posted on 3/2011 By:
Above death and taxes, there are a few unwavering certainties for me in life: I will always love blowjobs, I will always love the New Orleans Saints, and I will always love Amon Amarth. (I guess I should throw in some namby-pamby stuff about my wife and daughter, blah, blah, blah.) Even at their most water-treading, stagnant phase (The Crusher, Fate of Norns), Amon Amarth was as reliable and consistent as any metal band….ever. But with 2006's With Oden On Our Side and 2008's Twilight of the Gods, the Viking mortals entered realms of the Aesir, kicked down the gates of Asgard and became truly unfuckwithable. And as arguably the most hyped album of their career (including about 13 versions of the album as well as the upcoming ‘A Night With Amon Amarth’ tour), Surtur Rising has lofty expectations -- expectations it crushes into the dirt with its giant, fiery demonic feet.
While some will claim that Amon Amarth has once again settled into a comfort level of repetition and predictability, I personally hear Amon Amarth being more creative, epic and melodic than they ever have in their career, maybe even too much so for some die-hards. Sure the Viking stalwarts deliver what most fans expect in spades: burly, bearded Viking melodic death metal that’s instantly recognizable as Amon Amarth and the sonic personification of Johan Hegg’s looks. Surtur is full of riffs and solos that will awaken the innate bloodlust that manifests itself in choreographed head-banging and fist pumping around the world. Ultimately though, it’s still fucking Amon Amarth, take it or leave it.
But a deeper peeling back of Amon Amarth’s chainmail reveals a more comfortable and, dare I say, friendlier Amon Amarth. After the classically styled and rousing chorus of opener “War of the Gods”, which could have slotted anywhere into Amon Amarth’s discography, you'll think that “Tock’s Haunt-Loke’s Treachery pt II” is delivering a simple, steady, mid-paced Amon Amarth affair, but the song takes a couple of subtle turns into fleeting atmospheric and acoustics -- it’s very small, but noticeable, and when “Destroyer of the Universe” stomps into view, it’s a mere afterthought, but the seed is planted. And it occurs numerous times through the album – it’s very subtle, but this is the most melodic album Amon Amarth has recorded. Buried amid typically rip-roaring Amon Amarth-isms are the likes of the solos in “Slaves of Fear”, the super-harmonious gallop at 1:52 and 4:00 of my personal favorite “Live Without Regrets” (which might be the most melodic riff the band has penned), and the slightly subpar “For Victory of Death”. Even one of the three (count ‘em, three) moody slower tracks, “Last Stand of Frej” is actually sort of despondent and doomy, rather than just another slow rumble. And closer “Doom Over Dead Man” is the nearest thing to a full-on ballad the band has done, complete with orchestra, but the melodic, final rocking riff is worth the wait. And it’s these little things that keep Surtur Rising from being yet another Fate of Norns or The Crusher in my eyes, and they elevate the album to one of the band's very best releases.
But fear not my Huscarl warriors, Amon Amarth still delivers plenty of expected tracks with the top-notch production and awesome Hegg vocals you want; like the aforementioned opener and "Destroyer of the Universe", “Wrath of the Norsemen" and the album’s most urgent track “Beast Am I”, which all deliver that warm and fuzzy familiar style that fans crave. And while some will decry the added variety and melody, I for one am glad that Amon Amarth decided to change things up just a smidgen and not start treading water again.
posted on 3/2011 By:
Amon Amarth is in an interesting position. Undoubtedly, they're at the absolute peak of their popularity, boasting a crossover appeal that is practically unheard-of amongst death metal acts. For a band to be enjoying such fruits at this stage of their career is not only admirable, but inspiring. Their melodeath-stalwarts-done-good sentiment certainly plucks at the metallic heartstrings. Unfortunately, as Surtur Rising proves, the band's output since their "commercial" breakthrough, With Oden On Our Side, has triggered far less inspiration than their increasing popularity.
That Surtur Rising brings nothing new to the table should surprise no one. While many contend that Amon Amarth are single-tricksters cut from the Bolt Thrower cloth, they actually made a subtle shift in approach with Versus the World (and a necessary one, at that, as they hit a bit of a wall with The Crusher), but they've been locked-in ever since. Every aspect of their sound has been fine-tuned though years of experience. To the mild dismay of those that pine for a throwback to their Abyss Studios speedballin', the band's tones and tempos are set in stone.
When stylistic changes are minimal (or in this case, totally nonexistent), the songs are left alone to fend for themselves. With Oden On Our Side became a colossal success on the strength of Johan Hegg's vocals and lyrics, with tracks like "Runes To My Memory" and "Cry of the Blackbirds" carving numerous battle scars on their way to enshrinement in the band's Hall of Fame. But Surtur Rising, following Oden's formula to the fuckin' letter, fails to excite on any of the same levels.
Opener "War of the Gods" fails to live up to the standards set by "Valhall Awaits Me" and "Twilight of the Thunder God," and the only tracks that actually ignite any electricity are "Destroyer of the Universe" and "For Victory or Death." The former boasts a chorus talior-made for fist-pumping shoutalongs, and the latter maxes out the Amon Amarth speedometer -- a device that is seemingly incapable of reading "God, His Son, and Holy Whore" levels in its advancing age.
But even these standout tracks are inherently lackluster; if the pedestrian titles didn't give it away, Hegg's lyrics are particularly uninspired this time around, even as his delivery remains sharp. The remainder of the album is as middling as it is predictable -- the riffing is rehashed and boring, drumkit fireworks are practically nonexistant, and the lead work -- while potent -- can't salvage the entire affair from lazily descending into the third tier of the band's catalog.
Surtur Rising doesn't give longtime fans much to chew on; Amon Amarth has done the exact same thing before, and with much more fire and conviction. Those new to the band -- and / or rabid fanboys -- will find plenty of formulaic fun here, but the "It's Amon Amarth...what did you expect?" parroting is in danger of growing as stale as Surtur Rising's tired-ass strains.
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