WASHINGTON, May 18, 2011 – “Surtur Rising” marks Amon Amarth’s second decade as a band, in addition to serving as the group’s eighth full-length album. More importantly, it reaffirms that the Swedish quintet hasn’t lost its creative spark. Not unlike the Vikings Amon Amarth frequently references, “Surtur Rising” crosses oceans of expectation and delivers a decisive aural invasion.
Much like its predecessor in 2008’s “Twilight of the Thunder God,” “Surtur Rising” draws its thematic focus from Norse myth and lore. This particular saga concerns Surtur, the king of the Fire Giants, who will fight the Viking gods to death during the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok. As the legends go, Surtur’s hellish flames will scorch the entire Earth and engulf all creation, leaving it barren, but ripe for an eventual rebirth.
This brutal but epic tale gives “Surtur Rising” a sense of desperate urgency. Though nearly all the songs possess searing intensity, Amon Amarth wisely explore a wide range of dynamics, and thus keep the album interesting. Some tunes rage like wildfire, while others smolder with pent-up aggression. The result is a collection of songs that varies wildly, yet consistently hits hard and lingers long in one’s memory.
“War of the Gods” leads the CD’s charge, instantly attacking with guitar melodies as sharply-honed as battle axes and thundering percussion. “Tock’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” trades in speed for sloth, marching along with gargantuan riffs that plod like giants’ footsteps. Relying on nuance rather than repetition, Amon Amarth spices the song with guitar harmonies so hot they drip like lava, and brief acoustic chords. It’s easily the record’s best track, and one that masterfully weaves together every aspect of the band’s style.
“Destroyer of the Universe” unleashes a torrent of stabbing melodies which twist and turn like an expert swordsman’s blade. Such manic speed is rendered all the more impressive when the tune switches gears and drops pummeling guitar grooves on listeners instead.
“Slaves of Fear,” meanwhile, treads the same path with equally bludgeoning riffs. These give way to hypnotic melodies and a poignant chorus all the more spectacular given its somber tone.
“Live without Regrets,” in turn, is thick of raucous speed-picking that hacks and slashes away listeners’ resistance. It’s an infectious, catchy tune and stays on the brain for a few days.
In contrast, “The Last Stand of Frej” is a majestic, sprawling number that takes repeated listens to fully sink in. Listeners will find its mix of drifting harmonies and eruptions of booming metal make for a potent combination when the song is fully realized.
“For Victory or Death” kicks off with plenty of brawny riffs, only to step back and let crisp, lucid melodies shimmer like auroras in the air. It attains an admirable balance between elegance and extremity, inhabiting both worlds and belonging to neither. “Wrath of the Norseman” occupies much the same territory, laying down a firestorm of crushing death metal that lasts the whole song.
“A Beast Am I” next taps into Amon Amarth’s animalistic side, letting loose a flurry of chaotic drums and a downpour of twinkling guitar notes. It’s a sprint through melodic death metal’s dynamics, and an excellent workout before the record’s grand finale. In a solid juxtaposition, the song ends with a moody acoustic guitar passage and arena-worthy harmonics.
It’s the perfect introduction to the album’s sprawling finale. “Doom over Dead Man” is a sophisticated but savage ending, a nuanced tune that pairs beautiful cellos with ominous guitars. Eventually exploding into a cascade of melodic death metal riffs, it provides the satisfying closure any truly great album needs.
Amon Amarth’s eighth record doesn’t present an end in sight for their dominance of melodic death metal. Rather, it shows that, after two decades and counting, the band’s inner fire still burns strong. Given “Surtur Rising” is an album about apocalypse by inferno, that’s never a bad thing.
Amon Amarth have burned away all the filler on their latest CD and left in its place one of 2011’s leanest, meanest melodic death metal albums.
“War of the Gods”
“Tock’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II”
“Destroyer of the Universe”
“Slaves of Fear”
“Live without Regrets”
“The Last Stand of Frej”
“For Victory or Death”
“Wrath of the Norseman”
“A Beast Am I”
“Doom over Dead Man”
Rating: 9 out of 10.
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