It’s a Friday December night in San Diego and what better way to spend it than at a kick-ass Viking death metal concert. Heathens from all over San Diego gathered en masse for a sold-out show at Soma to see the debauchery of Amon Amarth, Carcass, Obituary, and Cattle Decapitation as part of the Great Heathen Tour.
As the parking lot reached capacity, a long line of headbangers made their way into the 2,300 capacity venue. Others blasted metal beats in their cars as they patiently waited to head indoors.
Growing up in San Diego, Soma was always the place for kids to see live shows. New to this all-ages concert hall is drinking for anyone 21-years old or older, and the side stage has been transformed into the bartender area. There was a family of four dressed up in Santa Claus hats and heavy metal attire, and a father brought his son to his first ever concert. Giant beach balls kept the fans entertained before the rock fest.
With “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane fading out from the PA system, incoherent animal noises started playing and the entire building went pitch black.
With a gut-wrenching punch to the stomach, we were violently hit with a wall of sound and double bass from Cattle Deception as the lights slowly come back to life. Opening with “The Geocide,” the band wasted no time and played straight into “Vulturous.” The local death metal band ended their 30-minute set with “Time’s Cruel Curtain” and “Bring Back the Plague.”
Like the Bat-Signal, summoning our protector and warning criminals, the Obituary logo was projected brightly onto the ceiling of Soma for the whole audience to see. These death metal heroes form Tampa were about to save the day.
Opening with the song “Redneck Stomp,” we were greeted by a festive tour member dressed like a Christmas elf. Not to be outdone, lead guitarist Ken Andrews wore an ugly Christmas sweater with a miniature wreath that lit up, gory pants with a huge eyeball, and a Santa Claus hat that had Obituary spelled out upside down. With the classic gutturals coming from singer John Tardy, the fans loved every minute of it. This was the start of the never-ending, old-school circle pit for the rest of the evening as the band played a crushing 35-minute set, ending with “I’m in Pain” and “Don’t Care.”
Coming from Liverpool, England, and known throughout the heavy metal world as one of the pioneers of goregrind, Carcass was up next. As founding members Bill Steer (guitars) and Jeff Walker (vocals/bass) kicked off the set with “Buried Dreams,” the venue was filled with so much haze from the smoke machine we could barely breathe.
Walker was playing his famous Fernandes Triturador Deluxe four-string bass and raising it up high, pointing it to the crowd as if it was a machine gun, he screamed into the microphone to rally the troops. They ended the night with “Corporal Jigsore Quandary,” and the fan favorite “Heartwork,” which got the crowd surfers grooving.
Thanks to an elaborate set design, there was a bit of a wait for the set change, but the staff worked feverously to get everything set up quickly behind the curtain as fans sang to the background anthem of “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden.
At last it was time for the Swedish death metal legends Amon Amarth to take the center ring!
The curtains rose, smoke shot into the rafters, and the crowd went insane as lead singer Johan Hegg asked us heathens if we wanted to go to battle with them during the opening of “Guardians of Asgaard.” The staging is insane: Jocke Wallgren drums on top of a tall warrior Viking mask with huge horns, LED eyes that show video, a back drop, platforms, and stars on both sides. Even though this is the smaller setup (without the statues, serpents, and Viking ship), it was still an impressive sight to behold.
During “Deceiver of the Gods,” the band was visited by Loki, the god of mischief. Then there was a sight you can only experience at an Amon Amarth show: You’ve heard of the Wall-Of-Death, but have you heard of a Row-Pit? Half of the audience, at least a thousand people in Soma, sat down on the floor and pretended to row on a Viking ship through the heavy seas as the band played “Put Your Back Into the Oar.”
There were theatrical moments when Viking soldiers did a live reenactment sword battle during “The Way of Vikings” and “Shield Wall” while lead guitarist Olavi Mikkonen and rhythm guitarist Johan Söderberg shredded. Bassist Ted Lundström laughed as his bandmates toasted the audience and drank beer from their flasks before “Raise Your Horns.”
Closing with the crowd-pleasing encore “Twilight of the Thunder God,” Hegg wielded the hammer of Thor to end the Norwegian spectacle.
After the show, these metal masters signed merch, threw guitar picks, handed out playlists, tossed drum sticks, and even gave away the sweat bands off their wrists to their loyal Heathen army. With another successful invasion, these juggernauts will live to raid and pillage another day.