Metal Church - The Present Wasteland

Twenty years ago a guitarist by the name of Olavi Mikkonen had a dream: to create a Death Metal band whose music would follow a musical direction common to the vast majority of outfits of the early 90s Swedish Death metal but whose lyrics, instead of indulging in stories of blood and gore as was the norm, would become a celebration of all things mythological and Nordic.

This dream, as we all know, came to fruition when Scum were first brought to life, a band whose name changed to Amon Amarth in 1992 when Johan Hegg came into the fold. Since then, having suffered a few line-up changes and releasing a number of impressive albums along the way, the Tumba-based quintet has become a leading representative of the Viking Metal genre – a position that will be further strengthened by the release of the band’s ninth studio album “Surtur Rising”.

Most bands in Amon Amarth’s position, having their previous album sell a significant number of copies and as a result reaching unprecedented levels of popularity, would almost certainly attempt to re-invest in the exact same formula next time they entered the studio, right?

Well, that may apply to many bands but not to Amon Amarth! Though “Surtur Rising” shares a few common things with its predecessor, mainly the dependency of each of the compositions on a single rhythmical riff, the band’s ninth studio album finds Amon Amarth partly re-visiting their glorious and slightly more brutal past while, at the same time, attempting to incorporate new elements into their music. Yes, ladies and gentlemen; “Surtur Rising” is a very diverse and surprising album – an album that combines beautifully crafted melodic guitar solos and atmospheric keyboard tunes with aggressive vocal growls and galloping drum themes. Impressed? So you should be.

The album kicks off with “War Of The Worlds” – an up-tempo riff-orientated piece which places as much weight on Johan’s commanding vocals as it does on its melodic guitar refrain and, as a result, will appeal to all Amon Amarth fans. The follow up “Tock’s Taunt – “Loke’s Treachery Part II” starts off with a typical mid-tempo riff but evolves into a real gem during its impressive half-way break – a time when both twin guitar solos and epic/harmonic melodies make their presence.

In “Destroyer Of the Universe” the band shows that fast pace Death Metal is still part of its identity whereas both “Slaves Of Fear” and “Lice Without Regrets” are classic mid-tempo, riff-orientated head banging focused anthems. More hair-raising epic melodies can be found in the majestic five and a half minute “The Last Stand Of Frej” while “For Victory Or Death” is eager to prove that keyboards have indeed their place in an Amon Amarth composition if used properly.

The three and a half minute “Wrath Of The Norsemen” is a pretty straight-forward composition, based on a simple mid-tempo riff and not even half as aggressive as the quite bombastic “A Beast Am I” – a track that allows drummer Fredrik Andersson to really stretch his muscles. The closing composition of the album “Doom Over Dead Man” is another impressive track that features some truly fitting keyboard melodies and simple but fairly clever rhythmical changes – a great way to finish this great album.

Creating a unique musical style is something that every band is eager to achieve, but that can also be quite a tricky business as it automatically sets certain barriers while at the same time raises people’s expectations.

What Amon Amarth have achieved with “Surtur Rising” is to retain the core elements of their style while gradually introducing new ideas that will potentially enable them to remain both fresh and relevant – a sign of a truly special band.

A tad more aggressive than its predecessor and featuring some really fresh and exciting new ideas, “Surtur Rising” is an album worthy of a band whose intention is not to rest on its laurels but to progress and bring things to the next level. Will fans of Amon Amarth in particular and extreme Metal in general embrace this ten track composition? Such a question can only be answered in good time, however, let’s just say that I will be truly surprised if they don’t!

John Stefanis

Rating: **** (4.0/5.0)

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