Forgive me, for I’m about to get a little fan-girl on you ass:
Right, now that’s out of the way, on to reviewing Surtur Rising. Arguably one of the most highly anticipated metal releases of 2011, Amon Amarth’s follow-up to the storm of epic riffage that was Twilight of the Thunder God, will probably make every “Top Ten” list of the year. It’ll probably even sneak onto the “Top Ten female country-music artists” list simply because it’s too awesome for fans of female-fronted country bands to ignore.
The main criticism lobbed at Amon Amarth over the years was that after so many albums, they simply had nothing new to say about Vikings. Critics tend to frown on what they consider lyrical “gimmicks” that pervade a band’s entire discography. The last two albums, in particular, have caused a number of people to wag their fingers and say “Odin this, pillaging that … isn’t it time to get a new schtick?”
Thankfully, Amon Amarth ignored them, and wrote Surtur Rising.
I am trying to resist the urge to begin this review with “this album will melt your fucking face”, but, well, it will. Amon Amarth have managed to bring together the brutal elements of their earlier releases with the head-crushing riffs of their later sound into a cohesive, brutal, melodic massacre of an album. The songs move from strength to strength, from the classic Amon Amarth opener “War of the Gods”, to the stunning guitar in “Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” to the almost power metal feel of “For Victory or Death”. Tracks like “Destroyer of the Universe” and “Doom Over Dead Man” will become classics for sure. “Live without Regrets” is my new theme song.
The rougher, dirtier mix on this album moves away from the exquisitely clean production of the last two releases, and reminds me of the production on my favorite album, Fate of Norns. The songs, however, blow that album out of Valhalla. The band show their maturity, their unparalleled mastery of their subject. These boys aren’t playing at vikings, they are fucking vikings.
And, as such, it couldn’t be an Amon Amarth album without suitably epic and Viking-ish themes. Here, Surtur, leader of the giants of Muspelheim, takes centre stage. He graces the cover – a monolithic giant who dwarfs the Norsemen he’s about to slay with his flaming sword. He dips that huge-ass sword in the Eternal Flame and gains the power to raze the nine worlds. He fights a grueling battle with Frej (ruler of fertility and peace) at the end of the world. He causes chaos and carnage, and he leaves us broken, destroyed … munted, as we say in NZ.
There’s an interesting sense of duality on Surtur Rising. “Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” is the thematic sequel to “Hermod’s Ride To Hel – Lokes Treachery, Part 1”, from With Odin On Our Side. Surtur’s battle with Frej is explored over two songs – with “The Last Stand of Frej” taking the point of view of the peace god. The sound both looks back, bringing the best elements of what makes Amon Amarth so great, and forward, with more attention paid to telling stories with the music, to tighter, more complex solos, to songs that lift and carry you away.
Surtur Rising releases in Europe/US on March 29, and you can preorder from the Amon Amarth website (I think all the limited edition t-shirts have gone, though). I suggest this album makes an appearance on your playlist as soon as possible. I can’t think of a single person who will be disappointed by Surtur Rising – fans of the band will love it, those who used to love Amon Amarth but think they got a bit too “samey” will be pleasently surprised, and those of you who swear you “don’t do death metal” will find yourself lost in this world of brutal mythology. And, female-fronted country-music fans, you’d better start voting to get these guys in the top ten …
If you follow Steff Metal on Facebook you might have heard that I’ll be interviewing Amon Amarth on the blog next week … so stay tuned for that (I’m not remotely excited, not at all …) I’d like to say a huge “horns up!” to Liz and the team at Earsplit PR for hooking me up.