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If there is any September release that is getting a fair amount of hype (except for the universally expected new Metallica album, “Death Magnetic”), look no further. Amon Amarth is a band which has been around here rather long, since 1994. In 1997, they released their debut album “Once Sent From The Golden Hall”, which pretty much introduced the words “Viking metal” to the world (as their specific style of melodic death metal is often branded). However, the follow-up, “The Avenger”, didn’t quite impress the metal community. It was 2003’s “Versus The World” which was the band’s finest hour, where they displayed their talent to the fullest and launched themselves to international stardom (well, within the tiny confinements of the metal scene at least). After another so-so album “Fate Of Norns”, the band releases “With Oden On Our Side”, an album incredible by all standards: songwriting, production, performance – the closest they could’ve been to perfection. You can sort of get the idea of what tremendous expectations the band had on their backs before entering the studio.
And they fall short of them. Which is understandable, in a way. Just like the oh-so-expected Kataklysm album earlier this year, Amon Amarth’s 6th offering also (shockingly) fails to impress. The opening and title track of the album hides this fact for a while, but only for its 5 minutes or so of length. After that, the album becomes an ECG diagram – a flat line with more or less frequent peaks. There are moments where the band’s creativity shines in all its glory, but they are too few and far between. Not that the album is boring, though! You will hardly get the urge to press the “skip” button while listening. Still, by the end of the 10th track, you are not likely to find yourself holding the devil horns high up, as you most certainly would after listening to the previous album. The riffs are OK, if not great, everything seems to be in order, but something just doesn’t work out, and my impression is that it’s because everything is so damn formulaic. It seems the band was thinking in an “OK, it’s time to record an album, start composing” direction rather than “OK, now we have enough great riffs to enter the studio and record an album”. Don’t get me wrong, these guys still have what it takes to make up a great song, but not all of them are like this, that’s the issue. The technical side is perfect. Precise playing, polished production, even Johan Hegg’s vocals sound more brutal than before. But you can feel the dissection in the songwriting, the “this riff should go here, this song should go here” way of thought. And just when the opening track gets your hopes up and yourself all warmed up, you get a filler track like “Guardians Of Asgaard”, which is flat and just plain boring beyond belief. If this was a debut of a newbie band in the scene, I would not hesitate to congratulate them on the result, but this is Amon Amarth, people. I know that they can compose tracks like “Cry Of The Black Birds” or “Gods Of War Arise”, and that intensity is lacking here. I deem that and the lack of any sort of intrigue (anyone remember “Hermod’s Ride To Hel”?) the main reasons for the mild impression this album leaves.
The “odd number, even number” principle seems to still be bothering this band. Simply put, it looks as if they are going on a new adventure with each odd, and triumphantly returning home with each even-numbered album, enjoying their victories and resting on their laurels. Which, ironically, makes me wait for their next opus with anxiety.
(originally written for the Metal Sound webzine)