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Tired and uninspired for an ode to Ragnarök... - 55%

absurder21, July 2nd, 2013

When it comes to metal, there’s a large variety of ways a band can find their sound. Some start off with an obvious influence and then work their way into their own identity, sometimes sounding surprisingly different from where they end. Then, there are some who manage to assume an identity decently soon, and then keep that same sound forever. And to a lot of metal fans, in theory, the constant cloning direction is generally not a pro (albeit sales and execution speak otherwise most of the time), as there are a lot of bands that will only play their style with limited variance, and the predictability of their music creates stagnation in the interest amongst their fans. But then you have bands like Amon Amarth, who despite more or less playing the same Viking-themed melodic death metal for the past nineteen years (Holy shit, 19 years already!?!?!), have managed to stay irritatingly consistent in not only style, but quality as well (blowing us away as recently as 2011). This is a band that a lot of metal heads have been waiting to see fail, not out of any particular spite, but just out of the expectation that goes up, must come down.

Okay, so I guess I’ll answer this question quickly with a straight-forward: Nyep. A combination of no and yep. The riffing is still definitely pure Amon Amarth; laden with their bouncing, low-end heavy melodic death metal riffs equipped with melancholic or epic duel-lead guitar harmonization’s, playing Viking-esque melodies over thunderous, war-like drumming. There are still marching ballads and a brutal, beautifully coherent Viking-growl performance from Johan Hegg. Unfortunately, however, none of the songs particularly stand out. There are songs on Deceiver of the Gods where I can hear where the song is attempting a hook/chorus, but so often they just slide into it so seamlessly with little care for flair and UMPH!, that there’s little power and no emotion, or any draw, to the bit. And really that’s the problem with this record, its musical habits and approach is just so homogeneous. It’s never really too fast and never really slow, just kind a generally mid-paced as it either chugs or marches along. I think what made the last record, Surtur Rising, so surprisingly good was that they really went all over the place in style and pace; there were songs that hinted at almost pure death metal, like the early records, while a few took the catchy, chorus-heavy, power metal route hinted on Twilight Of The Thunder God while keeping the powerful balladry and passion of With Oden On Our Side. That gave the record huge variety and broke up the seams of the songs nicely, so not only could you tell when you we’re listening to a new song, it also held an engaging, diverse emotional narrative – like any good story or continuous piece of art should. On here, the approach’s always come off as so passionless, so it’s hard to get a boost of energy from any of the songs.

As I mentioned before, the band did a really good job at mixing all their previous “sounds” together on the 2011 release, and I think they did attempt that again this time. The problem here though, however, was the whole “lack of power” habit they have here, so instead of songs sounding like their either Death or Power-based, there all somewhat watered down, and considering power and death’s common lineage, the result ends up being something more along the lines of bouncy, melodic half-thrash, which is a sound popular metal drove into the ground about 8 years ago, and to me and a lot of metal fans, has little appeal anymore. The album starts off at about its fastest with a vikingy-semi thrasher, and that’s about the most violent this record gets. I suppose the things that do somewhat save this record for me, however, are the duel leads, which they still manage to do well, albeit still in sparing amount. They tended to save their best tremolo-picked rhythm riffs for these parts as well, so if you are to mention when the members of Amon Amarth did their best here, it’s probably going to be isolated to those specific moments as well. The only other highlight on this record would be on the track Hel, which features former Candlemass vocalist, Messiah Marcolin. The song definitely takes a more Candlemass-ian tone as well, adopting the ominous, witchcraft-like persona as well, which they do by adding darker, chugged riffs which are eventually lead by eastern-inspired keyboard melodies and Messiah’s trademark, haunting-opera-howl style.

In the end, for an album based around Ragnarök: the destruction and rebirth of man, the gods and the world, it’s pretty uninspired. I would think this would be an album where one would turn the extremity and energy to the max, not plod along like you’re on a jog. Hell, even if they’d just done something slowed down but different, and used Messiah’s guest as a way to complement something more along the lines of epic Doom metal would have made more sense for the amount of energy they used, and it could have worked stylistically since it’s a pretty bleak, but monolithic event. So while on a superficial level, everything is as normal for Amon Amarth, they’ve really kind of dropped the ball in terms of performance and vision here, and I feel that one will notice immediately after one play through as well. It just sounds like Amon Amarth jamming and improvising, sometimes verging on something good enough that a song could be based around, but ultimately staying with their respective, playing comfort spaces, as to avoid losing the song’s direction. I’m not really surprised though, considering it was only a year and a half since the last record, which is a pretty brief time for a band who’s touring heavily as well. I’d suggest these guys take at most, a three year creative break when writing albums from now on, because I don’t think they can shoot out a spree of amazing albums this late in their career on such short notice, and I don’t really think anyone can. Amon Amarth fanbois will undoubtedly enjoy this, but even they will sense a level of flaw to it.

{Originally written as Adam for AXIS OF METAL] )