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Many people, myself included, consider Amon Amarth's fifth album to be the lowpoint in their career. However, the fact that this release still manages to shit over the large majority of Melodic Death Metal releases out there is a testament to how good they are at what they do.
On their previous release, 'Vs the World', the speed and brutality was turned down a notch, and the sound of the album was focused more on epic riffing at a more crushing mid paced tempo. 'Fate of Norns' goes down this path a little more, with the same mid paced tempo intact, but the melodies much more epic and able to conjure an image in the listener's head as a whole. While this isn't the best approach for a band such as Amon Amarth to take, it shows the flexibility of their songwriting skills, as they proved that they can write both the fast, agressive tunes that took up a fair amount of their previous releases and the more midpaced, epic songs that they now write.
Evidence of this is shown in the opening track, 'An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm', which begins with a growl from Johan Hegg before evolving into a crushing yet epic riff. 'Where Death Seems to Dwell' takes a different approach with an atmospheric albeit somewhat boring beginning which eventually turns into an enjoyable yet average riff halfway through. 'Fate of the Norns' is one of the more melodic songs on the album, with the guitars preferring to focus on tremolo sections which play out some great melodies. 'Pursuit of Vikings' is quite a simplistic yet catchy song, which is driven by a great riff that is sure to get the head banging. Up next is 'The Valkyries Ride', which undergoes a few changes throughout with the riffing being more brutal than on previous tracks. While I believe it is a little overrated, it still remains one of the best on the album. 'Beheading of a King' has copped some flak for being boring, and while I wouldn't call it that it still is considerably worse than the other tracks on the album. While the chorus is quite effective and has a nice melody to it, anything else from that lacks quality. 'Arson' is where the album picks up again. Probably the most melodic of the lot, the lyrics tell the story of some Vikings fighting the enemy from inside a house which is set on fire, with only one escaping. It's the longest song on the album yet doesn't get boring, as the melody present is really good, and there's an effective solo towards the end. 'Once Sealed in Blood' is tied lyrically to the previous track, and tells of the viking that escaped seeking revenge on the enemy who killed his friends. It contains some great riffing and is probably the fastest on the album.
However, the album is far from perfect. I said this is Amon Amarth's weakest album previously, and there are a few factors which make it deserving of this title. The album can sound boring and restrained at times, as if they're not playing to their full capacity. While it only happens in a few songs it really brings the album down, as it seems that they're about to rip the chains off and erupt into an awesome fast paced riff, but the moment never comes. On a similar note, Johan Hegg's vocals aren't as aggressive as they were on previous albums. While they are still good and fit the themes of the songs, it would sound better overall if Hegg was giving it his full capacity. Finally, the riffing can be a bit average at times, which brings it a step down from 'Vs the World'. A lot of the time it's great, but then a bad riff will come and really stick out.
With all this considered however, 'Fate of the Norns' remains a great album in it's own right. It's epic, melodic, and crushing at the same time, and while it is the weakest of all the albums Amon Amarth have released, it is still better than a lot of the Melodic Death Metal releases today.