There is no mistaking the gravitas on display tonight at Manchester’s AO Arena. Dubbed the The Vikings and Lionhearts Tour the co-headlined show featuring Machine Head and Amon Amarth is one of the most anticipated metal tours of 2022 and not due to any lack of competition.
Collaborative touring is something that metal has never shied away from and where some of the greatest success stories come from. The Big Four Tour of 2010, the 1990’s double team of Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth and Lamb of God continuing to extend their mammoth run of dates together.
In fact co-headlining tours appear to be back bigger than ever, which makes perfect sense. As bands depart for their first tours post lockdown and still face concerning levels of uncertainty once they hit the road the ability to double down on fan bases and share the burden of touring what are all too often elaborate and impressive stage shows must have enormous appeal.
Despite having over sixty years of history and some twenty three albums to work with, tonight is no heritage show with all three acts on the bill actively writing, recording and releasing new music and having each released their latest albums in August of this year.
It’s the Vikings, Amon Amarth, who take to the stage first as headliners tonight and who deliver more of their newer material, the title track of their new record, The Great Heathen Army, quickly becoming a sing along anthem for those who’d made it in this early.
A drawback of having two acts on a bill that both require an hour twenty each is that one of them has to start pretty early, in this case 19:20. By the time the curtain falls, the first pyro hits and Johan Hegg strides onto the stage with his drinking horn the crowd is still noticeably thin. Those who were there though, get a show they’ll not likely forget in a hurry.
Amon represents a slice of metal music that draws from great mythologies and storytelling and it’s not subtle. Their name taken straight from the pages of Tolkien, references to Asgaard and the Thunder God that this audience appreciates for Norse traditions rather than references to Thor.
Performing sandwiched between two giant inflatable vikings and bathed almost constantly in flames it’s a spectacle we can only really liken to an Iron Maiden show, at times veering off into choreographed theatre as two Vikings take to the stage to do battle and Hegg striking the floor with a hammer that indeed Chris Hemsworth would be envious of.
Another thing about metal is that it’s varied. Machine Head are part of the heavy metal elite and are in the presence of a pleasingly fuller crowd by the time it’s their turn. They’re far less theatrical, but that doesn’t mean there’s none to be seen at all. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, or Vikings to Lionhearts.
In place of drinking horns and rallies to battle Robb Flynn raises a plastic cup to the crowd demanding “beers up, beers up” and conducts circle pits within the masses. He time and time again wants Manchester to “make some noise”, raise middle fingers and glasses.
Despite having an album merely weeks old we only hear one track from it when the band open with Become The Firestorm, which if in isolation is anything to go by is a shame as it hits hard and jump-starts the set like you’d usually expect a classic to. Instead the band mainly opt for tunes from their back to back albums The Blackening and Unto the Locust.
The four-piece are relentless on stage and expect the same of their audience. To their credit a large portion rise to the challenge start to finish with enthusiasm, the kind that left us in our late twenties and so now we watch the circle pits appear and disappear from the comfort of a seat.
Though advertised as having two headline acts you’d be mistaken in ignoring tonight’s support act The Halo Effect who are giants of metal themselves having formed a supergroup of sorts from Swedish death metal icons In Flames. Their debut album Days of the Lost released just a month ago hit the top stop in their homeland and we get a big chunk of it tonight.
With it being over a decade since Machine Head last headlined an arena bringing a triple bill as strong as tonight’s on tour allows bands who may not normally be expected to achieve such feats the chance to take to the bigger stages that their music and spectacle so often thrive on. Metal is steeped in a vibrant history of the spectacular, whether through epic visual stage shows, or the imaginary imagery that their lyrical content can conjure. Both of which were delivered in spades tonight.
The metal scene has always had a sense of tribe about it, with collaboration and community woven in and shows like tonight prove that success can, and should, be shared. Long may the torches pass, hammers fall and giant inflatable Vikings grace the biggest stages we have to offer.