August 4, 2011

Music Review: Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising

Surtur RisingWhat can I say about Amon Amarth that hasn't already been said? Probably nothing considering the depth, or lack thereof, of my experience with their music. I suspect I discovered them alongside many other metal fans with 2006's With Oden on Our Side. Yes, I realize that many out there have been with them since their 1996 debut or even earlier, but that 2006 album was rather explosive and thrust them onto a larger stage, or at least that is what it seemed like to me.

Now, while I truly dig their brand of metal, I cannot claim to know all that much about them or all that they are about. This probably makes me the last person a die hard fan wants to read from, so I invite any of you who feel this way to skip this review and continue visiting Critical Outcast or just leave for other, friendlier climates. Just let it be said before you go that Surtur Rising is a pretty phenomenal album.

Actually, that is probably all that I really need to say. There is something about this album that gets under the skin and makes you want to put on a horned helmet get some gigantic two-handed sword and some boots and start making some blood flow in the tradition of the Vikings. This is foot stomping, sword and axe swinging metal to end all metal. Not my favorite, but that is such a nebulous term that it really has very little meaning outside of the individual. This is music in the pure Amon Amarth tradition (I have listened to some of the older releases), but there is something different about it that pushes it to the top of their catalog. It may be the newest, but it also may be their arguable best.

There is something about Amon Amarth's brand of death metal that stands apart from a crowd. Yes, they have the heavy riffs, the growled vocals, the charging forward surge of noise, the never stop stomping forward attitude, and the requisite darkness, but there is something else. They bring a lot of melody to the stage, making it an inherent piece of their sound. This is not a cacophony of sound, this is planned, finely crafted and then purposefully executed. This is death metal that digs itself into your head and stays. More than just inducing the banging of ones head, it invites contemplation of the melody, and dare I say groove?

It has been labeled Viking metal, a term the band does not use, but it is one that fits. Their themes of Norse mythology and Viking lore does nothing if influence the sound of their metal. Sure, it has the prerequisites of being death metal, but the lyrical content certainly holds some sway over the resulting creations, thus making the Viking metal tag work.

Surtur Rising chronicles the rise of the evil Norse fire giant Surtur, hailing from the land of fire known as Muspelheim. It is said that his sword of eternal flame will give him the power to destroy the mythical Nine Worlds. The album takes us through his clash with he god Frej. I do not claim to have listened to the story play out across the album, but there is no denying the music brings up the idea of gods clashing swords and axes while fire burns all around.

This may not be the most brutal of their albums, but I think it may be the best at blending the brutal and melodic sides of their sound into a perfect melange that invites you back time and time again. It doesn't take much more effort than listening to the opening track, "War of the Gods." Heavy, surging, melodic, and pure Amon Amarth.

Keep listening and you will see the band continuing their growth, experimenting with some different pacing and orchestrations. This is evidenced in tracks like somewhat slower pacing of "Tock's Taunt - Loke's Treachery Part II" and the doomy feel of the excellent "The Last Stand of Frej," not to mention the orchestral elements of  "Doom Over Dead Man."

If you are a fan already, you likely already have this. If you don't why don't you? For those curious, you cannot go wrong with this or their prior two (With Oden on Our Side and Twilight of the Thunder God). This is metal!

Highly Recommended.

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