Four-and-a-half (out of five) stars
By Ray Hogan
Amon Amarth makes for a pretty interesting success story if for no reason other than the realization that Viking metal was never supposed to become this popular. With that considered, these Swedes, led by the uber-masculine throat of Johann Hegg, are the perfect flag (or should that be sword?)-wavers for the genre. The band specializes in anthem-like battle-cries and has remained astoundingly consistent throughout its growing discography. “Surtur Rising” is its eighth and most anticipated disc. It’s predecessor, “Twilight of the Thunder God,” brought the band to a new level of popularity. Thankfully, the appeal remains on the band’s own terms.
In other words, “Surtur Rising, which takes its title from the oldest being in the nine worlds of Norse mythology, is the same relentless and hard-charging yet melodic extreme metal that Amon Amarth has made its name on. There are no concessions but there is perhaps better songwriting and certainly stronger production. The guitar team of Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Soderberg has become one of metal’s best. Tightly locked in but never overly flashy, their riffing is as inherently important as Hegg’s guttural growling. Take either of these elements away and you no longer have one of the greatest metal bands on the planet.
It’s already easy to hear cuts like “War of the Gods” and “Slaves Of Fear” being live staples, audience arms swinging in unison to every call to arms. But two of the disc‘s best cuts are also it‘s most interesting. “Destroyer of the Universe” might be the fastest thing in the band’s repertoire. It sacrifices no precision for speed. “The Last Stand of Frej,” which lyrically takes on the point of view of a Surtur enemy, goes in the opposite direction, settling on a doom-like tempo but achieving the same punishing results.
As a band, Amon Amarth is at the enviable point in its career where it can do no wrong. It’s easy to see “Twilight of the Thunder God” and “Surtur Rising” as part (perhaps the main part) of a historic run. Viking metal that Vikings would have actually listened to!