Amon Amarth - _Surtur Rising_
(Metal Blade, 2011)
by: Johnathan A. Carbon (6 out of 10)
In comparison to the whole of heavy metal, Amon Amarth is at the high end of popularity. If YouTube video views were valid forms of scientific data, Amon Amarth's popularity could be on par with Black Sabbath, Megadeth, and some funny hamster dance with accompanying song. While this popularity is most likely related to hard work and strategic marketing by the band, there is another fact at play. Amon Amarth is the perfect metal band for people not really into metal. Their brand of melodic death is clean with the right amount of heaviness. Solos and complex guitarwork still play an integral part of songs and the vocals, while gruff, are still understandable. Most importantly however, Amon Amarth concentrates the majority of their songs on expected subject matter, namely Vikings. Through keeping with easily identifiable subject matter with a template never deviating from expectations, Amon Amarth is a comfortable fit for outsiders of metal fandom. _Surtur Rising_ is the band's eighth record in thirteen years with all original members (mostly) and showing not a hint of fatigue. Please ready the longships with haste, we set sail for battle at sunrise.

Surtur, or Surtr in Norse mythology, is a fire deity who wields a flaming sword. He is the principal force of destruction during Ragnarok and guards the Muspelheim -- a fire realm in the Norse universe. The figure of Surtr appears on Amon Amarth's cover apparently lending a hand in a dispute or local skirmish. This seems unfair, as Surtr is four times the height of an average Norse warrior and also boasts a weapon engulfed in godly immolation. I wonder if any Norse legends contain timid characters incapable of cosmic destruction. If I were to base all my claims on Amon Amarth's imagery, I would surmise all Scandinavians were ripped demigods wielding war hammers and able to grate cheese on their abs. The band is incapable of anything less than legendary. This is very clear as _Surtur Rising_ opens with "War of the Gods". Are there no warm ups in Amon Amarth's world? Do we really have to start with two Gods meeting on the battlefield?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect about Amon Amarth lies in the members' dedication to the subject material. Johan Hegg's knowledge of Norse culture during interviews presents a band devoted to the mythology of ancient Scandinavian. _Surtur Rising_'s early highlight is the continuation of the Loke's treachery tale with "Töck's Taunt". The story was originally started in 2006's _With Oden on Our Side_ and continues the trials and tribulations of the troublesome shapeshifter. "Töck's Taunt" is a ferocious yarn which incorporates harsh black metal dissonance for the chorus. This one song is perhaps the best track on _Surtur Rising_, as it steps away from Amon Amarth tradition. This, however, does not last for long.

While the beginning of _Surtur Rising_ is strong, the middle suffers from little variation save a blast beat or guitar solo. The record soon freezes into a conventional metal album with little variation. Songs begin with little to no fanfare and end with zero outro or meditation. It is not until "The Last Stand Stand of Frej" that the structure which dominated _Surtur Rising_ begins to melt. The bottom half of _Surtur Rising_ shines nicely, with "Wrath of the Norsemen" and the surprisingly melodic "Doom Over Dead Men" as the closer. It is not that _Sultur Rising_ is terrible or even disappoints in any aspect. The album is a sturdy log in an already well built house. It is not weaker than the others nor makes an impression for future listens.

Because Amon Amarth's popularity is on the higher end, their albums are acquiring needless additions and bizarre extras. Various editions of _Surtur Rising_ include bonus songs, photograph booklets and even an action figure of Surtr himself. These late-night marketing gimmicks are most likely the fault of the record labels rather than the band. This is unfortunate, as it is the band who suffers the consequences of having a serious album become a movable (and posable) cartoon. The same things which made Amon Amarth so likable are also their biggest areas for criticism. Do not be fooled by the five inch toy which you now hold in your hand: Surtr is a bit more ferocious.


(article published 28/3/2011)

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