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Underappreciated simplicity - 90%

Xyrth, May 6th, 2011

I really wonder why many of my metal brothers claim that this is Amon Amarth’s weakest album. I couldn’t disagree more. I think some of them haven’t given it enough spins, which is a shame. Or perhaps is it that they prefer when the five vikings just pummel things to the ground with their faster and more complex tunes, which I do enjoy greatly. But for me, sheer ferocity and complexity are not everything in metal. And I’m convinced that this is one of Amon Amarth’s greatest records because, combined with their usual display of aggression, it has an unbridled feeling of melancholy none of their other albums possess.

It’s true, this is less fast and hard-hitting than other Amon Amarth releases. Songs rely more on tremolo picking riff repetition, have more straightforward structures, simpler yet solid rhythms, and all eight compositions reside within mid-tempo range, with only the excellent closer “Once Sealed in Blood” reaching some fairly speedy moments. Also, there’s only one guitar solo on this record, more precisely in the middle part of “Arson”, and honestly is nothing special. However it turns out the riffs found here are quite catchy, ensnaring and instantly transporting you to the Viking era. The simple yet epic-feeling riffage of the opener “An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm” testifies that. Thunder of sword and shield indeed!

Most of the melodic lines here are extremely melancholic, not like in a clichéd gothic metal release, but truly woeful yet aggressive at the same time. I found them to be truly moving, especially the ones on “Arson” and the title-track, which combined with its tragic lyrics sometimes manage to almost squeeze a tear out of me… well almost. While most Amon Amarth albums have varying degrees of melancholy and fury with varying degrees, Fate of Norns is indisputably the most sorrowful, and that’s where its strength resides. Perhaps the problem most fans find here, is that it doesn’t have the same amount of “epic glory” and “battlefield atmosphere” as both the album that precedes this and the one that succeeds it, yet it exists, particularly in the tracks “The Beheading of a King” and the ominous “Valkyries Ride”.

As the famed architect Mies van der Rohe said, “Less is more”. All of the songs here are memorable despite being simple, and I enjoy them all, which is something I can’t say about most Amon Amarth albums, especially the ones before this one. There’s no filler here. And the production is perfect, you can hear everything clearly enough, including the rich bass tones of… well, the bass itself and the drums. I think this is a pretty appropriate album for the non-fan to step into the Viking world of Amon Amarth, since other albums feature more brutal and complex compositions yet this one includes all the signature elements of this band. Well, I guess that depends on what type of non-fan listens to this. Fans of brutal death will probably dismiss this, yet fans of classic metal might like it more.

So, let’s see, good songs? In my honest opinion, all of them are worthy. My personal favorites include the opener, of which I love the ending folksy melodies, the vengeful closer (I wonder if they will continue this tale in a future album), the single-like “The Pursuit of Vikings” and the sorrowful title-track.