Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Amon Amarth marches to war with red hot Surtur Rising

In Norse Mythology, Surtur was a giant who carried a flaming sword to do battle against the god Freyr. The carnage of the fight was said to have caused waves of flames to engulf the earth.

It's a perfect descriptor of Surtur Rising, the eighth album from Swedish melodic metal masters Amon Amarth. For those of you familiar with Amon Amarth, you should know what to expect already.

For those who don't, you can expect to hear intense metal epics illustrating tales of Norse gods, hailing the glory of victory while also depicting the agony of defeat and death. They're hardly the first band to do this, but they're doing it about as well as anybody today.

Musically, the band plays at a level of intensity rarely heard - the power and heaviness delivered by guitarists Johan Söderberg and Olavi Mikkonen will scorch you like flames being shot through a blast furnace. There are so many fast double bass parts here that you'll swear drummer Fredrik Andersson must have the meatiest calf muscles in all of Sweden.

Vocalist Johan Hegg frankly doesn't have the greatest range. He can muster about three styles - deep growls, deeper growls, and a higher pitched scream. This makes it hard for him to play into the band's melodic style, but he is able to pull off jaw dropping choruses in "War of the Gods" and "Destroyer of the Universe."

What Hegg excels at, however, is pulling off the image of badass tough guy Norse/Viking warrior. If your band expects to tell the story of 13th century mythological epics, you've got to have the right guy behind the mic to do it.

Surtur Rising carries on the theme of most Amon Amarth albums by alluding to Norse mythology, but they have many tunes that speak in more general terms.

"Slaves of Fear" attacks the corrupting hold of religion while "Live Without Regrets" trumpets the never ending bravado of warriors off to battle. "The Last Stand of Frej is perhpas the most eloquent portrait of the creedo of battle - Frej is facing a mighty foe he knows he has no chance of beating, but the rules of honor in combat prevent him from surrender and dictate that he must stand tall to the end.

On previous records, Amon Amarth have been known for brandishing more of a classical heavy metal feel, but Surtur Rising steps away from that a bit to favor more of a straight ahead metal approach. But there's some good diversity on this record. There is some distinct Dark Tranquility influence here, most notably on "Live Without Regrets" and "For Victory or Death."

The obvious highlights are the raging opener "War of the Gods" and the all out assault of "Destroyer of the Universe," undoubtedly the heaviest song on the record.

It's a shame that the rest of the album isn't really able to recapture the intensity that these two songs had. If they had managed to do that for the entire album, or even for half the songs, Surutr Rising might have been an album for the ages.

As it stands, though, Amon Amarth has still managed to mount an early challenge for metal album of the year. Give Surtur Rising a few spins and you'll be swinging your flaming sword with such precision that you'll be able to drive fear into the steely heart of Freyr himself.

Score: 88/100

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