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Friday, April 1, 2011

Album Review: Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising

So, I’m intrigued. If I purchase the limited deluxe CD/DVD digibook version of ’s latest offering, I get this 14cm tall ‘Surtur’ action figure. It certainly looks pretty cool but does it have eagle eyes, detachable weaponry and an opposable thumb? If not, I can see thousands of Viking wannabes being pretty bummed out. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen an album sold with an accompanying (ahem) dolly, and I imagine it won’t be the last, but this a frikkin’ Norse god we’re talking about here. At the end of the day, I’m not quite convinced that it’s a viable selling point anyway – I certainly can’t see it being a deal-breaker. 14 measly centimetres? I suppose the band/label are working on the basis that if the album is a bit sucky then it’ll be nice for their fans to have something to beat up their plastic Ken with – oh yes, Barbie’s in for a bit of a shock when she gets home from her modelling job tonight!

With Surtur Rising though, they really needn’t have bothered. It’s an absolute brute of an album. Starting at the top, the artwork is absolutely stunning. It depicts Surtur who, according to Norse mythology, is the leader of the fire giants of Muspelheim. The legend goes that when he lights his sword in the Eternal Flame, he will be given the power to raze the nine worlds before him. He’s clearly one mean dude and artist Tom Thiel has captured him in such glorious colour that it paints the perfect picture (excuse the pun) to go with ’s menacingly dark, powerfully emotive, pungently thematic heavy metal.

“War Of The Gods” picks up right where Twilight Of The Thunder God left off with bludgeoning double-kick and chunky, jagged riffs. The band’s very own Thor, Johan Hegg, blasts forth with a mighty, deathly vocal that echoes thickly over the climbing guitars to create an incendiary wall-of-noise. If anything it’s an even heavier sound than before with the vocal knocked back a peg to allow for the atmosphere to build and the drums to truly hit their mark. Same producer, same studio, but a definite change of tack. Hegg has said “We thought we needed it to be a bit more aggressive and rougher than the previous two. We wanted a harder, tougher sound and I definitely think we got that.”

“Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” is a step back into a more epic, black-edged sound, and hails the return of the god of treachery (he was first encountered on 2006′s With Oden On Our Side). Have a dig around and you’ll find out that the band “basically deal with Loke’s actual deceit … when he totally told the gods to go fuck off.” You gotta love the Swede’s commitment to their subject matter. I won’t bore you further with backgrounds to the song-titles, but suffice to say it’s all pretty far out there.

All you really need to know is you’ve got an album here that, at times, malevolently rages and, at others, provides thought-provoking progressions. “A Beast Am I” and “Destroyer Of The Universe” are much in the former category, heavy on the thrash, light on their feet, whilst “The Last Stand Of Frej” and “Doom Over Dead Man” are yawning, doom-afflicted prowlers that screw themselves slowly into place, smothering their prey to the point of suffocation – that’s not to say they don’t kick up the odd chiming solo or orchestral flourish. There also lurks within the call-to-arms battle metal melodics of “Live Without Regrets” and “For Victory Or Death” – the latter’s title and fighting spirit instantly bringing 1998′s “A Victorious March” to mind.

There’s much to admire here then but, for some reason, there’s still not anything you’d describe as compulsively addictive, unlike so many tracks on their last two albums. Every time I take a breather away from absorbing this, I find myself whistling ’s “Wasted Years”. Now that can’t be right. There is a vague similarity there but this sounds more like Maiden would if they grew big, unkempt beards and started living out of garbage bins. If you’ve never heard of you might want to try a bit of their back catalogue first, but if you are already fans then there is no doubting you will be right on board. Oh, and if you do decide to break your piggy-bank for the action figure, please let us know if it comes with a pull-cord and a variety of built-in phrases (“Feel my fiery wrath, Æsir!” or “Onward to Ragnarök!”, perhaps) or a sword that bursts into flame at the touch of a button. Now that would be cool.

Also online @ The New Review (with 10-track samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/amon-amarth-surtur-rising

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