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
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.
- Fate of Norns
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
8. Once Sealed in Blood
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