It's an open secret that I am a huge fan of AMON AMARTH. These guys define Viking death metal. This latest eardrum-shattering epic is their ninth studio album, and it's hard to believe that they've been around for over 25 years now. It's also somewhat hard to believe that, in all honesty, their sound hasn't really changed all that much during that time- if anything, it's gotten more ferocious, more compact, and more brutal.
Like every other AMON AMARTH album, this is essentially a collection of songs about the lore and legends that define Viking culture. This means lots of blood-drenched paeans to battle, heavy use of references to the Poetic and Prose Edda traditions of Norse mythology, and epic storytelling. If you've been listening to AMON AMARTH for a long time, there is nothing new or groundbreaking here in terms of the direction of the album. What you will find, however, is ten songs of incredibly brutal, and immensely satisfying, melodic death metal, impeccably produced to assault your eardrums as fast and as hard as possible.
If you're at all familiar with Viking mythology- and I am very familiar with it, having read the Prose Edda in various forms ever since I was 8 years old- then this album is a real treat due to the way it takes that core Viking mythology and reworks it into real stories, real songs, and really heavy music.
The album kicks off with the title track, which essentially tells of Loki Laufreyson's jealousy and rage directed towards his former Aesir brethren of Asgaard. This track is everything that AMON AMARTH's music should be- fast, brutal, extremely head-bangable.
"As Loke Falls" describes one of the pivotal battles of Ragnarok, the end of all things. The interesting thing about Ragnarok is that, unlike any other conception of Armageddon in any other pagan culture, the participants of Ragnarok all know exactly what will happen and what their parts in the coming cataclysm will be. Loki knows that he will be killed by Heimdall; Odin knows that he will be devoured by the Fenris wolf; Frey knows that Surtur will kill him first; and Vidarr knows that he will avenge his father's death by tearing the Fenris wolf apart with his bare hands. This song describes that final battle between Heimdall and Loki as a clash of titans, ending with Loki's decapitation. It's a slightly slower mid-tempo groove of a track which still crushes all before it.
"Father of the Wolf" is the first of three really standout tracks on this colossus. It tells the story of Loki's origins, from the unholy union of the giant Laufrey and the burned witch Gullveig. Now this is not canonical according to what I know of the Norse legends, but to be honest I don't really care given how awesome this track is. It's a brutal, mid-tempo blowout that is just incredibly headbangable. And that chorus just demands to be roared out along with the band playing onstage.
"Shape Shifter" kicks things up a notch, going to full-on speed mode with heavy dual-guitar riffing and telling the story of Loki's powers and jealous rage, basically giving his point of view on the need for a bit of anarchy in the world to provide a counterbalance to the order of the Aesir gods. Definitely a lot of fun to listen to, and some great lyrics from the band.
"Under Siege" is where the melodic side of the band really comes out to shine. This is actually the first of a two-part set of tracks on the album, telling the story of a group of besieged Vikings who know that they are doomed and choose an honourable death in one final terrible battle instead of dying slowly through sickness and starvation. Both the lyrics and the music are superb here, and it's definitely a lot better than some of the previous songs that the band has written in this vein- "Abandoned" from Once Sent from the Golden Hall comes to mind.
"Blood Eagle" is truly a vicious, face-melting track. If you have any idea of what the blood eagle entails, then the sound effects that kick off this track will truly sound ghastly to you- and that's the point. The blood eagle is perhaps the most brutal and horrific form of torture that ancient Vikings could inflict upon their victims, and they reserved it only for those they truly hated. It's unknown whether this sort of thing was actually done in real life, but the song leaves no stone unturned in describing how this torture is inflicted. This is NOT a track for those with weak stomachs- but then, if you had a weak stomach, you wouldn't be listening to these guys in the first place.
Then comes perhaps my favourite track on the album- "We Shall Destroy". This is the kind of song that AMON AMARTH simply excels at writing- it's a brutal, eardrum-shattering heavy metal anthem that simply screams to be played live in front of a raging mosh pit. It's not so slow that it reduces down to a simple groove; nor is it so fast that it will break people's pelvises if they try to mosh to it. And the bridge that leads to the final, extremely headbangable bars is simply perfect. This song is right up there with true classics like "Gods of War Arise", "Free Will Sacrifice", and "Varyags of Miklagaard".
"Hel" is where things get really interesting. Not only is this a song about Loki's bastard daughter, Hel, the ruler of the dread realm of Niflheim, but the "Mad Monk" Messiah Marcolin from CANDLEMASS is a guest singer on it. And my word, he does a phenomenal job. This track gives you some idea of what Niflheim is really like.
"Coming of the Tide" is the second and final part of the story started with "Under Siege". It tells the story of the kinsmen of the besieged Vikings riding hard to save their people, only to arrive too late. The song is one of those fast-burners that the band does really well- it's driven by intense percussive double-bass rhythms and vicious dual-guitar riffs, and Johan Hegg's death metal roar is perfectly attuned for the subject matter.
The final track, "Warriors of the North", is quite possibly the best- not my favourite, but the best. It tells the story of warriors exiled by their jealous king, who remain in that exile for over twenty years, growing old and weary- yet still answering the call of their aged king when he faces a Christian invasion. This is a very melodic, very well written track, but not one ounce of the band's legendary riffing and heaviness is lost in telling the story. It's simply a phenomenal story, told the way only AMON AMARTH can tell it- reminds me very much of "Hermod's Ride to Hel" in a lot of ways, it's that same combination of brutal riffing, great lyrics, and excellent storytelling.
All told, this album slays. I've been waiting for this ever since the end of last year when I heard that the mighty AMON AMARTH would be heading back into the studio to write and release their next album. I'm always amazed by the consistency of this band- there has not been a single bad track on the last four albums. This album is, quite simply, magnificent.
Didact's Verdict: 5/5- well it's not like anyone's surprised by that, after all.
KILLER KUTS: the whole damn album, but if I had to choose a single standout, it would be "We Shall Destroy".