Amon Amarth : Surtur Rising

Amon Amarth Surtur RisingThey Say :- We’ve never called ourselves Viking metal and like most musicians, we just don’t like to put labels on ourselves. In our mind, it’s very much associated with bands that come out of Norway who are playing a very black metal oriented music and that’s not what we play. Sure, we have the same inspirations when it comes to the lyrical themes but musically we’re a completely different kind of metal so it’s tricky. To somebody who’s never heard us but has maybe heard Enslaved or Borknagar or Einherjer, they will expect something very different than what we do.” — Johan Hegg

The eighth long-player in Amon Amarth’s winding discography, Surtur Rising offers ten tracks of fist-raising, peck-flexing, hyper climactic fight anthems led by the fiery lungs of Hegg, searing rhythms and a volatile twin riff assault with a courser, more organic-sounding production to add more depth to their already consuming tone. “A major change for us on this album was the sound and production,” comments the frontman. “It was one of the main things we had discussed before going into the studio. We thought we needed to be a bit more aggressive and rougher than the previous two. We wanted a harder, tougher sound and I definitely think we got that.”

We say :- Hang on, did they really describe this as “ten tracks of fist-raising, peck-flexing, hyper climactic fight anthems”?

Okaaaaaayyyy.

Also, please take note that the band don’t want to be labeled as “Viking Metal”, so we’d better not do that then. I’m sure the Surtur to which they refer is the moon of Saturn and not the “giant with the flaming sword” of Norse mythology….

Right, now we’ve got that sorted, on to the music. Amon Amarth have had a hit or miss relationship with the general populance, something that comes with years slogging away in cult-band obscurity before becoming commercially (more) successful and, inevitably, being accused of selling out. Ho Hum.

For the uninitiated in the ways of Amon Amarth this album will come as something of a surprise, the opening track War Of The Gods immediately impresses with it’s killer riffing and surprisingly tuneful melody. That’s not to say that it’s easy listening by any means but it’s just not as, well, extreme as you may think. OK, there’s always going to be a limited appeal of growled vocals (love them or hate them) but undeniably War Of The Gods is an excellent start.

To their credit the band do try to inject a bit of variety into Surtur Rising. OK it’s ferocious and frenetic in places but there are others with more going on than untempered ferocity and, erm, frenetic-icity (which gets dull after a while). After a few listens I have to admit that there are not many places where the album exceeds the expectations set by the opening track, but I guess if you know what you’re good at then you stick with it.

For me Amon Amarth are at their best when they do drift slightly from the “Viking Metal” cliches and try to be a smidge more adventurous (for them) and accessible (for the rest of us). Slaves Of Fear stands out with it’s more complicated feel which keeps things interesting and varied, whereas tracks like A Beast I Am see the band winding everything up to maximum and, as a result, sounding more like any one of a million other “Extreme Metal” outfits.

The thing is that although this is a good album, there are moments of true greatness on it, when they just get away from their formula a bit. I think this is probably best typified by the album’s closing track Doom Over Dead Man which is dark and atmospheric with a crushing slower, heavier feel.

And, after a few listens I think that’s what you come away with from this album. There is no doubt that it has some stand out passages but there are undeniably others where it’s just all a bit too familiar. And safe. I’m sure existing fans of the existing formula will love it, but it’s the places where Amon Amarth make changes to their basic recipe that give Surtur Rising some really special moments.