Saturday, April 2, 2011

Surtur Rising by Amon Amarth

Surtur Rising

Amon Amarth got their start nearly 20 years ago.  They hail from Sweden and actually released their first album, well demo really, Thor Arise in 1993, around the same time as the Swedish Death Metal scene really took off.  It had been around for a little while before this but by 1992 Entombed had really separated themselves from the other bands in this genre.. 

With Amon Amarth, things were a bit different.  While their early offerings were every bit as raw and "garage-like" as the other bands in this scene, what differentiated them was the lyrics they chose to use combined with the presence they imposed upon a crowd.  Virtually all of Amon Amarth's recordings pay homage to Norse Mythology and their regions rich tradition regarding Viking lore. 

While much of their earlier recordings were an assault upon the listener, it was the Mythogical and Viking narrative, told through guttural and almost supernatural vocality, that drew the attention they had.  While remaining true to their roots, each of their recordings began to show a bit more from the band, in terms of the variance and rhythmic blending they chose to employ.  Today's Amon Amarth, one could say, is a purely evolved version of the band, that once roared through  Black Sabbath's namesake classic, claiming it as their own.

Surtur Rising, the newest offering by the band contains 11 tracks, each building upon the one that came before.  The record opens with "War of the Gods", a melodic tribute to the roots I've touched upon.  Johan Hegg's trademark vocals alongside the power of his band mates help set the tone for Surtur.  The band even incorporated a bit of choral qualities at points throughout the song.  They continue with the very lyrically rhythmic tale "Tock's Taunt-Loke's Treachery Pt. 2".

The Third, "Destroyer of the Universe" and Fourth, "Slaves of Fear" are about as commercial as these guys get.  Very good lyrics wrapped nicely amongst perfected instrumentation. "Live without Regrets", also has its fair share of catchy hooks neatly transitioning into the heart of the album. 

The rest of the album is dominating.  In each of the remaining songs effectiveness, each offering a new element to the palette.  "The Last Stand of Frej", is perhaps the most moving track on Surtur, where interwoven rhythmic tendencies stand united with softer, and at times ethereal rhythms.  "For Victory of Death", is a straight up call to arms, combining inspiration and pride into a finely tuned Battle Hymn. 

For me,"Wrath of the Norsemen" is without a doubt the most powerful song on the album.  For me, it has all the qualities I find so magnetizing in "Under the Northern Star", from their 2006 album, "With Odin on our Side.", in my opinion, one of the greatest songs ever written, for any genre.  This song is a guttural narrative encapsulating a beautiful plea for help, "Somebody Wake me/From this horrible dream/Somebody save me/From this terror I feel"  Then as the song concludes, a somber realization dawns "No one can save me/From this horrible dream/No one can hear me/Over heartbreak and screams"

"A Beast am I", is the unfortunate victim of location.  It is sandwiched between,what I feel to be, the two most powerful songs on the entire album.  It does not deserve such a fate.  It is a very solid effort, where Hegg is almost chanting his reflections; a song that begins with Fredrick Andersson, laying down some heavy beats. Combine this with haunting additions like, abbreviated howling and low level guttural inflection, and you get "A Beast am I".

"Doom over Dead Men", Is another track which is very effective and extremely powerful in both function and form.  The skill sets of Johan Soderburg, Olavi Mikkonen and Ted Lundstrom on guitars and bass, really come alive.  The hook in this song is very effective in its usage of anaphora, on display throughout the chorus.

The album concludes with a cover of "System of a Down's", "Aerials".  Amon Amarth stays pretty close to the original in overall replication.  The difference being a heavier arrangement along with Hegg' vocals. The result, a remastering of a very good song.

I have a somewhat biased ear for this particular type of metal, and this band specifically, but if the album was not how I described it to be, then I would have attacked each failing nuance, with the ferocity of a dragon.  Clearly, this album is a must own for any fans of the band or its genre.  Viking Metal at its best.

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