AMON AMARTH could be likened to a favorite beer mug that is specifically designated for mead consumption. Apart from those who obsess with the particular beverage common to the Varangian pallet and have an affinity with an orthodox, non-folksy variant on Melodeath, it’s a glass drinking implement that might only be used every now and then, but it has its place even among those not particularly of the persuasion in question. The ebbs have been few, and the flows many with regards to this mainstay of Swedish brand excellence with a guttural voice, and there has been a particularly noteworthy streak of late, with the newly released “Surtur Rising” being the third installment. Named for a mythical giant whose great flaming sword would engulf the Earth at Ragnarök (according to the Poetic and Prose Eddas), this is yet another album that successfully lives up to the grandiose imagery it portrays.
In most respects, this is a pure stylistic continuation of the post “Fate Of Norns” era of the band featuring the usual mixture of up tempo majesty, catchy riffing, and dark berserker barks. At the same time, this is also something of a further refinement of the same sound that merges the best elements of “With Oden On Our Side” and “Twilight Of The Thunder God”. The energetic tendencies of the former are on full display as the majority of the songs are fast and riff happy, while the somewhat lighter and melodic tendencies of the latter have given them a catchiness that is comparable to Power Metal at times. These are songs that are easy to get into, and also easy to become addicted to, despite the fairly simple model that shapes the whole. Basically this is the sort of standard verse/chorus approach to songwriting that could pass for radio, yet the quality is still just a bit too high and the edges too extreme for most rock radio stations to touch it.
There is hardly a moment where one can avoid being saturated with grand images of horses galloping, volcanoes exploding and a great sword of fire cutting down all foes in its wake. As the fast paced “War Of The Gods” kicks off the album, a familiar air to that of the hit title song off the last album becomes obvious, albeit the riff set is heavier and the atmosphere much more bleak, as if fate is about to smack the entire world head on. The usual flurry of tremolo melodies and rumbling drum work pounds the earth on “Destroyer Of The Universe” and “Live Without Regrets”, but the implicit flames of chaos that are communicated through each note scorch the land with greater intensity. And when all seems to be another exercise in tried and true, the album closes on a high note with an orchestrated epic in “Doom Over Dead Man”, with string sounds shimmering over a bleak, slow moving set of fatalistic guitar lines. Likewise, the lead guitar work that pops in and out of many of these songs is a bit more active than it has been in a long time, and without the assistance of guest slots from technicians like Rope Latvia.
Pretty much everything that is expected of an AMON AMARTH release happens on this album, and it kicks ass all the same. This is the sort of quality material meant for those who already know exactly what they are looking for and want it served in a predictable fashion. Speaking for myself, this band is at its best when they put together triumphant, power metal tinged classics like the title song on “Twilight Of The Thunder God”, and a musical continuation of that classic mixture of Death Metal vocal wickedness and heroic catchiness can be found on “For Victory Or Death”. No new converts will likely be won over by this album, but given the near universal appeal of this band, messing with a winning sound is anything but a good idea, and these Vikings show a definite preference for seeking familiar lands to plunder.
(Online April 9, 2011)