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A Whole Lot of Viking. - 90%

woeoftyrants, March 19th, 2007

Holy shit, this DVD is a monster. Offering over 7 hours worth of material and performances, AA's first DVD may very well be one of the best damn metal DVD's ever put out.

Disc 1 is the undisputed centerpiece of the release. The show is the full performance at the Live Music Hall in Cologne, Germany, and the set list almost 2 hours long. Yes, 2 fucking hours of non-stop, adrenaline-rushing, fist-pumping metal. (22 songs in all, I think.) AA play both old classics and newer material, and split up the set list wisely. Songs from The Crusher and The Avenger sound especially great here; both of those releases had some slight problems in the production department, but live, the songs have a new sheen and sense of power to them. This is especially prevalent in "Annihilation of Hammerfest" and "North Sea Storm", but also works for faster songs like "Bastards of a Lying Breed." Aside from the music, this show is very special. Pyro is used a lot here, and works perfectly in the band's musical scope. (Especially on "Releasing Surtur's Fire," when the whole stage turns red.) The light show also helps out, as it compliments the music on many levels. And of course, I couldn't go without mentioning the interludes. As some ochestral interludes play at certain points in the set list, (don't worry, it doesn't sound gay) troupes of men dressed in Viking armor enter the stage and emulate battles. I know it seems cheesy and overdone, but it works amazingly. This is taken to another level when, right before "Where Silent Gods Stand Guard," two grim-faced men men with torches in hand enter and light pyres in front of Anders' drum kit, and stand without moving a muscle whilst the band rip through the song. This is quite possibly one of the most entertaining shows I've watched in a while, and it will definitely bring out the Norseman in you.

Of course, the show wouldn't be as good if the band itself didn't play well. Fortunately for us, the band pass that test with flying colors. There is a consistency and tightness present that isn't seen in many bands. AA actually sound like a unit playing live, rather than a group of musicians focusing on their seperate parts. This brings out the best in the music, and only helps to serve as a catalyst for the overall show. Johan sounds fierce and fiery here, especially on "Ride For Vengeance" and "Releasing Surtur's Fire." I don't know exactly how they pull it off, but the band maintain high energy throughout the show, and so does the ravenous crowd. Both of the guitarists play incredibly here, and the leads, harmonies, and solos are spot-on. Johan shows his skill as a frontman and involves the crowd with the songs on many levels.

One thing that really helps this show is the video and sound mix; there are tons of camera angles to capture the band up-close, and some attention is given to the fans as well. Not only this, but the video quality is fucking incredible, almost on the level of a high-budget movie. I know that sounds exaggerated, but take one look and you won't disagree. The sound mix is punchy and clear, and doesn't sacrifice one bit of the band's sound. It almost makes me wish that a CD version of this show would have been released...

Also featured on Disc 1 is a 60-minute documentary, which gives fans a glimpse into preparations for the massive Cologne showm as well as what life on the road is like for the band. Some interviews are given with the band members, and even some of the band's road crew.

Disc 2 features two performances: one Metal Blade anniversary festival, and the Summer Breeze festival. The Metal Blade festival shows the band on a more stripped-down and raw level, which can be good or bad depending on who you are. Here, the band play quite a different set list. Some of the newer songs are present, although "Valkyries Ride" seemed an odd choice for a new one to slap on the set list. The majority of the set, however, consists of older material. Really old material, including songs from the band's demo era. Even stranger is the band's choice to cover Six Feet Under's "Revenge of the Zombie," which comes off surprisingly well. The sound mix here is significantly more raw than the Cologne show, but helps to bring out the more primal nature of the show. Obviously, with a smaller venue, there aren't as many camera angles either. Overall though, it's not a bad show, but pales in comparison to to Cologne show.

Summer Breeze is another great show. The band play to a massive crowd in the thousands, and the sound quality truly expresses the epic nature of the music. All of the songs consist of newer material, the only old songs being "Releasing Surtur's Fire" and "Victorious March." This aspect seems to help things out in a big way. Things seem to drag a tiny bit with too much old material, but the band seem hgih and wired with a wealth of new material. It's seen clearly that the crowd is into it, and the band feed off the crowd for the duration of the show. There is some great lighting here, and the size of the stage gives the band more room to move around.

Disc 3 really only has one good thing to it, which is the Wacken Open Air Festival. This one is much like Summer Breeze, but bigger. Also, the camera shots and sound mix resemble the Cologne show a lot more, which adds a nearly music video-like feel to the whole concert. Here, the band play to a humongous crowd at 2 A.M., and rip through a slightly shorter set list of old and new material. Many of the songs are of the more barn-burner type, but the band never seem to tire in the midst of the constant speedfest.

Unfortunately, I had to take off some points for the "Fate of Norns" release show. Bad sound, less than stellar performance, (a few noticeable fuck-ups here and there) undersized venue, and a rather disinterested crowd.

But hey, if you can get past 1 bad show and sit through this whole thing in one session, you're a trooper. "Wrath of the Norsemen" is a great expression of the band, and stands as one the greatest metal shows I've ever watched. If you're even slightly interested in AA, pick this up.