Review Summary: It's time to fill you drinking horns with mead, mortals. The gods of true metal have returned with another slab of epic riffs.
Must we apply a genre tag to every single little dervish that pops up in metal music? Apparently we must, as is evident from the two dozen or so metal genres and subgenres that have been created over the last four decades that fans use to categorize their favorite bands, whether the bands themselves approve of them or not. Some of the more, uh, interesting genre tags that have been concocted by fans include death-grind, powerviolence, death-doom, djent, blackened death metal and, of course, progressive/sludge/post-hardcore/tribal/ambient (the genre that Neurosis fits under according to metal-archives.com) and I can only wonder what people are going to call the new Altar of Plagues album with its black metal-meets-Godflesh sound. However, there are a blessed few bands out there in the metal world that defy categorization and fly above the stigma associated with certain sub-genres. Sweden’s Amon Amarth is one such band.
Yes, most fans will usually lump Amon Amarth with all the “melodic death metal” bands due to their strong death metal influence and equally strong sense of melody, but does the band sound anything like In Flames or Dark Tranquility at this point in their career? Not really. In fact, Amon Amarth combines so many different styles of metal that it becomes very hard to pigeonhole them into just one. The band puts all of these styles on display: the dual lead lines of classic British metal like Maiden and Priest, the fist-pump worthy melodies and choruses of power metal, and the guttural vocals and down-tuned guitar crunch of death metal, as well the tremolo-picking of black metal. They blend these different metallic elements seamlessly into a cohesive whole to create music that’s just…metal, pure and simple. Generate a genre tag to place on them if you must, either that or you can just enjoy the music for what it is, that’s another option you have.
If there’s one thing that Amon can pull off every single time without fail, it would be delivering an epic opening track that grabs you and throws you onto their metaphorical Viking longship for a wild ride through metal’s most manly tunes. The title track here is everything you could hope for from this band; the tasty dual lead guitars, Johan Hegg’s ridiculously deep growl, and Fredrik Andersson’s insanely tight and technical drumming. Andersson in particular gives a standout performance on this record; his precision and speed is only matched by few and he does more than merely keep the band together, he puts on his own show. Johan’s vocals are deeper and more powerful than ever, which is impressive given that this is Amon’s eighth(!) album, not their first two or three. Deceiver may also be one of the best sounding modern metal albums you’ll hear this year. Producer Andy Sneap did an outstanding job in making every instrument ring clear as a bell, making Johan’s vocals sound burlier, and keeping things sounding as sharp as a ginsu knife without sounding overly processed and “fake”. Also worth noting is the guest vocal appearance on the track “Hel” which is none other than the man who is perhaps metal’s most technically accomplished vocalist: Messiah Marcolin, formerly of the fellow Swedish band Candlemass. His vocals are admittedly a little buried in the mix, which is unfortunate, but he’s still there in all his vibrato tenor glory. The closing track, the eight minute “Warriors of the North”, is basically summary of the whole album with some of its strongest riffs, in fact, it could conceivably be a summary of the band itself. It’s lyrics go: “We were the warriors of the north/ Notorious and brave/ We’d never lost a fight in war/ We feared not the grave”
This late into any band’s career, it would be hard to imagine that they could avoid sounding stale and tired, but Amon Amarth doesn’t fit that description. If I didn’t know (and if it wasn’t for the album’s stellar production quality), I’d assume that this was one of the band’s earlier releases. It’s a total joy to listen to, and it might easily top many of your "Best Metal Albums of the Year" lists, that is, unless some new band comes out with a groundbreaking album that rivals Master of Puppets, which is rather unlikely. Amon Amarth proves to us once again that they’re the defenders of metal in its truest form, and for that, we should all raise our drinking horns high in adoration.