Gig Review: Machine Head / Amon Amarth / The Halo Effect – Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff 9th September 2022

When it was announced, the ‘Vikings and Lionhearts’ tour may have had some scratching their heads. An unusual combination of melodic death metal, aggressive Bay Area thrash influenced metal and the Gothenburg sound looked a bit unwieldy on paper. In reality, it worked a treat, and the Cardiff metal community responded with a fervour not seen in these parts for some time.

The Halo Effect (c) Katie Frost

It’s unusual to have an opening band with as strong a pedigree as The Halo Effect. The ex-In Flames bandmates may not have been a name that many who arrived early were familiar with, but the band, who only formed in 2021, have already released one of my favourite albums of this year in Days of the Lost [review here – Mosh]. The opportunity to see Mikael Stanne, Niclas Engelin, Peter Iwers, Jesper Strömblad (replaced by Patrik Jensen on this tour whilst Strömblad deals with his demons – we wish him well) and Daniel Svensson was good enough reason to ensure an early departure from the pub to the arena.

It proved to be the correct decision, for The Halo Effect demonstrate their quality with a vibrant and compelling forty minutes of hard and heavy metal. Stanne, sharp and match fit after a season of festivals with Dark Tranquillity prowls the stage like a caged lion. The band, bathed in an emerald-green light and in front of a huge backdrop, are afforded a decent part of the stage to express themselves. Stanne’s combined gravel-soaked gruff roars and heart-melting cleans works perfectly, and even though the arena’s sound quality is notoriously poor, the band’s delicate harmonies and melodies shine through.

This was only their seventh live performance, but The Halo Effect are seasoned professionals and with quality in their musical arsenal, the likes of “Gateways”, “In Broken Trust”, and the spectacular finale of “Shadowminds” are positively received with many more people aware of their qualities by the end.

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It’s been over a decade since Amon Amarth last played the Welsh Capital. During that time the band have developed into fully fledged festival headliners, developed a stage show full of Viking imagery and almost as much fire as a Rammstein show. They’ve also released some underwhelming albums in that time, with their latest The Great Heathen Army [review here – Mosh] finally a return to form.

Amon Amarth (c) Katie Frost

As Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” gives way to “Amon Amarth”, the lights dim, the curtain drops, and huge explosions herald the arrival of the Johan Hegg (vocals), Olavi Mikkonen (lead guitar), Ted Lundström (bass), Johan Söderberg (rhythm guitar) and Jocke Wallgren (drums). Eighty minutes of anthemic fist-pumping metal follows, as Johan Hegg and his warriors urge the feverish crowd to “become Vikings”. Few set openers are as pounding as “Guardians of Asgaard”, a real stormer to get the crowd moving. The stage set is massive, two giant Vikings guarding the longboat which takes centre stage, housing Wallgren’s kit and providing one of several focal points.

It’s inevitable that as the band has become bigger, older tracks will be sacrificed, and with twelve albums in their discography, picking a setlist which sates all appetites becomes almost impossible. Unsurprisingly, the songs are drawn from more recent albums, with eight of the thirteen tracks pulled from the last three records. Of these, two singles also feature. The WWE entrance music of “Get in the Ring” gets a response which suggests many of those present may also have been at the huge WWE wrestling event at the Principality Stadium six days earlier. “Put Your Back Into The Oar” prompts the inevitable outbreak of floor rowing across the arena, hysterically many decide to do it in twos and threes, making it look more like a flotilla of small bathtubs than a majestic fleet of longboats, but it does the trick.

The set has changed, with two serpents now replacing the Vikings at either side of the stage. Hegg urges the crowd to “Raise your horns” and they do in fine style. The air is dark with them. “The Pursuit of Vikings” is as far back as the band go, with the older school happier with the arrival of one of the band’s classics. Hegg is front and centre, rabble rousing as “Shield Wall” sees hundreds of fans acting the image out around the arena.

If there is one complaint, it’s that Amon Amarth’s songs can occasionally blend into each other slightly. That is resolved with a monstrous version of “Twilight of the Thunder God” which sees the final bursts of flame before the Swedes take their bow and reflect on another confident and impressive display.

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Unlike Amon Amarth, Machine Head have been regular visitors to South Wales. Tonight is their 12th show on Welsh soil, prompting memories from Robb Flynn about their first show here supporting Slayer at Newport Centre (complete with leisure pool and slide as he remembers correctly) nearly three decades ago. It’s been quite the voyage for Machine Head and Flynn since then, with the frontman the only remaining original member. 2018’s Catharsis wasn’t well received but latest release ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN [review here – Mosh] is a marked improvement, with an eager savagery to the band’s songwriting that harks back to Through the Ashes of Empires, 20 years ago.

Machine Head (c) Katie Frost

Ozzy’s “Diary of a Madman” signals the start of the relentless “Machine Fucking Head” chants as the huge curtain bearing that very chant flutters at the front of the stage. Ozzy fades away, the curtain drops, and eighty minutes of chaos ensues. “Cardiff, are you ready for a fast one?” Flynn roars. Straight into “BECØME THE FIRESTØRM”, a real pit-inciting track and surprisingly the only one to feature from the new album. Flynn is the central focus, spitting out the lyrics and demanding circle pits from the off. He’s flanked by Decapitated man Wacław ‘Vogg’ Kiełtyka (who was unable to make the surprise guest slot at Bloodstock), whose sole objective all evening is to deliver some searing lead breaks. On the other side stands Jared MacEachern, now a decade into his time with the band. MacEachern seems as comfortable as he’s ever been with the band, his higher backing vocals bring a different dimension to the sound. Drummer Matt Alston is locked in, his hammering delivery making you wonder why you’d ever missed Dave McClain.

Another gargantuan set, with retina scorching lighting and multiple screens at the rear, there’s also pyro and smoke aplenty. The temperature is rising. Machine Head are back and the crowd are in the mood to remind them why they do this. Slipping a beast like “Imperium” into the set as early as the second song gives security nightmares, but the crowd surfers don’t care. The pit is violent, intense, but protective. It’s a return to form and a reminder that in this form, Machine Head are a match for anyone. This is quickly confirmed by a crushing “Ten Ton Hammer” which delights the old school and signals more action on the floor.

Machine Head (c) Katie Frost

Nothing drawn from Bloodstone & Diamonds or Catharsis, but three choice cuts do get selected from 2011’s Unto the Locust. An explosive “I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)” stirs the pits and the headbanging to ever higher levels, whilst “The Darkness Within” sees Flynn briefly touch on mental health. It’s “Locust” that stokes the fires still higher, the band are pumping on all cylinders, with Flynn and Vogg sharing the lead breaks which scorch the arena. Suddenly we are back in 1999, as The Burning Red’s “From This Day” prompts some retro nu-metal dancing to break out. It’s a real throwback but one that hits all the right spots judging by the enormous reaction.

We’re on the run in now and only one thing will do. Yes, time for the bruising “Davidian” which sees the place lose its shit in spectacular style. If the sight and sound of 5000 metalheads screaming “Let Freedom Ring with a Shotgun Blast” in unison doesn’t send a shiver up the spine, then you probably shouldn’t be reading this. With time running out, it’s time for Flynn to raise a beer to all, before “Halo” provides one more chance to dance.

It’s Machine Head who win the evening for me, their urgency and sheer aggression just shading it from their co-headliners. For once it’s all positive for the Oakland bruisers, who in recent years have taken a battering. This matched any show I’ve ever seen by them. But overall, it’s metal which takes the podium top spot on a night of pure passion, power, and quality.

Pics from London date by Katie Frost Photography

Machine Head: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | youtube

Amon Amarthofficial | facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | youtube

The Halo Effect: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | spotify

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