The oft-maligned metal subgenre Viking Metal originally spawned from the Pagan influences of Black Metal, though now it’s closer in tone to Folk Metal. Originated by the early Black Metal band Bathory, Viking Metal is exactly that, metal taking influences from Norse mythology and Nordic instruments. It’s easy to make fun of by the masses.
And it was my plan to do exactly that. I thought making fun of a Viking Metal album would make for a great April Fool’s Joke, and Amon Amarth just released an album on Tuesday, March 29. There’s just one problem… Surtur Rising… really kind of owns.
Sweden’s Amon Amarth formed in 1992, but didn’t really find their place in mainstream metal (yes, I’m aware of the apparent oxymoron) until 2005’s Fate of Norns. While their lyrical stylings are almost unilaterally about Norse Mythology, they refuse to call themselves Viking Metal, instead preferring the more standard label of Death Metal. Stylistically… they’re not far off. Lyrics aside, their sound is rooted heavily in the Gothenburg Melodic Death Metal sound, and can be compared to a very heavy Soilwork. Most Viking Metal, notably Finland’s Turisas and Ensiferum, are much closer to their Black Metal progenitors.
This year brings us the newest in Amon Amarth’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Viking Metal” style, Surtur Rising. Honestly, the more I listen to this album, the more I love it. Sure it’s silly, it’s over the top, and the lyrics can be downright funny, but… I just can’t help myself. The biggest technical complaint I have about the band is that drummer Fredrik Andersson lacks variation, and that the final track of the album, “Doom over Dead Men” is weaker than the other tracks on the album. It isn’t even bad, it’s just not as good. That’s all I can come up with, their drummer is meh, and they have one track that isn’t as totally and completely awesome as the others.
Surtur Rising opens with “War of the Gods,” which quickly sets the tone of the album. While the riff at first appears to be bordering on In Flames territory, they start the energy high, and never let it go. Vocalist Johan Hegg grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. If I have any real complaint about this song, it’s at the end. The track just… stops. It doesn’t really have an ending, and it doesn’t fade out. But it’s a great opener, with great riffs, and while the Power Metal-inspired solo might feel out of place, it really does fit with the overall tone of the album.
“Toke’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Pt. 2” Would win an award for most over-the-top title on the album… except it isn’t. This is a slower track, with a weird tempo. The riff is hard and memorable. But it just starts plodding along and doesn’t give up. In fact, that statement can be used for any of the tracks of this album, they don’t really have a “soft” song or even soft points in the song. They’re just metal. And that’s what this song is. Just metal.
“Destroyer of the Universe.” Again, over-the-top title. Fast-paced, hi-energy, a fantastic bridge solo, and a strong ending.
“Slaves of Fear” is kind of a weird track. Hegg’s vocals here are… I think he’s going for syncopated, but it comes off as off-beat. Guitarists Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen earn their pay here, with a technically complex and memorable guitar track.
“Live Without Regrets” is probably my favorite track on the album. Heavy, bombastic, unsubtle in the extreme, and about as perfect of a metal track as I’ve ever heard. This is the one time where drummer Frederik Andersson gets to shine. He suffers from what I like to call “Anders Jivarp Syndrome,” (as named for the drummer from Melodic Death Metal giants Dark Tranquillity), which is a seeming inability to variate his beats and tones save for one or two tracks on the album. This is one of those tracks.
“The Last Stand of Frej” can only be described as a metal march. It’s technically a slower track, but it’s back to that “not giving up” style of some of their earlier tracks.
“For Victory or Death” is another one of those tracks that fools you from the get go. Just like “War of the Gods” first tried to make you think it was In Flames, “For Victory or Death” tries to make you think you’re listing to a Metalcore band a la Trivium. While the energy is good, I can’t say this track does anything we haven’t heard on the album before.
“Wrath of the Norsemen” kicks it back up. This track opens a bit more Groove Metal influences, I can hear elements of Pantera or DevilDriver when I listen to the track. Great, strong riff.
“A Beast Am I” opens heavy and only gets heavier. Another sufferer of “Anders Jivarp Syndrome,” this once again showcases Andersson’s abilities. Why doesn’t the band utilize him more? Musically dissonant, especially at the solo, but not in an offputting way. The beastial nature of the song - as proclaimed by the title – is evident here. A wild and chaotic song. After the song, but still part of the album track, is an instrumental bit. This is the song that should have closed up the album.
… Instead we get “Doom over Dead Men.” … of doom? Sadly, they fall apart at the end. It seems almost like a metal ballad at first. The song lacks cohesion. It starts one way, goes another, heads in a third, then a fourth, and finally finishes off at a fifth, unrelated to the others. The solo is… okay, and the keys are solid throughout. But in the end, this track is just… uninteresting. It’s there.
This album was the first album by Amon Amarth that I ever purchased, and I did so entirely for what I thought would be a funny review. Instead, I found myself being infected by it. It’s just so… manly. That’s the only word I can use for it. Manly. I feel more masculine for having listened to this album. I can clearly see why they’re so popular, and at the same time, why Brendan Smalls (Creator of “Metalocalypse: Dethklok”) likes making fun of them. They’re silly, they’re over the top, they're Viking sons of bitches, and they’re going to metal your face off.
Surtur Rising is on Metal Blade Records.