May 31, 2011 | , | 4

Amon Amarth, Surtur Rising

I’ve never been a big fan of “viking metal” in the sense that it all sounds the same to me after a while. Valhalla, swords and pillaging run rampant throughout much of the music of this style, but there’s always been one band that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to that both captures the genre’s themes and pushes itself away from them. Amon Amarth is one of those bands that has been pegged as “viking metal.” That, however, is a disservice to the band.

Sure, they play melodic death metal — the standard method of communicating the genre’s visions — but the band is so much more than that. Throughout their career they’ve played a fairly middle-of-the-road brand of death metal with a few tracks that stand out for their anthem-like overall vibe and structural quality (last year’s Twilight of the Thunder God title track for example). The rest of the band’s material has been enjoyable though forgettable at times.

That all changes with the release of their latest disc, Surtur Rising. Gone is the single anthemic track that defines the album. Amon Amarth have instead, refocused their efforts on every track, expanding their song writing and musicianship by focusing on the details, no matter how minute it may seem — along with sweeping melodies. The overall effect is an album that carries the band’s recognizable sound yet dives so much deeper into each track allowing all the songs to stand out on their own and marry together for a seamless and flowing listening experience.

“War of the Gods” gets things off to a raucous start with plenty of double-kick and a memorable bit of riffing. Its galloping, high energy sets the tone for the rest of the album and only whets your whistle for more of that Amon Amarth sound as winding melodies weave in and out of chugging riffs. The slower paced, more atmospheric “Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II” isn’t the best song on the album, but it does introduce a few elements that will reappear throughout the rest of the album. “Destroyer of the Universe” is one of my favorite tracks on the album and hits like a ton of bricks with driving riffs and an aggressive stance.

“Slaves of Fear” gets a little lost but has a killer lead while the truly amazing “Live Without Regrets” brings in some of the most wickedly catchy and melodic riffs that the band has ever produced. Amon Amarth follow up with two solid helpings in “The Last Stand of Frej” and “For Victory or Death,” both of which are a good deal moodier and atmospherically darker, though no less memorable or impressive. “A Beast Am I” wakes up the slumbering Norse gods with an energetic and urgent tempo backed by blasting drums and solid, driving riffs. The track certainly is a beast of a song.

Album closer, “Doom Over Dead Man” services as a wonderful summation of what the band sought out to accomplish with their ninth studio album. Following a slick bit of riffing and orchestration to open the track, the band really lays down a well written and delivered song that not only shows their versatility, but their willingness to serve up something completely different from the rest of their discography. That in a nut shell is what all of Surture Rising has been about — a shifting of the band’s perception without wholly reinventing a sound that their fans have come to expect. While I love a lot of the band’s songs here and there, this is the first full album that I can say I repeatedly listen too all the way through to the melodic, brooding end.