Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising (2011)

My personal relationship to the work of these Viking death inheritors has fluctuated through the years, reaching peaks of affection with The Avenger and With Oden On Our Side, but sinking into domestic squabbles with the far less impressive Fate of Norns. Three years back, though, another climax arrived in Twilight of the Thunder God, which was probably their best, most accessible album. The songs were almost unanimously memorable, the production immense, and despite the Norse Cliff Notes lyrical incentives, there was clearly an immense passion for the subject matter. If anything, this is expanded upon with Surtur Rising, the 8th Amon Amarth album, almost a twin brother to its predecessor.

Yes, they can hardly be accused of poetic license to rival the Eddas themselves, but it's obvious that Johan Hegg and his band of Swedish sea reavers feel a strong connection to the source material which they have invested here, in tales of the great fire giant and the Gods on high. The lyrics are a little better. It's safe to say that many of the band's ever broadening fan base would have been satisfied with a near carbon copy of Twilight of the Thunder God, and to a large extent, such an effort is made manifest in this. The studio standards are enormously high, without succumbing to the sterility that often plagues other large budget, melodic death entities. The riffs are simple but effective as they were on the last two albums, the Swedes never biting off more than they feel they ought to chew. The guitars ring loudly and often, the rhythmic battery of Fredrik Andersson a perfect, churning millstone of tempo, and the plunking of Ted Lundström adequate if not engrossing. You'll hear no lightening of the load in the vocal department, as Hegg continues to bluster out his gut busting grunts.

That said, there are a number of tunes marring the surface here that did little to draw in my attentions. "War of the Gods" is emotional but predictable, and the crushing but pensive sequel to 2006's "Hermod's Ride to Hell', titled "Töck's Taunt - Loke's Treachery Part II" is a standard mid-paced Amon Amarth swagger with little compelling hiding out in its depths, not even the calm and clean segue. "Destroyer of the Universe" picks up the momentum, with a surge not unlike the Twilight of the Thunder God title track. Honestly, though, it's not until "Slaves of Fear" that I started to bang my hammer and become absorbed to the simple, melodic thrashing and its transmutation into the arching, forceful bridge. "Live Without Regrets" has one of those catchy, folk epic notation patterns in its first riff, and a decent if predictable Viking breakdown; but then "The Last Stand of Frej" arrives, synthesizers gleaming with the grace of lost heroes behind the hammering double bass, and perhaps the climax of the entire album. Honorable mentions should also be imparted to the atmospheric closers "A Beast I Am" and "Doom Over Dead Man", which are also quite phenomenal.

Are they as good as "Guardians of Asgard", "Twilight of the Thunder God", "Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags", or "The Hero" from the last album? Nah, but then they're really nothing to scoff at either, and should easily survive a good number of spins. There are also a number of cover tunes here on the various versions. "Balls to the Wall" (Accept) and "War Machine" (KISS) are functional, but the most surprising is the iTunes bonus, a fucking System of a Down cover! Not something one would expect from these Swedes, and yet somehow they transform "Aerials" into a product their own, with all the atmosphere of the rest of the album. If you weren't aware of the original (which I'm happy to say I wasn't), you might not even realize the band had drawn it from an external source.

Ultimately, if you've loathed everything this band has released since whatever sufficiently secure and obscure stopping point (say, Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds), then you are unlikely to feel much differently about Surtur Rising. But if you loved the last effort, then you'll probably want to peel another twenty spot from your wallet to acquire a horn or mug. Gods know, you'll want to be swinging it to most of the songs here, even if it does land somewhat short of the last two shores.

Verdict: Win [8/10]


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