Melodic death metal giants, Amon Amarth have done it again. These reborn Vikings, who have come forth to spread Norse mythology far and wide, can seemingly do no wrong. Following the success of 2008’s Twilight of the Thunder God, the band has picked up right where they left off. With their eighth studio release, they have further refined their sound, knowing exactly what sort of album they wish to make. They come with axes and swords ablaze, and they really don’t give a damn if you don’t like it or not; they’re still coming to destroy your senses.
Surtur Rising, following the band’s obsession with everything Norse, is a focus upon the powerful jotunn Surtur who, when Ragnarok (the Nordic equivalent of Armageddon) happens, will battle the gods of Asgard while his flames cover the Earth. Besides this, the album also follows other such battles and ideas prevalent in Norse mythology, all of which bring impending doom upon a helpless mankind.
The first track, “War of the Gods,” is a brutal album opener, complimented by some furious fretwork. Look for this song being played live; it is a guaranteed show-starter. Lyrically, it even has some Norwegian vocals, sung in their usual growly fashion by frontman Johan Hegg.
“Destroyer of the Universe” is another heavy thrasher, demonstrating the might of Surtur in all his fiery glory (and completely through his eyes). This speedy song comes complete with two lightning-paced solos, the kind any fan would expect to find on an Amon Amarth album. It does not disappoint.
The next two songs on the album are similar because they deal with philosophical ideas. “Slaves of Fear” is (lyrically) one of the darkest songs on the album, in which religion is the enemy. It’s not a satanic song by any means, but simply a plea to keep minds and eyes open to the liars of the world, especially those who would benefit from the exploitation of faith. Musically, it has a melodic groove to it, to which the angry voice of Hegg blends just right. “Live Without Regrets” centers on the beliefs of the Norsemen, and their undying devotion to the glory of death in battle. It focuses upon the idea of fate, and that one shouldn’t run from it; rather, embrace it in its entirety.
The next song, “The Last Stand of Frej,” is a wrenching ballad that tells of the god’s death against the mighty Surtur. It’s a sludgy, slower piece than the rest of the album (reminiscent of High on Fire), but do not let it fool you; there is a raw aggression present throughout the song, both in the chunky guitars and in Hegg’s vocals. The solo is one of the most emotional on the album; you can actually hear the notes crying over the demise of Frej.
“Wrath of the Norsemen” shows the decimation that the battles will leave, with a victim of the rampage lamenting his plight. This song has Hegg showing his vocal skill, perhaps experimenting with grindcore-style screams. His deep voice is perfect for this song, truly making the listener feel the narrator’s anger and pain.
“A Beast Am I” is a thrasher surely written for live performances; one that will surely activate some circle pits, all the while giving seasoned metalheads a bangover. Centering upon Fenrir, a wolf so monstrous that the gods chained him up (during Ragnarok he kills Odin), it tells the animal’s tale through its eyes. Furious guitar accompanies this song, and its one of the best on the album.
The last track, “Doom Over Dead Man,” is an experimental track for the band. A slower, ballad-like song, it details a man’s anguish over death at the end of his life and the questioning of his actions. It doesn’t seem like a song one would hear from this group, but they pull it off quite nicely, leaving an emotional scar upon the listener no fiercer than a sword slash.
The work of Soderburg and Mikkonen is flawless; their solo work is both majestic and ferocious, and their skill at writing memorable riffs is unparalleled. One can’t go far enough to say that this is their best work, but it’s definitely up there. Hegg’s vocals (some how, some way) are still decipherable, yet capture the inner beast he is unleashing upon the listener. The drumming is tight and technical without going unnecessarily overboard, and while the bass playing is very low-key, when it can be heard, it’s admirable. For fans of melodic death metal, this is surely the album of the year.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Pros: Tight, well-recorded, good variety of their signature sound.
Cons: No new barriers broken, besides minor experimentation. Bass is hard to hear.
Album Review by Jeremy Bigelow