Amon Amarth
Surtur Rising

Newsflash! Amon Amarth is releasing a DVD containing all four Bochum shows in which the band played their first four albums in their entirety called Bloodshed Over Bochum. Since these shows were bonus audio on the reissues this time is video. This release comes as a CD+DVD digibook edition with 28-page booklet, a special boxset with Surtur Rising figure which contains the CD/DVD-edition as above, and as an added bonus it comes with a CD full of new material. This brand new material is also available separately on CD and picture disc vinyl with die-cut gatefold sleeve and as a gatefold 2-LP which is also available as red/black splatter and red/yellow splatter vinyl. This new material has been given the title Surtur Rising and will be released in North America on March 29, 2011 and will be followed by a headlining tour in April and May.

A steady lineup, a steady label, no issues to distract from their goal, full length album number eight on Metal Blade in nearly fifteen years with the label. How does that translate? For those that thought the last several albums were a conscious attempt to soften their sound to attract a wider audience and therefore not harsh enough or worse still those that use the sellout word, Johan offers this, “A major change for us on this album was the sound and production. It was one of the main things we had discussed before going into the studio. We thought we needed to be a bit more aggressive and rougher than the previous two. We wanted a harder, tougher sound and I definitely think we got that.” Myself, I was never worried about it because the changes were gradual, not like, for example Rush’s change from progressive metal to arena rock, and because despite the softening of sound in the studio the harshness was maintained on stage. More brutality in the production room can’t be a bad thing however. Now that legions were swept into the fold with the past two efforts they can ramp up the intensity and keep most of the new fans because once again the shift is gradual. From the lyrics, “we’ll split their skulls and spill their guts upon the frozen ground.” No compromise there. Harshness is still there to a degree much higher than any mainstream death metal band, and I don’t mean in the lyrics alone.

Olavi masterfully delivers intensity through melodic lines in his compositions because he is never showing off. If it does not advance the mood of the song he does not do it. Intensity through melodic tension. His melodic lines set a mood instead of just picking off a series of high speed notes. Olavi and Johan complement each other well and in no way do they enter the power metal trap of dueling lead guitarists. Despite significantly more melody on this album they both hold the line of sacrificing individual glory for the power of the song. They pull off more melodies without seeming like the album as a whole is more melodic. It does not come across as listen to me strut. No fluff, no pointless solos, no spotlight pointed at them. “War of the Gods” has memorable riffs and eloquent melodic lines. In “Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” Johan’s guitar shines as bright as Olavi’s. I always like to see a member of the rhythm section craft a song. “Slaves of Fear” was written by the drummer, Fredrik, and the opening repeated riff will stick with you. It is not in “Pursuit of Vikings” territory but pretty damn memorable. One complaint, where’s Ted? I wish his bass was more prominent.

All the songs feature more complexity without losing sight of the mantra of extreme metal; more rage, more passion, more intensity. The melodic lines are more ominous, melding well with the crushing riffs. Not to beat a dead horse without putting its head on a pole, but I think the last two albums suffered in the production room, if suffered they did, not in the song writing department, and as stated by Johan, that has been addressed here, as is only fitting for an album dealing with a lord of chaos that intends to destroy all of the universe.

First an album for Odin, then an album for Thor, now an album for Frey. Frey is portrayed as he is, an immensely powerful battle god. It is Njordr’s son that faces the most powerful being in the worlds, not Thor or Odin. “The Last Stand of Frej” is a somber ballad Amon Amarth style and is a worthy successor to “Embrace the Endless Ocean.” Imagine going into battle knowing your survival is impossible and if you lose everything you hold precious will be destroyed. This song captures the hopelessness of Frey’s plight and the power behind his decision to sacrifice himself against Surtur in hope of savings the worlds. In the end Surtur lit the worlds aflame, Frey lost. The lyrics say;

“I am calm and ready to die
Everything around me burns
And I know that I will not survive
See him rise
From land of flames
Destruction is at hand,
It is time to make a stand
My death awaits, I have no fear
To this end my fate is bound
Though I’m doomed
I’ll stand my ground.”

Johan Hegg is the voice of Amon Amarth, and an enormous part of their sound. I would not like to imagine an album without him. “Wrath of the Norsemen” shows Johan’s harsher side in vocal delivery and despite what would be unintelligible for the uninitiated he pulls of grind intensity and no lyric sheet necessary simultaneously. Add to that “Töck’s Taunt” and the exceedingly low growl. I love the more vicious delivery of Johan’s youth, and like on all albums we get tastes of it throughout Surtur Rising as well. Also of note is “Live Without Regrets” and on the above mentioned “Wrath of the Norsemen” he screams, “NO ONE CAN SAVE ME! FROM THIS HORRIBLE DREAM! NO ONE CAN HEAR ME! OR MY HEARTRENDING SCREAMS!”

It is not unique to Tom Thiel’s artwork here, look for John Dollman’s example from a hundred years go, for example, but a personal gripe I’ve got is the portrayal of the Jotuns as huge humans. Jotun is generally translated as giant, but they are certainly not just oversized people. The emphasis is in otherness, on monstrous features. It is also true that gods and giants intermarry so at least some of them must be of comparable size. If there is some confusion over if one is a giant or god it is usually one’s actions that betray their race, not physical size. Surtur probably is of immense stature but of monstrous features as well as monstrous size. There are threats of marrying off someone to three headed giants. But back to the album.

Two songs deal with the teachings of Havamal, teachings of the high one. “War of the gods” deals with the war between the Aesir and Vanir, though there is debate over that interpretation. It seems to me more likely a war between the gods and giants that got confused in translation long ago and has been perpetuated that way. But anyhow, the theme to “Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” (I don’t have to tell where part one is) is that Loki betrays Frigg and dooms Baldr to Hel. And of course there are several songs about battle and glory. Two songs give opposing viewpoints on the monumental meeting of Surtur and Freyr, and the last song deals with honor and luck, build your own way through the one life you’ve got.

In “The Last Stand of Frej” Johan growls, “With all my strength I run the horn Deep into his eye…” He uses the same idea in “Destroyer of the Universe.” He is confusing two different battles. Frey killed Beli, another giant, with the antlers of a stag. Chalk it up to artistic license. Surtur still, in the end, lights the worlds on fire, destroying all that is.

“A Beast Am I” is told from the point of view of Fenris. Curiously at the end there is a pause followed by an acoustic assisted instrumental break that flows very well into the following track and makes me wonder if it is a mistake in track break location. It feels more appropriate as the beginning of “Doom Over Dead Men” than as the disjointed end of “A Beast am I.”

“Doom Over Dead Man” is doomdeath brilliance with their most complex composition to date. Complex, heartfelt, epic, somber. A nice orchestral presentation that does not, emphasis on not, come across as cheesy. To quote once more from the song;

“So I die but won’t be mourned
Broken and alone I wish that I were never born
So I die and won’t be missed
No rune stone will be raised
As my body rots away.”

Imagine going on a journey toward enlightenment, don’t get caught up in religious fervor and extremism, live your own way, do what is best for you and yours or the quotation above will apply to you.

Several other songs await your discovery. Get your mead cups ready, first round for Frey, second round for Johan, Olavi, Johan, Ted and Fredrik.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Grimulfr
March 28th, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: legumbrera

    Grat review!! Amon Amarth is the best melodeath band nowadays


  2. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    Grim- thats a FUCKING EPIC review, for an epic cd.


  3. Commented by: faust

    Damn that really is an epic review! Spot-fuckin-on too.


  4. Commented by: vugelnox

    as dependable and enjoyable as ever!


  5. Commented by: Cynicgods

    My new Amon Amarth fix is here. :D

    Fan-fucking-tastic review, Grim.


  6. Commented by: Stacy B.

    I agree with the comment about Ted’s bass being low in the mix. The irony is that when I actually DO hear it, it’s probably my fav bass tone they’ve utilized!


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