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I first came to know Amon Amarth about the same time this album was released in 2004. I had heard about them from a friend, and at that time being a melodic death metal fan, I felt obligated to see what they were all about. Considering my previous adventures with the melo-death realm in the more familiar works of bands like In Flames and Dark Tranquility, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. After all, the obvious hinting of Norse mythology in the album title had me a little curious.
Over time, as I've become a diehard fan of this band I've come to learn this is actually Amon Amarth's weakest effort. Sure, every band is entitled to a flop but the ironic thing is that this album is not actually a flop at all. Instead, its churns out reliable mid-tempo metal that ends up listening well rather listening spectacularly. The songs end up moving along without a whole lot happening, which in retrospect is pretty disappointing given how albums like "The Crusher" and "Versus the World" played out. All of the albums before this one had at least one or two incredible songs to them that set the bar further for the band in general. "Fate of Norns" has none of this, though the concept of greatness does appear, though briefly, in a few of these songs.
All of the problems with this album are laid out for you in the opening track. "An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm" is an all you can eat buffet of everything wrong here. It sounds great, like the usual Amon Amarth fare diving into the pre-Christian Norse era and the mythology and lore that accompanies it. Yet it really goes nowhere despite being a decent tune, not to mention it simply picks up at the end and then stops and fades away. "Where Death Seems to Dwell" does better, but I begin to see a pattern here. Its almost as if Amon Amarth was shooting for something else here, as opposed to simply running out of ideas. Were they trying to create a more traditional metal album with Johan Hegg's beserker vocals? The end result seems to be pointed in that direction but it doesn't establish itself as a true adherent to the traditional style. Most of the songs here seem grounded in that enigma, trying to become something but not really sure of what to do and end up plodding along in a reliable but unspectacular way for three or four minutes at the time.
The two songs that break away from this and salvage the album as a whole is "Once Sealed In Blood" and "Valkyries Ride." As someone already pointed out, these two remind quite a bit of what would occur on "With Oden On Our Side," which was a better album in every way than this one. The two songs mentioned have a healthy supply of ideas that do more than simply run their course to the finish line. Both contain elements that remind me of why I fell in love with this band's music in the first place. However, two songs out of eight that conjure that feeling do not make a great listen. There is nothing wrong here, but it short changes the listen on everything they'd expect out of the usual Amon Amarth release.
To fans of this band, save your money and put this one last on the list. It is definitely the band's most lackluster in every way, but again, it is by no means bad. The uninitiated listener curious about what Amon Amarth are all about, I'd advise looking elsewhere. "Fate of Norns" does carry itself well, but as I've stated so many times before, it simply pales in comparison to everything else this band has to offer. Its worth your time if you absolutely love this band, but not enough so to take precedence over any other album sporting this band's name.