Review Summary: Another unsurprising album from perhaps metal's most unsurprising band, and that is all that could ever be asked of Amon Amarth
It is interesting that, 13 years and seven albums since the release of 1998’s Once Sent From The Golden Hall
, Amon Amarth are almost exactly the same band they were back then. Surtur Rising
, the band’s 8th LP, should surprise no one who has heard even one of Amon Amarth’s past releases, but also shouldn’t be despised by those who enjoyed any of their previous albums. In fact, it seems that Amon Amarth’s fanbase may be the least picky out of any in the metal world, putting up with album after album of basically the same songs re-arranged in a different way, while fellow melodic death metal bands such as Insomnium get vehemently torn apart for releasing only four albums in the same vein. Why? Well, there’s something about Amon Amarth’s formula that is deceptively simple and effective, lining up chorus and verse of alternating chord progressions and simple melodies that are shrouded under a veil of Viking glory that thousands around the world will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for the past thirteen years they have. As the old idiom goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
certainly isn’t broken, quite the opposite actually. The compositions are, relatively speaking, rather simplistic in structure by following the traditional verse/chorus pattern, but grossly effective at what they do. The melodies that flood the album aren’t weaving but rather benign; doing their job well as a compliment to the harsher and more punishing chords that make up the backbone of the record while not trying to create an illusion of technicality that has no bearing in fruition. Amon Amarth don’t try to do anything they shouldn’t be, instead they stay the course and continue to woo us with epic atmospheres and shredding guitar solos that are cliché but still oh so satisfying. The opener “War Of The Gods” is a classic Amon Amarth track, with ferocious riffs and Johan Hegg’s alternation between guttural lows and raspy, high trails that are among the most enjoyable in the genre because of their range, articulation and bite. The entire album is spattered with tempo changes that range from breakneck to plodding, adding a much-needed sense of variety and change to the atmosphere that would otherwise be cracked by lack of modification.
Unfortunately, the album is the most fragmented of any Amon Amarth release to date, with a handful of tracks that have the desire but not the means to stand out from the rest, instead sending them back into the shadows of the more robust tracks such as “War Of The Gods”, “Destroyer Of The Universe” or “Doom Over Dead Man”. Surtur Rising
does reveal the rust in Amon Amarth’s unwavering style, but that certainly doesn’t steal the thunder from the album. Despite a rather forgettable bass guitar performance that consists of simple rhythmic plucking buried somewhere in the distance of its low mix and some very familiar-sounding melodies that bring to mind Amon Amarth's prior works, the instrumental output is strong and unfaltering; both the rhythm and lead guitars consistent in their roles and their formation of well-placed harmonies. The drums in particular demand attention for several excellent fills and a fantastic mix that brings them right to the forefront without making them swallow the other instruments as highly mixed drums have the potential to do. The album is drenched in the Viking aura that Amon Amarth have built their careers around, and everything from the brilliant cover art to the epic lyrics inspire the proverbial insatiable pillaging, drinking, and slaughtering appetite of the Viking lifestyle.
is Amon Amarth through and through, a style often copied by scores of other bands but never achieved in the lasting power and popularity of these five Swedes, who show yet again that they can release an album that is so laden with moments of deja vu that fans no longer care, and shouldn’t. Amon Amarth will never change, and that may be for the best. They are the current staples of the Viking theme in the metal spectrum, and if something were to drastically change Amon Amarth may become just another melodic death metal band. In their incredibly well-worn niche, the band has identified themselves with this sound, and if they were to divert from it the feelings of anomie may become unbearable. Those who complain about Amon Amarth’s unchanging sound need to realize that both the members of Amon Amarth and their fans rely on it, need it, and without it a void will emerge that will likely go unfilled indefinitely.