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See the Valkyries Ride - 88%

Five_Nails, September 10th, 2009

A gritty and beautifully written album, melodic death metal masters Amon Amarth deliver a crushing blow in their 2004 release, “The Fate of Norns”. Unlike many of their other releases, Amon Amarth experiments much more with melodic guitar work, dryer more technical production, and Johann Hegg uses more gutturals than the screams heard in previous Amon Amarth albums.

The drumming is intense at times, but lacking at too many points to get full marks. Songs like “Valkyries Ride”, “An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm”, and “Fate of Norns” have stomping double bass, but there are very few snare blasts and there is little variety with the cymbal and snare beats. For the most part there will be crashing of cymbals around each solo, eighth note snare beats accompanying each lyrical stanza and guitar riff, and combined snare and cymbal sections sprinkled throughout each song. The drumming is more of a constant in each song, a safe fallback for the rest of the band to stray from but keep as a leash around their necks so they don’t experiment too much. A mixture of Iron Maiden’s spirited galloping snare and cymbals, and a kick like there’s no tomorrow mentality, Andersson’s drumming is not bad, but neither is his attempt exceptional. In “Arson” his talent is shown when he employs a marching drum section early on and really gives the song some emotion under the wailing guitars, but this is one of very few remarkable drum sections where Andersson exerts himself but there could have been much more improvement in pace, variety, intensity, and emotion from the man behind the drum kit.

Where the drums were lacking, the guitars masterfully make up for it. “The Pursuit of Vikings” involves a grunting guitar growl that does well to set off the churning flow of the anthem dedicated to Oden. Beautiful melodies are employed throughout the album, exceptional riffs appear in “Where Death Seems to Dwell” to “The Fate of Norns” and the final track, “Once Sealed in Blood”. Melodic solos accompany nearly every song as the guitars deliver painful screams to accompany those of Johan Hegg and take it upon themselves to bring out nearly all the emotion of each track with every note they play.

The lyrics and song structure are what would be expected from Amon Amarth, Norse and Asatru religious references, Viking cultural themes, and ballads of battle and glory fill the liner notes of “The Fate of Norns” and don’t get stale whatsoever. One of the best examples of the cultural references in this album comes from my favorite track, “The Pursuit of Vikings” where Hegg growls, “Oden, guard our ships, our axes, spears, and swords, Guard us through storms that whip, and in brutal war”. Focusing not only on religion, Viking culture is described in just that short chant as the war-like people, sea faring people, and honor bound people prepare for another famous raid. Another song that stands out greatly is “Valkyries Ride”, a song that even gives Wagner a run for his money explodes both musically and lyrically as the Valkyries pull twisted corpses from the fields of valor to the brutal guitar and vocal gutturals and thundering double bass. The songs are written professionally and with the maturity that melodic death metal strives for rather than the gore obsessed shock value that other bands thrive on. Amon Amarth’s acknowledgement of melody in their death metal makes them much more accessible to new listeners but also keeps them true to their musical roots, something that people tend to forget when they’re on the hunt for something brutal and unforgiving, but it must be understood that Amon Amarth’s brand of melodic brutality is a very unique type of extreme music and that their version of metal is still genuinely brutal.

This album is typical Amon Amarth, but as was stated above, doesn’t get boring or overused whatsoever. Instead, this album is another fresh look at the band, the lyrical themes, and the entire ambiance that is Amon Amarth. Each song stands out amongst the crowd, and though the production gets muddy in a few places, this album will still quench your Viking bloodlust.