Review Summary: Melodic death metal without the cheese. And more death metal. And that is a good thing.
Amon Amarth are one of those bands that have had a career since 793 or something similar, and put a ***load of albums out in that period. Nobody ever kinda recognised them. Then came "Versus the World" and people were asking themselves who these Swedes and one Finn were. Then two albums later, we have arrived in 2006, and it is time for their penultimate record, With Oden On Our Side. And these guys are just getting bigger than ever, and with the new disc out there, these guys will probably become even more well-known. But those people that are hopping on the bandwagon with the new album, will have to know that 2006's With Oden On Our Side is one of the grooviest things the band ever released. And that they are doing themselves a disservice when they don't check this thing out.
There's a major reason for that, though, and that is that the songwriting on this thing is as ace as it gets. These guys play your everyday garden variety of death metal, but they add tidbits of melody, and huge doses of groovy, churning riffs. Also, there are no keyboards; those slick melodies are lead guitars, and there is no sort of melodeath cheese to be found here. These guys don't sound like Soilwork or Scar Symmetry, and the choruses are not poppy stuff, but they're really aggressive and powerful instead. Just check out the main lines of songs like "Asator", and you'll see that these guys are all about the songwriting and the groove, but don't forsake the heaviness of their roots as a death metal band. These guys have an amazing sense of force with their riffs, and all of the songs feature at least two main themes that will get your head banging.
The second reason is that the guitarists don't shred every song to bits. Melodic-oriented bands have that tendency to have the guitarists be flashy and show off on every song; that too is not on this album. Of course, there are the obligatory solos; but they are short, they fit the song, and every song has a main riff that they can build that solo off. And when the guitars are leading the song properly, it turns into the awesomeness of "Cry of the Black Birds", a song that perfectly takes that groovy riff and sweet lead melody formula to a new level. These guys have crafted a bunch of anthems that are bound to be live favourites on this record, and they have the songs to show for it.
Another major plus on this record is the vocal department, served to us by everyone's favourite viking-with-a-monstrously-huge-beard-and-a-horn, Johan Hegg. Hegg uses that famous death growl style, but he does it properly; there is no insanely high shrieking or half-assed grunting to be found here. There's just an extremely powerful roar, that drives every song with conviction and aggression. Another plus is that Hegg can actually enunciate his growls ("Runes to My Memory" is an excellent example), unlike a Lord Worm; hence the lyrics are comprehensible through the death grunting madness. That's exactly the grunting style that should tickle the fancy of people new to the style; they get both aggression and clarity.
Lyrically and imagery-wise Amon Amarth don't diverge one bit from the topics they've always sung about. These guys seem to have found something that works, much like say an Iron Maiden or a Slayer; they play the same powerful melodic death metal with the same Viking-inspired lyrical themes and they switch up the songwriting enough to be consistently interesting for a 45 minute period. It's everything you know and love with these boys: there are anthems about the Son of Thunder ("Asator"), where Vikings go after death ("Valhall Awaits Me") and the treachery of dear old Loki ("Hermods Ride to Hell"). Much like the mentioned bands before them, it's a formula, it's an iconic thing, and it's something that works, and luckily Amon Amarth have the wisdom not to stray from it.
So what's the final verdict? There is a boatload of groove, some amazing consistency (the album contains no real weak songs), some fine restrained musicianship and a great deal of death metal power. If you are a fan of this sort of thing, you shouldn't hesistate to snap up an Amon Amarth album, and you could do worse than this one. Amon Amarth are one of the few "Viking" metal bands that do not succumb to the typical flaws (cheese, wankery) that pervades this sort of music, and they are the better for it. Recommended.