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Amon Amarth are a band reputed for being consistent. Whether this means earning some criticism for never changing their formula, or the rabid fandom of countless metalheads eating up every release, it seems to work just fine for them. I happen to love every one of their releases. I'm a massive fan of the band, but I am also aware that their albums suffer from repetition syndrome. Having said this, it was feared that Amon Amarth had peaked with last year's extraordinary "With Oden On Our Side." The album perfectly blended crushing riffs with soaring melodies and the occasional ballad-esque song; the result was, in my eyes, a melodic death metal masterpiece. This year, the band has come up with an offering that, while not as truly memorable as WOOOS, manages to broaden their musical horizons while still delivering the same old ass kicking viking-tinged metal we know and love. Or maybe you don't.
In a recent interview with Chad Bowar, Johan Hegg was asked what the band had done to make "Twilight" different from their other releases. He said the most important difference was that they'd lifted the melodies in the mix, making them more prominent. From the beginning of the album, this is immediately obvious. Previous songs, such as "Hermod's Ride to Hel" off last year's album, have seen the melodic leads of Olavi and Johan being forced to compete with the drums and Johan's growls. The title track, however, shows us that the guitars have been given more room to demonstrate the impressive melodies these guitarists are capable of producing. Other songs such as "Varyags of Miklagaard" continue to showcase these soaring leads, and contribute a more grand atmosphere to the album. I would love to see "Thousand Years of Oppression" re-recorded with this new production technique.
The songs on "Twilight of the Thunder God" have not suffered or been "toned down" thanks to this new production technique, however. Not by any means. Johan's vocals are harsher than ever, and songs such as "Where is Your God?" (think a more guttural Asator) and "Guardians of Asgaard" demonstrate how brutal the band can still be. The lyrical themes have also been expanded from the simplistic, sometimes comical, lines of previous releases. The band's story-telling abilities have improved dramatically, without resorting to straight forward methods. "The Hero" in particular is an impressive piece with an awesome ending and story arch. Fredrik's drumming is still top-notch and provides a solid base for the rest of the band to work from. Perhaps lacking, though, is his masterful and varied work from previous tracks such as "Death in Fire" and "Cry of the Black Birds."
Putting aside the stronger presence of melody, there are more changes to Amon Amarth' sound on this album. "Live For The Kill" kicks off with an awesome intro, and some impressive guitar work. Seems like a standard Amon track.Then comes the completely unexpected cello break, provided by Finnish trio Apocalyptica. Amon Amarth have never done anything like this before, and the results are stunning. The guitar is a versatile instrument, but sometimes cannot provide the sheer emotional atmosphere invoked when classical instruments are brought into the mix. An overuse of this technique would ruin the album, but the band has been smart enough to only give us a taste. Following this track is the album's vast, almost progressive, end track; "Embrace of the Endless Ocean." Bringing back the awesome tapping techniques used sparingly on "Versus the World", the guitarists not only give us some more excellent melodic work, but have also shifted their tone to a less 'metal' sound. The result is something entirely new for Amon Amarth, and hopefully a glimpse of what is to come.
"Twilight of the Thunder God" is an excellent album. It delivers what is expected from Amon Amarth, while simultaneously incorporating new ideas and instrumentation. What prevents it from being a classic, however, is the ever-present filler track ("No Fear For The Setting Sun) and nothing new from Fredrik in the percussion department. Even if you aren't a fan of the band's previous work, I suggest giving this album a try. That kickass cover art should be a welcome addition to any collection.