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Pure Metal: Amon Amarth - Fate of Norns
By Mark Hensch

Death metal (at least in the American sense) seems to be over-the-top carnivals of destruction and chaos; it is usually pretty interesting to see how the original purveyors of the genre (the Scandinavians) allow their culture and lifestyles to create death metal that stands apart from their American counterparts. 

Sweden's Amon Amarth are prime examples of this ideal; the band has been playing old-fashioned, no 'frills, by the books Swedish death metal since at least 1992. Twelve years of metal should be enough to set any band's legend in stone; the Amonites however showcase a whole new spin on death metal. In one of the most fervent tributes to a homeland ever to be done in metal, Amon Amarth writes every single bloody album about the Vikings of the Dark Ages/Middle Ages. The Nordic tribes, their lifestyles, their mythology/religion (still practiced by some people as Neo-Nordic Paganism, or Asatru, roughly "The Way of the Gods"), every aspect of Amon Amarth's music smacks of Viking-related mythos. In a world where most bands are easily contented by writing bland love-ditties or nihilistic death anthems, Amon gives death metal a Viking perspective; the destructive tendencies (lyrically and musically) of less daring acts are supplanted by the thought that death and chaos are necessary, but should be treated with awe and respect rather then fear. This concept is fundamental to the Amon Amarth experience, and why will become increasingly apparent as you read on.

Amon's metal is nothing too fresh or mind-blowing. Despite an excellent sense of metal grooves, the band doesn't really solo much or do any wacky distortions, or drum a set of drums into a pulp with too many double-bass tempo changes. Amon has, like a sacred relic of Viking times, mastered the key Viking concept of the Saga; Vikings loved not so much the method of story-telling as much as the story itself. Amon allows that genius metal groove sense to orchestrate some of the best musical storytelling ever to leave the Artic Circle. Atmospherics, intense poetic verse, and passionate vocals are what makes or breaks an Amon album.

"An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm" depicts the classic Viking longboat raids. The song booms in with a war-like set of riffs that invoke images of longboats being rowed over churning seas, and frontman Johan launches into a lyrical journey describing "An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm/Thunder of swords and shields." Johan has the perfect voice for Viking-influenced metal; he sounds like a vomiting grizzly bear or maybe a Berserker having a bad day on the battlefield. 

"Where Death Seems to Dwell" is a simply epic tune that describes a lone, unnamed man's dark descent into the Viking land of death, Niflheim. It comes in with gale, artic winds, grandiose chords and drum splashes, before the vocals tell a purely amazing tale that will have you envisioning the dreary fate awaiting Vikings who didn't die in battle. 

"The Fate of Norns" is a bouncy death metal song that is strangely depressing; it deals with the Viking concepts of beings known as Norns, indifferent spirits who decided how long somebody would live and when/how they would die. It is a classic concept-study of man's short mortality, but it is presented in an interesting way that I won't betray here. 

"The Pursuit of Vikings" is a sneaky tune that alternates between that final stealthy raid and the first clash between two armies on the ancient battlefields. "Valkyries Ride" is a darker tune laden with especially punishing drums and frantic chords that describes the reasons Vikings might be inspired to wage war. 

"The Beheading of a King" is a sadly forgettable hooky metal tune that has some awesome drum parts but isn't too much of a standout. "Arson", and it's follower "Once Sealed in Blood" can't be reviewed without an obvious connection being made. "Arson" describes (after the amazingly-deep call of a Viking battle horn) a group of men who trap another group in a hut, viciously fight with them almost to the man, and then locks them in the hut and sets the hut on fire. The group make a blood-pact of revenge should any survive, and the narrator somehow does, after a introspective, driving, and poignant metal tempest.

"Once Sealed in Blood" is in my mind only the start; the narrator from the previous song gets his first man in a long, violent, and heart-felt song, closing with promises of revenge yet to come.

Regardless of what ideals inspires this kind of music, Amon Amarth wins over with purely emotional story-telling. You can pound a listener into submission but that doesn't mean you will get them to hear you or care about what you are saying. The fact I can actually care about the flipping Vikings, all of which ceased to exist as a purely separate race centuries ago, is a testament to the sheer lyrical delivery of this band. It's like combining Beowulf with classic death metal, and you get the best of both worlds; a perfect story, and one of the most compelling styles of music on Earth. 

Apparently the Teutonic peoples most likely to identify with the Vikings agree; German charts rank this as #31, Austrians as #38, and the Swedish Charts at an amazing #7, at least at press time. It is great to hear a death metal band can sell mainstream quantities, and after hearing these guys, it's no surprise so many people are jumping on the proverbial longboat for the next journey.
 



CD Info 

Amon Amarth - Fate of Norns
Label: Metal Blade
Rating
 
Tracks:
1. An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm
2. Where Death Seems to Dwell
3. The Fate of Norns
4. The Pursuit of Vikings
5. Valkyries Ride
6. The Beheading of a King
7. Arson
8. Once Sealed in Blood
Listen to samples and Purchase this CD online


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