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Ever since Quorthon decided that combining Norse mythology with heave metal would lead to awesome results, many bands have been steadily absorbing inspiration from the last of the great European pagan beliefs to fall. Perhaps the band which utilises this lyrical approach the most consistently is Amon Amarth, having now released seven albums of melodic death metal with absolutely nothing other than Viking themes to them.
The unmistakably consistent approach to the band's lyrical themes is only matched by their music: album after album, the band never succumbs to the temptation to change their sound in a direction which could be seen as a betrayal of their roots. While Twilight of the Thunder God has a much more polished production job than each previous album, the sound becoming progressively rawer as we explore their discography further in the past, the music has lost none of the power and tenacity which made Once Sent from the Golden Hall and each following album excellent.
Twilight of the Thunder God contains ten songs, which despite being impossible to confuse with the music of any other band on Earth are all vastly different from each other. For a band which is constantly accused of "getting too comfortable" with their sound and not evolving I find that Amon Amarth write very varied albums. Every song is not only unique, it's essential to the entirety of the album, each giving something with which to make of this album a masterpiece. From the fast-paced opening title track, which thunders on with a catchy, well, everything, to the epic closer Embrace the Endless Ocean, no two songs are alike.
Special mention must be given to the vocals here. Johan Hegg has always been a very talented vocalist, always putting forth much emotion into his performance throughout the band’s career, but this album almost makes his previous efforts seem sub-par by comparison. Maybe it's the bigger effort put forth for the production or something to do with the song structures, but his vocals are better here than they ever were in the past. The growls feel much more convincing, and there are sections which border on the inhuman, such as the fastest parts on the already breakneck speed song Where is Your God? in addition to the savage portion of Live For the Kill which follows the cello section done by Apocalyptica. I named those two because they're probably the most intense sections, as I'd end up naming each song if I were to talk about what I like about the verses and the choruses throughout.
The whole band makes an incredible effort here though, not just Johan. The drumming is both varied and technical throughout, although there is one particular song in which the drums are the driving force. This song is Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags, a battlefield song if there ever was one. Combined with the incredible riffs the band conceived for this particularly epic ode to war, the drums create a crushing atmosphere of a brutal fight between two massive armies. The chorus, which is repeated twice, first at the middle of the song and then at the end, gives the song an epic atmosphere rarely heard in music. Such epic sections are present throughout the album, although to a lesser degree when compared to Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags. The instrumental work throughout the album is very good, possibly not as impressive as their best songs off Versus the World or With Oden on our Side but coming so close as to be nearly unnoticeable.
Naming highlights in this album is rather hard since all songs are incredible and worth listening to on their own. The aforementioned Tattered Banners, Live For the Kill with the very well done cello section near the end of the song, the title track and Free Will Sacrifice might all be named highlights, but none of the other songs even come close to being forgettable. Catchy albums such as this one might end up causing listeners to become jaded with some/all of the songs after a certain period of time, but even after over a hundred listens not only have I not lost even a shred of my appreciation for the songs I thought were incredible upon first listen, I've also learned to appreciate those songs which initially did not impress me as much, such as Guardians of Asgaard because of its slowdown chorus or No Fear For the Setting Sun.
Twilight of the Thunder God is yet another masterpiece of an album crafted by Amon Amarth, one of the most talented bands in the current world of metal. This is just one of those albums which are written so well as to be both instantly appreciable upon first listen and excellent upon the ninety-ninth listen. It might not be as good as the previous album or Versus the World, but it certainly lives up to the name Amon Amarth and is in no way a "watering down" of the same old formula, actually adding many new interesting elements to the band's work.