Show Review: Death Metal in Detroit – Cattle Decapitation, Obituary, and Carcass Join Amon Amarth’s Great Heathen Army

Event: Amon Amarth – The Great Heathen Army Tour – North America, 2022

Venue: The Fillmore Detroit

Date: November 25, 2022

Artists Performed: Cattle Decapitation, Obituary, Carcass, Amon Amarth

Photos By: Jessica Trail

The Fillmore Detroit is a beautiful venue. You walk into a huge lobby with bright red carpeting. There’s a double winding staircase going to the second floor, which splits off and goes up to a third floor, each lined with fairly comfortable old-school theater seats. There are giant chandeliers hanging throughout the place and ornate ceiling decorations. At nearly 100 years old and located in Detroit’s Theater District right across the street from Comerica Park (where the Detroit Tigers routinely lose baseball games), The Fillmore is one of my favorite places to see shows in the city. I have been there many times over the years and seen everyone from Sigur Ros to Motörhead fill the place with music.

With an intro like that, it might seem an odd spot to host a band called Cattle Decapitation. That seems to be one of the band names that most skeeves out a lot of our non-metal friends, possibly even more so than Infant Annihilator or Dying Fetus, and that makes no damn sense. In a bare-knuckle fight between the three, for my money, Cattle Decapitation would dominate. They were certainly the band I was most excited to see on Amon Amarth‘s Great Heathen Army Tour. That’s saying a lot considering a lineup that included Obituary and Carcass, but you know how it is; some bands do more for you than others for no apparent reason at all.

I liked The Anthropocene Extinction and the Human Rarities compilation quite a bit, but Death Atlas opened my ears way up to Cattle Decap. I contracted a serious case of FOMO from that record and didn’t have a chance to see them when they were touring for it originally. 2020 didn’t afford anyone the opportunity, so “excitement” didn’t quite cover how I felt when this Amon Amarth tour was announced.

There was a bit of a lineup at the door and I was getting edgy because I didn’t want to miss one second. I walked in to the sound of “The Geocide.” Those vocals, man! “The universe, it always finds a way to purge…” God damn! Then they exploded into “Vulturous.” Was it possible that Travis Ryan sounded even better live? Hard to believe but that was very much the case. He was absolutely monolithic on stage. He was center stage, foot perched on the monitor, crushing verse after verse. Extreme confidence and power was just oozing from the man.

They played a killer new track called “We Eat Our Young,” which I hear they’ve been playing every night of the tour. It’s a relentlessly heavy song with all the musical dynamics you’d expect from Cattle Decapitation. Ryan mainly uses his low growl on it, with some well-timed screams and a cadence much like he uses on “Finish Them” from Death Atlas, which they also played. “We Eat Our Young” was one of the only two songs they played that weren’t from Death Atlas (the other being “The Prophets of Loss” from The Anthropocene Extinction) and that was just fine by me. Though I could have listened to them for another hour easily.

Lead guitarist Josh Elmore was another commanding presence throughout the set, and David McGraw isn’t a slouch drummer by any stretch of the imagination. A truly excellent band all around. They hyped the shit out of that crowd, man!

Obituary is up next,” Ryan said, “and they’re going to kill you. Carcass is going to take you to the morgue. Then Amon Amarth will decimate your corpse on the way to Valhalla.” Those were the words that led to “Bring Back the Plague,” which was to be their final song of the night. Total devastation, and at the time I couldn’t imagine being a member of the band that followed them.

Of course, it didn’t take ten seconds after the lights went down for Obituary to Rev up the engines again. Their intro music was “Snortin’ Whiskey” by Pat Travers Band. I mean; come on! I had seen Obituary before (at the Fillmore last, as a matter of fact), and they were just as good as always. I’d love to see an Obituary headline show – when they have a chance to dig deep and play more shit from Cause of Death, but this was a cool support set. Eight songs including “Redneck Stomp,“Circle of Tyrants,” “Visions in my Head,” and one of their newest tracks, “The Wrong Time,” which is a fuckin’ ripper! Excited for the new record. Perhaps a headline Obituary tour is on the horizon after all.

I don’t know Carcass as well as I should, and I hoped this night would finally afford me the opportunity to get a decent grasp of their celebrated notoriety. But to be honest, I don’t feel equipped to comment much on their set, mainly due to the fact that I had a bit of a run-in with an incredibly inebriated giant of a man who took offense to something I’m not even sure he knew. Happens to the best of us, I guess, but it happened about halfway through “Buried Dreams,” which was only their second song. All was sorted out in short order but after that, I had a hard time getting back into the groove.

One of the downsides to a stacked lineup is that there’s a lot more time for dumb shit to happen in between bands. Sometimes these things distract from the show in a big way, and sometimes it’s just people being people in close quarters and in various states of sobriety. I happen to be one of the relatively few folks who doesn’t drink, so occasions like these tend to bother me more these days. Showing my age, perhaps. I did have a chance to chat with a buddy after the show and he felt like Carcass played the heaviest and most memorable set of the night. So there’s that, and Jessica was able to get some killer photos of the band.

I was ready for Amon Amarth. I hadn’t seen them indoors before, which might sound like a strange thing to point out, but the confined space makes a huge difference. Especially for a band with as much stage gear as Amon Amarth. Their shows are massive, much like Iron Maiden, and I don’t make that comparison lightly. During “Deceiver of the Gods,” they had a dude come out as Loki. During “Shield Wall,”Find A Way Or Make One,” and “The Way of Vikings,” they had different characters come out in costume, sort of like Maiden does with Eddie. 

Amon Amarth‘s music isn’t Maiden-esque, of course, but the parallels between the two have more to do with heavy metal fellowship and the continued adoration of the scene as a legacy pursuit.

“Are you ready to feast with us?” Johan Hegg asks the frenzied crowd, “Are you ready to rage like Vikings?” Of course we are! This is a group activity. Much more than a concert we all happen to be at separately, expressing ourselves by pushing each other around or rolling our eyes at the old guys who maybe don’t quite “get” death metal. As strange as it might sound, the whole thing is like some kind of Viking spiritual gathering where one person is just as important as the other. There are no class divisions, racial or sexual boundaries. Fans of the band know well by now that at Amon Amarth shows the pit will turn into a giant group of people sitting on the floor pretending to row a Viking longship, specifically these days during “Put Your Back into the Oar,” with Hegg leading the crowd in a chant; “Row! Row! Row!”

At one point Hegg stopped the show and the house lights went up. Was it a fight? Did someone just get engaged? I didn’t know. As it turns out, so I’ve been told, someone passed out in (or near) the pit and when Hegg saw this he made sure the show didn’t go on until the man was helped to his feet. “We’re brothers in Metal, alright.” he said, “Thanks for looking out for each other.” Then they went right into “Shield Wall.”

I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m a small-town Ohio guy who had MTV to thank for my exposure to metal, but I’ve always enjoyed watching crowd surfing & moshing. Circle pits and walls of death. You can feel the music and watch waves of people moving through the lights, and it’s not from a fog machine at an Amon Amarth show. It’s an ocean mist. Before  “Destroyer of the Universe,” the sound system blasted the sound ocean waves with the backdrop lit up with neighboring ships and thunder in the distance. The lights shown blue and white waves on the walls. We were on the water with them.

By the time they played “Raise Your Horns,” I felt like I had been in a fight. A good-natured extracurricular type of thing, or a sort of right-of-passage into the world of the warrior. I was exhausted either way. Then the sounds of the ocean waves came back along with the thunder and rain. “Twilight of the Thunder God” brought me back to life. “I may be old as fuck, and seconds from death,” I thought, “but this is one hell of a soundtrack!” 

As of today, there are three dates left on The Great Heathen Army Tour this year. If you can make it, don’t hesitate. Show up early. Prepare for battle… and beer.

 

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