Metal Blade Records
29 March 2011
by Tom Dare
You imagine Amon Amarth must have approached album number eight in something of a quandary. Eclipsing Twilight Of The Thunder God seemed an unlikely prospect, given that record was as catchy and riff-laden as was it. Maybe that’s why Surtur Rising at first seems a little disappointing – this is a slightly different Amon Amarth to what we’re used to.
But before we even get to the music, we need to deal with that cover. It’s a Norse giant, standing in fire, about to strike some Vikings with a big fuck-off flaming sword while a massive volcano erupts with even more fire in the background. This is quite possibly the most metal image in the history of things. Frankly the record could consist of Amon Amarth farting into an amp for 45 minutes and it would still be worth getting, so brilliant is the cover.
Anyway, on with the music. How are things different? It’s still riff-tastic, it’s still accessible, it’s still all about Vikings and it still sounds huge. But on first listen, it can be easy to miss something- partially because certain things you expect from Amon Amarth are not there. Opener ‘War Of The Gods‘ is a case in point. Amon Amarth album starters have a pedigree, right back to ‘Ride For Vengeance‘, through to ‘Death In Fire‘ and ‘Valhall Awaits Me‘. ‘War Of The Gods‘ is not the hook-laden, anthemic, fist-pumping riffgasm that those other songs are. It’s great, but not quite on that level. And it’s a pattern that continues throughout- those hits, the giant, immediately captivating crowd-pleasers aren’t here.
The lower “instant hit” count should not be mistaken for a band running short on ideas. Instead, Surtur Rising is more about atmosphere and melody. The riffs are splendid enough, but there isn’t a ‘Pursuit Of Viking‘ around. Instead, they form the underpinning for the sumptuous leads and tremendous songwriting that make this a far more deep, rewarding record than anything they’ve done before. The lead guitar work is easily their finest, full of melody and ominous oppression, creating a texture that does not reveal itself on first playing but will have horns thrown irresistibly when the breakthrough is made. The songs are just as good as ever, it’s just they’re just a bit different to what fans of the most recent albums may be used to.
Listen to ‘War Of The Gods’ by Amon Amarth:
Whether it’s the mournful ‘The Last Stand Of Frej‘, the inexorable sense of fate permeating ‘For Victory Or Death‘ or the mixture of aggression and bombastic swagger that drives ‘Live Without Regrets‘, the songs are powerful and emotive, and despite the different approach, genuinely memorable. This is simply a more grown-up affair, that relies less on catchy cookie-monster choruses and gigantic riffs and more on weaving the lead melodies, painting the appropriate level of percussion and vocal heaviness around it, and hanging the occasional ornamentation (such as the strings in ‘Doom Over Dead Men‘) off it.
Surtur Rising isn’t going to please anyone after ‘Guardians Of Asgaard‘ or their catalogue of show-stoppers. If that’s what you want from Amon Amarth, Surtur Rising is going to be a minor disappointment. But for the more patient of their fans – or for new listeners willing to give it the time it needs – this is a record that will have you searching eBay for a drinking horn with which to toast Amon Amarth’s triumphant return. A new Amon Amarth has emerged, and they’ve made an album that stands up to the loftiest of expectations.
Sounds like: Vikings, beards, beer, Ragnarok
Top tracks: Slaves Of Fear, For Victory Or Death, Wrath Of The Norsemen
Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising tracklisting:
War Of The Gods
Tock’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II
Destroyer Of The Universe
Slaves Of Fear
Live Without Regrets
The Last Stand Of Frej
For Victory Or Death
Wrath Of The Norsemen
A Beast Am I
Doom Over Dead Man