Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of "Deceiver of the Gods" by Amon Amarth

Buy this album
(link available tomorrow)

1. Deceiver of the Gods
2. As Loke Falls
3. Father of the Wolf
4. Shape Shifter
5. Under Siege
6. Blood Eagle
7. We Shall Destroy
8. Hel
9. Coming of the Tide
10. Warriors of the North

Not many bands can claim their ninth album as the most powerful, dynamic, and downright aggressive of their career, but then Amon Amarth have consistently upped their game with every successive release. Having exploded onto the Swedish melodic death metal scene with 1998's Once Sent From The Golden Hall, every album has arrived bursting at the seams with power, melody and immersive storytelling centered around the richness of Norse mythology. Deceiver of the Gods captures the quintet at the peak of their powers. "Every time we start working on new music we begin with the idea that we're going to write the best album ever," vocalist Johan Hegg states. "We knew we wanted a more aggressive, live feeling to this record but there's no formula behind what we do. We just try to write something that takes us a step further than the last record, and is something that will excite us and our fans. Deceiver of the Gods is the result."

From the moment the title track explodes in a haze of thrash-flavored aggression to the final mournful passages of epic closer "Warriors Of The North" there is not a wasted moment, the band bombarding the listener with ten tracks of compulsive and electrifying metallic fury. Whether they're attempting to remove your face and separate your vertebrae with the deranged attack of "Blood Eagle" or carrying you on the back of the mammoth grooves driving "We Shall Destroy" and "Father Of The Wolf" they hit with decimating force, all the while unleashing ruthlessly captivating melodies. With the aforementioned thrash elements creeping in, as well as the old school metal and doom accents lending added depth and scale to standout track "Hel", guitarist Olavi Mikkonen admits this time out the band were not afraid to wear their influences on their collective sleeve. "We decided fairly early that we should go all-in on the songwriting for this album. If we had ideas or riffs that were perhaps a little too thrash oriented or traditional-metal sounding for Amon - or that were maybe too Amon or perhaps similar to what we had done in the past - we would still keep them as long as we really liked them. A few years back we would pass on those ideas and riffs, while now we feel it was right to just go with it. I think the result is that the songs are wider, they have stronger melodies, they are better composed with lots of dynamics in them, and there are no fillers or blanks on there. Everything is as good as it can possibly be, and reflects just how driven we were to make this a great record."

When it came to writing lyrics Hegg let the music of the individual songs provide the inspiration, rather than trying to force a set of preconceived ideas upon them. Though the record is not limited to one specific theme, the character of Loke, the Norse God who is commonly thought of as a dark and mischievous entity, has a strong presence, and also inspired the title Deceiver of the Gods. However, for Hegg the appeal of the character lies with the fact he is not simply drawn in black and white, as others might believe. "I think what's intriguing about him is that he's probably the most human of all the gods in northern mythology. A lot of people see him as an evil character, but he's not the equivalent of Satan. He also does a lot of good things, and particularly with his talent for diplomacy he manages to get the gods out of trouble a lot of times. The only problem is that he's usually the one that gets them into trouble in the first place! I just think he is really engaging in that he possesses a lot of human traits in the sense that we can do good and bad. We can be fantastic people and great people and huge people, and we can be very, very small people. We can be small minded and egocentric and devious and all of those negative things, and I like how he reflects that."

For Deceiver of the Gods the band turned to legendary producer Andy Sneap, a man whose résumé includes seminal albums from the likes of Cathedral, Arch Enemy, and Cradle Of Filth. Hegg explains, "We wanted more of a live feeling to the recording and we felt that Andy's style of producing could definitely help us with that. At the same time, knowing the records he worked on previously we felt he could probably help develop our sound so it became a little bit more angry and dangerous, without that polished sheen of our recent records." Mikkonen concurs, and he credits Sneap with playing a pivotal role in just how aggressive the finished product is. "It's rougher, and like a punch in the face, which is what we wanted it to be. Though adding more thrash elements into a few of the songs helps the whole album sound more hostile, it's ultimately the production that makes them sound more aggressive. On the last few records it didn't matter how aggressive the riffs we wrote were, whenever we went into the studio at the end they just didn't sound as intense." In tracking the record at Sneap's UK studio, as much as possible the band recorded long takes rather than clinically piecing things together, determined to give the album as much life as they could. "Fredrik (Andersson) recorded all the drums live, with the guys playing guitars and bass along with him to get the groove of it, and that makes for the energy that you don't get when everyone records separately, and I think that really comes across," Hegg states. "I think that was a very good way to record for us, it gave everyone a better feel of each song, and it was a good time being in the studio and laying it all down."

Having invited members of Entombed, Children of Bodom and Apocalyptica to guest on 2008's Twilight Of The Thunder God and Witchcraft's Simon Solomon to add guitar to two tracks on 2010's Surtur Rising, with Deceiver of the Gods the band sought out former Candlemass vocalist Messiah Marcolin to lend his instantly recognizable vocals to 'Hel'. "The idea of doing something with him came up quite a long time ago, and we were waiting for the song that it would best work on," Hegg explains. "When we started getting the basics down for 'Hel', we felt it would be a perfect song for him to contribute to. The way it came together was very natural. We sent him a rough version with my vocals and he worked his own on top of that and around the music. I think our contrasting styles work together brilliantly, and it's really exciting for us to have that on the record."

With 2013 marking Amon Amarth's twenty-first year, as well as the fifteenth anniversary of their debut full-length, their longevity and reputation for releasing killer album after killer album places them on a similar trajectory to the likes of Slayer and Cannibal Corpse, which is rarified company to be in. Likewise, having seen many younger faces flocking to their shows alongside their longtime faithful, the band are enjoying themselves now as much as they ever have, and Hegg wouldn't have it any other way. "It feels fantastic that we've been able to do this for so long and managed to get this far, and it's been a hell of a ride. I don't think we've yet reached the limit of how far the band can go, and we still have plenty of aspirations - and opening for Iron Maiden one day remains high on the list! I'm just happy as long as we can continue doing this. I try not to lose myself in dreams of what might be and rather focus on where we're at and what we're doing right now, and having as much fun along the way as we can."

As soon as the album starts you know it is Amon Amarth with the Viking death metal they hit you with. The first track, “Deceiver of the Gods,” seemed heavier than their previous stuff, yet not leaving their Swedish death metal roots. There are really great tapping/hammering riffs on “As Loke Falls.” The track makes me want to start a circle pit with swordsmen on horses. It has a great melodic feeling to it and kind of even more so than I remember the band being. “Father of the Wolf” kind of gave me an old school heavy metal feel, even the lead guitar has that old style sound to it. It is a great track nonetheless although it is a little too melodic in my opinion. The next track, “Shape Shifter,” is heavier than the track prior, bringing dirty speedy riffs with melodic bits on top.

Although “Under Siege” had some over the top melodic bits, it really made me feel like I was listening to old Amon Amarth. With great heavy riffs and awesome story telling they bring together an amazing feel. “Blood Eagle” starts off great with the sound of someone getting stabbed, which is just what the band does to you as they hit your with an assault of menacing melodic riffs. This track has to be one of my favourites on the album. Another track that brings you an old Amon Amarth feel comes in the form of “We Shall Destroy.” It had a heavier feel and even the melodic bits were dirty sounding.

With a title like “Hel,” I knew this track was going to be incredible. Focusing more on a more brutal sound it made for an incredible listen. The backing vocals were great as well, the guest vocals of Messiah Marcolin (ex-Candlemass) really added to the it. Fast paced the whole way through, “Coming of the Tide” punches your ears with great riffs. The solo on this was  awesome and the harmonized bits were amazing. As an eight minute track and the last on the album, I knew “Warriors of the North” was going to be an epic one. Bringing great melodic riffs and downright aggressive parts, they make sure you know they still have energy to be better than before.

In a stagnating Swedish death metal scene, this album does better than most. It's more melodic than their classic sound but definitely an improvement over their last album. Luckily, Amon Amarth knew how to change it up, although being more melodic than I’d hope for. It is a good album and definitely better than the last, but I don’t think it beats the albums their known for.

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