their London-based reenactment group, Ulflag. “It’s different and breaks up the monotony of being on Facebook,” he tells us of the pastime. “It’s safer than horse riding and judo. You might get your face cut open, but that’s really rare…”
The warriors have fought in Amon Amarth’s videos for Twilight Of The Thunder God and Guardians Of Asgaard, and are here at the release show for the Swedes’ 10th album, Jomsviking. The vibe is reinforced by the band’s gift of a signed drinking horn for the first 200 through the door, and clutching these (and more modern bottles of Newcastle Brown), the lucky few await the chance to see their heroes on their tiniest UK stage for 10 years.
As the The Pursuit Of Vikings starts up, alpha Norseman Johan Hegg bounds onstage and flashes a winning grin. The crowd chant along and pump their fists, before joining in with the chorus. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the lyrics,” laughs the singer. “It’s death metal – it doesn’t make a difference!” From here, it’s a fray of drunken braying. Johan referees a screaming competition during Cry Of The Black Birds, and is supported throughout by bandmates long of hair and strong of beard, including new touring drummer, Jocke Wallgren of October Tide.
Of tonight’s epic setlist, six of the 19 songs are from Jomsviking, and all are live debuts, but where people don’t know the words, they simply chant “Hail!”
Where watching Amon Amarth in a big venue with a rousing backdrop and pyro is like going to the theatre, tonight reaches the same level of immersion as watching a Lord Of The Rings marathon, and there’s almost a sense you’re about to be called up to battle.
Before Raise Your Horns, Johan pauses. “We thought we’d take the opportunity to raise our horns to you. Skal!” he exclaims. “My horn’s been raised all night!” bellows a fan. The double closing attack of Guardians Of Asgaard and Twilight Of The Thunder God, proves everyone else is similarly excited. Definitely better than Facebook.