Vikings are highly conducive to the Metal medium, not merely for the steely swords, grand two-handed battle axes, or even the dragon headed longboats, but also because the spirit of the mighty Norsemen was untamable. It stands to reason that any music depicting such people need have a similarly unrestrained sense of artistry as well as a soldier’s discipline and consistency. In this respect AMON AMARTH has always been well suited for the task as aside from updates in production, they have exhibited an almost stubborn tenacity within their highly catchy, melodic and heavily formulaic sound that only the likes of AXEL RUDI PELL and OVERKILL could truly appreciate.
“Twilight Of The Thunder God” is the next logical step in terms of production from “With Oden On Our Side”, because aside from Johan Hegg’s manic berserker grunts and morose war cries, this album’s mixing work is about as crystal clear as a pool of distilled, unsullied water. A good example can be heard throughout most of “Where Is Your God?”, which is built almost completely out of those blurry tremolo riffs that KREATOR introduced us to back in 1986, but surprisingly with such a crisp pick attack and precise execution that it lacks the stereotypical sloppiness heard in many mid-90s Gotherburg releases. But whether it’s galloping riffs, down-tuned low end grooves, or simple melodic drones, everything is balanced in a manner that gives the album a slick outer layer of sound to hide weathered beards, stained teeth and hairy torsos beneath.
Though as a whole this is not quite as consistent songwriting wise as its predecessor, several songs on here actually surpass much of this band’s previous works. The obvious winner is the title track, which brings forth an unbelievably triumphant melodic riff right at the get go, almost like a grand overture to rival Wagner’s “Walkürenritt” but with a darker and less cliché nature. It’s fast and furious, makes frequent references to the Thrash Metal and IRON MAIDEN influences that birthed this genre, yet at the same time is fresh and inviting. This consistently intricate and up tempo approach, which hearkens back to their early demo days and was reintroduced on the last album, pops up again on nearly as intricate songs such as “No Fear For The Setting Sun” and “Live For The Kill”.
On most of the rest of the music occupying this solid opus, things tend to listen well rather than outright extravagant. Part of the fault may lie in placing such a towering epic right at the very beginning of the album and then following it with a couple of mid-tempo numbers in “Free Will Sacrifice” and “Guardians Of Asgaard” which feature very catchy riffs, but are just a bit too settled and subdued, allowing the euphoria that has been produced to tapper off. “The Hero” and “Tattered Banners And Bloody Flags” have very interesting solos and plenty of pleasing melodic passages during buildup points between the verses and choruses, but sort of coast along and don’t quite break out into spellbinding territory. There are a few guitar solos that filter in and out of some of the songs that grab the ears since they occur with a greater frequency than usual, but the most amazing lead break is the guest slot provided by Roope Latvala on the album’s already riveting title track.
It’s a very safe bet that if you liked the previous album, this one will be a sure winner. Like a few others in the Metal world, the chief criticism levied against this band and this solid album is that the band isn’t changing and is too safe. But if the measurement of a worthwhile album is found only in mere innovation, there would be no such thing as development and eventual perfection of style, and we’d be left owning a miniscule handful of albums that we’d get bored of within a few months. Staying within a given format does not leave one with zero latitude for variation, and is a necessary function of musical progression that does occasionally lead to incredible leaps in metal’s evolution. But to expect anything other than a Melodic Death Metal album from these veteran Viking folk is unrealistic, and the resulting problem between the listener and the music is a direct result of expectation, nothing more. But instead of dwelling on the opinions of others, the truly Metal thing to do would be to simply check this out for yourself, form your own opinion, and enjoy.
(Online February 1, 2009)