Review : AMON AMARTH – "Surtur Rising"

Amon AmarthSurtur Rising
Release: 2011Mar29 (US)
Label: Metal Blade
Rating: 4.5/5

You’d have to be crazy and/or immersed in actual combat to not enjoy Amon Amarth. So… a beserker then. But if you’re a beserker, I can’t imagine why you would be against empowering music that tells tales of legendary battle. So… everyone likes Amon Amarth… you must be listening as you read this now! Wow, Surtur Rising is fucking incredible, right?

Here’s the thing: catchy riffs, hefty production, and familiar themes typically take a band to the edge of mediocre. Even founding member Olavi Mikkonen admitted to me that “there are only so many ways to write riffs”. The key lies in the arrangements, and even though the Swedes clearly bear the mark of past battles, their songs still proudly split your skull and sink straight into your brain.

Surtur Rising may as well be a companion piece to Twilight of the Thunder God, as that album chronicled the climactic battle between Thor and Jörmungandr. Thus, we begin with “War of the Gods”—complete with the angry hornet guitars, bellicose growls, and something I hope you all notice, too: brilliant drumming by Fredrik Andersson. His cymbal work is impressive, and he offers much more than standard blastbeats throughout the album (don’t fret, he still lays those out just fine).

Thematically speaking, only half the album is explicitly about Ragnarök. “Destroyer of the Universe” is literally Surtr himself, and his final battle through the giant’s eyes; “The Last Stand of Frej” is the opposite perspective, from the god fated to destroy the fire jötunn. And “A Beast am I” is especially badass since it’s basically Fenris telling how badly he wants to fuck everybody up after a millenium of waiting. Where’s Týr when you need him?

Both “Slaves of Fear” and “Live without Regrets” are illuminating and empowering—just more loosely based in Viking history. The former is an attack on religion and its control over mankind, with an interesting analog hiss bookending it that makes me wonder what Jens Bogren did differently. The latter is suggestive, not prescriptive (that would’ve been a helluva bad choice, considering the previous song) and as vocalist Johan Hegg explained in this video, applies Viking fatalist philosophy to modern life. Hegg looks the most Viking-like, so he is often the focal point—most likely to don swords and drink from horns—and have you seen the cover of Decibel #078 …ddamn!

We conclude with a tune that fits well alongside “Live without Regrets”.  “Doom over Dead Man” gets extra epic with keyboard accompaniment, and heralds the end of a life misspent (it’s also one of the few tracks where bassist Ted Lundström snags a bit of spotlight). If you decide to let Surtur Rising loop, I don’t blame you, but expect to be humming most of it this time around. Like I said, it sure gets stuck in your head, and to write some of your most memorable work after twenty years and eight albums is admirable. Amon Amarth does not simply stand on the shoulders of giants—they ARE the fucking mountain.

FCC OK
Try 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10

01. War of the Gods
02. Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II
03. Destroyer of the Universe
04. Slaves of Fear
05. Live Without Regrets
06. The Last Stand of Frej
07. For Victory or Death
08. Wrath of the Norsemen
09. A Beast am I
10. Doom over Dead Man
11. Aerials (System of a Down cover …unreviewed here, but get it below!)

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