I made the 75-mile trip from Atlanta to Athens last week to see Amorphis and Swallow the Sun at Georgia Theater on their 2017 North American tour. Before I get to the review, I just want to say that the folks at Nuclear Blast USA and all the tour promoters should really be applauded for bringing a band of Amorphis’ stature to a vibrant college town like Athens and supporting the local scene there. In my interactions with the early crowd, I noticed large numbers of people had made the drive from various parts of Georgia, Alabama, and the surrounding states to witness the Finnish master class on the bill.
I was pleasantly surprised as soon as I set foot inside Georgia Theater – the venue is in downtown Athens and only a couple of intersections from the main campus of UGA (University of Georgia) – as the building stands three stories tall with a rooftop balcony and a gorgeous view of the street below. Navigating to the main stage hall, I walked past the long line of VIP meet-and-greet crowd buzzing with anticipation. There was that extra bit of hunger and passion oozing from them that one doesn’t always see at metal shows in very large cities.
The enthusiasm was further evident as soon as supporting act and Atlanta natives Khaotika took the stage. The band whipped out a tight set including a new single, Under the Oath, from their upcoming album due for release in 2018. Frontwoman Lariyah Hayes and company were every bit as switched on as they were when they opened for Overkill a few months ago in Atlanta and really got the night off to a phenomenal start.
Next up, Athens thrash outfit Beast Mode were greeted warmly by the home crowd, and for good reason. Vocalist Parker Ford bellowed and howled over solid thrash riffs with an impressive array of stage gymnastics, showcasing tunes from their debut full-length Blood Moon that has made the quintet a hometown favorite in Athens.
Finland’s Swallow the Sun have been one of the flag bearers of the death-doom sound for some time now and the band draws a similar fan base to Katatonia and Ghost Brigade. Aside from being fantastic musicians, the band’s compositions are inherently dynamic, melodic, and atmospheric. Coupled with possibly the most intimate stage lighting I’ve ever witnessed, Swallow the Sun ruled the stage for close to an hour, taking the crowd on a spiritual journey with enough highs and lows to be reminiscent of a near-perfect metal opera.
The set included many intimate moments, most notably the band dedicating a song to the late Amorphis/Swallow the Sun collaborator and close friend Aleah Stanbridge. Also notable was the immense contribution of Juho Räihä who has been standing in for Juha Raivio on live guitars since 2016. The band produced a majestic set comprising old and new songs including Rooms and Shadows, Falling World, and Psychopath’s Lair, before closing out with the ace Swallow.
After a relatively short setup, fellow Finns Amorphis stepped out to perform one of the most enjoyable melodeath sets I’ve seen recently. Performing Under the Red Cloud to Bad Blood and Into Hiding, the band entertained the wild crowd with impressive instrumentation and a spot-on delivery that reeks of close to 30 years of collective stage experience.
I was forced to capture the band from the midst of the crowd—there was no photo barricade—which made for a memorable photo essay of the night. Surrounded by a dedicated crowd that sang along to Amorphis classics, I found myself at once headbanging and trying to capture the emotion of the night all at once. There is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing hundreds of people throwing up the horns and watching the band reciprocate the gesture, winking, smiling, and playing along with the emotional energy of the crowd.
Tomi Joutsen commandeered the center of the relatively small stage with his signature double-handled microphone while Esa Holopainen and Santeri Kallio threw down the native folk-inspired melodic flair we have come to expect from Amorphis. The highlight of the night was the last song, Black Winter Day, which took the crowd back to the Tales From the Thousand Lakes days and provided the perfect ending to an awesome night. Here is hoping Amorphis will be back again soon promoting their next album. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and blast out the tour edition of Under the Red Cloud, out now on Nuclear Blast.