Amon Amarth - With Oden on our Side Review
by Mark Hensch
With the exception of possibly Bolt Thrower, few death metal bands hold the consistency and dedication to craft wielded by Norway's Amon Amarth. Just like Bolt Thrower, the band perfected a formula starting in 1993 with their Thor Arise demo and since that time have deviated very, VERY little from their original formula. In fact, purchasing each successive Amon Amarth album is basically just extending the very first taste of fun; as a fan of the band, you'd get a new episode of epic, chugging, and vaguely melodic death metal about Nordic/Viking culture each and every new release. All that has changed with this year's jarring With Oden on our Side.
Oden isn't jarring in the fact that it is bad. Rather, Amon Amarth has sunk so far into the groove of "musically staying the course" that any deviation at all seems pretty shocking at this point. To be honest, the band has always been so good at their Viking death metal that had they stuck to their original guns, I doubt I (or the vast majority of Amon Amarth's berserkers for that matter) what have cared one stinking iota. That doesn't mean that Oden's new stylistic choices aren't welcome; I'd argue this is the strongest Amon Amarth album since their formation. On the other side of the coin, by now the band have turned themselves into a quasi-institution of unwavering intent, and so I'd say the title is pretty fitting. Let's just say after so little evolution on albums past Amon Amarth will definitely need some kind of deity to help them through the chaos of it all.
And this is where With Oden on our Side excels. The band has upped the depth to the riffs, making them sound even heavier than on albums past. Best of all (at least in my opinion) is the vast amount of guitar fretwork on here; for the first time in I don't know how long (perhaps ever, I'm really stretching my memory without result right now folks) Amon Amarth has guitar solos. It might sound like no biggie (this is a metal band after all) but with Amon Amarth the amount of melodic, icy solos really adds a lot to the already London fog-thick atmosphere.
The barnstorming "Valhal Awaits Me" is the perfect transition from traditional Amon Amarth to the new climes the band seem to be exploring. A massive, furious, and most notably catchy riff assaults your ears as guttural growls tell a story of brutal warfare and simplistic, bestial violence. Some freezing cold tremolo picking crops up here and there to great effect, and as an older Amon Amarth fan, I can safely say it isn't unlikely to have your jaw dropped by the first melodic solo you'll have ever heard from the band. The mid-paced guitar crunch of "Runes to my Memory" is deeper than the roots of a glacier, and just as patient in steamrolling your flesh off. In typical Amon Amarth fashion, the song is a festival of guitar riffage, the only difference being that this time the band isn't afraid to indulge in some excellent flashes of melodic guitar wanking, not unlike the glimmer of the Aurora Borealis in the northern sky. The axe-swinger that is "Asator" will please pretty much anyone who likes galloping true metal, and this monster is no walk in the park. Fast, intense, and bloody, this is highest-calibre death metal transported to the realm of primitive, chaotic Viking infantry charges. "Dermod's Ride to Hel-Loke's Treachery Part 1" is interesting in the fact it has a very familiar intro riff (can't place it, but I swear I've heard something similar from another band before) and that there is not a "part 2" to "Loke's treachery." Minor quips aside, this is still a majestic song, its soaring guitars and ironclad chugging all adding up to a song high on the scale of "epic." "Gods of War Arise" starts with tribal war drums before lighting a funeral pyre under the traditional song structure of Amon Amarth; the band doesn't so much repeat itself here as it does reinvent itself. "Gods of War Arise" will definitely conjure up visions of classic Amon Amarth, but played at a level of clarity, precision, and integrity that even the strongest of earlier tracks did not have. The title track, "With Oden on our Side," takes place next, its triumphant Viking fury on full display. Just listen to the slow burn into the epic opening and see if you're not convinced that Amon Amarth have outdone themselves this time. As for the rest of the song itself, volley after volley of warrior metal attacks your ears again and again. The moody and elegaic "Cry of the Black Birds" is a very interesting twist; the band have traditionally been very talented at adding sorrow to the Viking mythos, but this is the first time in an album or two were they have made a serious attempt at exploring the more melancholy side of things. Taking just that route here, "Black Birds" is laden with somber melodies, bitter-and-biting cold, and riffs that shimmer like torches in the dark of a frozen night. In fact, this might be my favorite song of the album! Or maybe not...it's followup, "Under the Northern Star," is really that good. As amazing as the track is, it is somewhat difficult to explain just why it works so well. I'd have to say this is the first moment I really realized that Amon Amarth would be forging an entirely new identity. Mixing an almost absurd amount of stinging melody with excellent, mid-paced death riffage, the song is a real piece of glory and valor unto the Amon Amarth legacy. With so much leading into it, "Prediction of Warfare" feels slightly flat, but still ends the album on a pleasing note. Slowly blossoming out of a tremolo-run and some pounding percussion into another smashing death metal fist-pumper, it is a great close to another epic journey with the stoic Nords.
Muscular, serious, and glorious, there is something grand to be found deep in the unrivaled slaughtering machine that Amon Amarth have morphed into. The oodles of chilly melodies really add to the bonesnapping riffs the band has always been famous for, and the end result is a champion of battle stepping on the field for the first time and scaring away all pretenders to the Viking metal throne. As if all the new changes weren't enough, Amon Amarth still excel 99.9% of bands with their exquisite storytelling; this album is a joy to simply read about in the lyrics! With their trademark sound suddenly being expanded into exciting new realms and territories, I can't wait to see where the band is sailing their proverbial longboat of a band next.
1. Valhal Awaits Me
2. Runes to my Memory
4. Dermod's Ride to Hel-Loke's Treachery Part 1
5. Gods of War Arise
6. With Oden on our Side
7. Cry of the Black Birds
8. Under the Northern Star
9. Prediction of Warfare
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Amon Amarth - With Oden on our Side
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Posted by Trig:
This cd is awesome! The song "Prediction of Warfare" is amazing! the story is compelling its like your actually there as you listen to it! Amon Amarth has succeded in every aspect of what is reequired from a true death metal band.
There are not many death metal bands that can play this kind of music, it take a special group and this is definitly talented band with a bright future.