Wednesday, February 9, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1538: Amon Amarth

It’s been a long day, but I’m determined to knock out this review in the hour or two I have before I am comatose and waiting for my alarm to go off again.

Disc 1538 is…. Twilight of the Thunder God

Artist: Amon Amarth

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover? It’s the end of the world as we know it…and Thor feels fine. Here he is fighting Jormungandr, aka the Midgard Serpent. Thor is destined to kill Jormungandr but then succumb to its poison. In all my reading of Norse mythology (no small amount) I don’t recall Thor ever complaining about his fate. A real stoic, that Thor.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve known the band by reputation for a while, but never gave them a listen until my friend Greg sent me a song called “Shield Wall” from their 2019 album, “Berserker” (if at this point you think these guys are obsessed with Vikings, you are not wrong). I liked the song and away down the rabbit hole it sent me, sailing through their back catalogue like a longship on the high seas.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Amon Amarth albums. I like them all, but since I’ve bought them all in the past year, I haven’t given any of the others the attention they deserve to make an informed ranking decision. So I’ll just talk out of my ass and rank “Twilight of the Thunder God” third best. This leaves room above and below it. I also reserve the right to change my mind later when hopefully I’ll better know what I’m talking about.

Ratings: 3 stars

You’d expect a band named after the mythical active volcano Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings to thump pretty hard. On “Twilight of the Thunder God” Amon Amarth do not disappoint.

Their particular form of thump falls into the ‘melodic death metal’ sub-genre of metal. I usually find the auditory assault that is death metal a bit much, but the addition of the melodic elements here helps the whole thing to work. All the primal energy that makes death metal so attractive to its adherents is still there, but the guitars soar with enough bombast for me to ride the song. Think of the power-chords of the guitar as Paul Atreides and the double bass of the drums howling away as the sandworm he’s riding.

However, do not expect a whole lot of sand or heat on this record. The canvas upon which Amon Amarth paints is the frigid north of Scandinavia. As I noted above, these guys love them some Viking action. “Twilight of the Thunder God” is an immersive Viking cultural experience, with a metal soundtrack. Songs feature various Norse myths, centering in particular on Ragnarok, which is not surprising given the album’s title. They do branch out to sing about other characters sailing about, pillaging, killing or dying while undertaking heroic deeds but I get the distinct impression that these characters are also Vikings.

If you aren’t interested in Vikings, then this might grow tiresome for you, but I love it. I’ve always loved Viking history and Norse mythology, so hearing lead singer Johan Hegg gutturally growl away about the subject fills me with joy. I don’t usually go for the growl-singing of death metal, but Hegg does a great job of it, managing to match the ferocity the style needs while still delivering a narrative that is reasonably understandable.

Even on the more ferocious tracks, the ‘melodic’ elements survive, with the twin guitars of Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg provide that driving power that is my favourite part of modern European metal.

The album maintains a high level of energy throughout, but there are a couple standouts.

The first is the title track, which tells the tale of Thor fighting Jormungandr, just like the cover of the record suggest will happen. It is a tale told with furious intensity, and Fredrik Andersson’s incredible double-bass drum action makes you feel the battle in your bones from the first notes. When the song breaks down halfway through into a crunchy guitar riff you think you’ve heard it all, but there is still a guest solo from guitarist Roope Latvala (Children of Bodom) to put this song over the top.

My other favourite is “Guardians of Asgaard,” a song that starts with a guitar crunch that is so heavy they had to put an extra ‘A’ in ‘Asgard’ just to keep it from buckling under the weight. This song will sink down into your guts deeper than a berserker’s bearded axe. This stuff is pure headbanging glory.

Many of the other tracks were less accessible at first, but as my ear adjusted to the experience I understood the nuance of the music amid all the fury. “Twilight of the Thunder Gods” is a rough ride on a sea of metal, but you’ll find the salt spray in your face invigorating once you settle in for the journey.

A quick endnote on the packaging before I go. My copy is a re-release with a bonus DVD, but even better is the big, well-constructed CD case. Like the record, it has heft and, along with a high-quality booklet insert, it makes you feel like you’ve actually bought something. I know CDs are a dying art but kudos to metal bands like Amon Amarth that keep the dream alive for those of us who still collect them.

Best tracks: Twilight of the Thunder God, Guardians of Asgaard, The Hero

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