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Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising: Review

Thanks first and foremost to the folks at Earsplit for hooking me up with Amon Amarth‘s upcoming album Surtur Rising. For all you melodic death metal fans, mark your calendar for March 29, the release date of the record. Unfortunately, for personal reasons my calendar will remain unmarked. In many ways, I think this is an awesome album. But what is keeping me from listening to it anymore is the non-stop, relentless growling. There is a line within the metal community drawn by the death growl, and it is certainly not a thin one. Being on the wrong side of it, I feel that rating this album is unjust. Still, I’m more than happy to share my thoughts.

The Music (rating: B+)

  1. War of the Gods
  2. Töck’s Taunt – Loke’s Treachery Part II
  3. Destroyer of the Universe
  4. Slaves of Fear
  5. Live Without Regrets
  6. The Last Stand of Frej
  7. For Victory or Death
  8. Wrath of the Norsemen
  9. A Beast Am I
  10. Doom Over Dead Man

Surtur Rising is melodic death metal from what I’ve been told (I wouldn’t know being inexperienced with death metal). The overall sound is somewhat like a mixture of darker, heavier power metal with the death growl. There aren’t too many ballad sections; the album is rather uncompromisingly metal. Most fans of Amon Amarth and the genre are bound to love this album.

Let’s start off with all the good stuff in this album. The first thing one sees with a record is the album art, and I don’t know about you but the album art itself is enough to entice me. Generally, good album art equates to good music. Depending on who you ask, this case holds true. Surtur Rising kicks off with really heavy power metal type instrumentals. The overall production is wonderful, everything sounds very refined and well-polished and the tone regarding all instruments is crisp and clear. Throughout the album, the killer riffs don’t let up and the heaviness and epic sound are also maintained. Aside from the vocals, the instrumentals are wonderful. This is mostly from the phrasing and composition standpoint as opposed to impressiveness and performance, though the latter is still commendable. Now let’s substitute the death growling back into the equation…

I haven’t ventured far into the death metal genre (let alone MDM) not because I haven’t had the opportunity, but because I haven’t followed through with any of the opportunities presented to me. The only death metal band I listen to regularly is Opeth, largely because of their dynamic sound, tight composition, and progressive nature. They have many instrumentally intricate sections in which sometimes growling seems to avoid the compromising of flow which may occur with sung vocals. Other times, the death growl amplifies the heaviness of a section which become significantly empowered, especially when juxtaposed against exotic ballad sections. In these cases, the growl seems (arguably) justified. However, in this album the cases are inapplicable.

With Surtur Rising, the growling (to me) feels unnecessary. It does make the whole album much heavier, but I think it takes away more from the musical side than it adds with its heaviness. Also, without softer passages, the growling heaviness isn’t really put into a complimentary context (as it often is with Opeth). And there aren’t really complex sections in which the growling vocals can be preferred to over sung vocals. There are wonderful instrumental phrases which I think appropriate, awesome melodies can be sung over without tinkering with the heavy feel or taking away from the musical side (if anything, having an overriding melody should add to the musical side, I would think). This is why Surtur Rising is not an album for me.

My intention is not to insult anyone or incite any change (maybe subconsciously the second). I’m trying to steer possible enjoyers towards this album and the zero-potential listeners away. I have only praise for the instrumental and musical work and if you’re a fan of death metal, well that’s just the frosty icing on the cake. In fact, of all the death growlers, Amon Amarth is definitely one of the stronger ones. However, I’m not sure if it is just the death growl for my lack of further interest with the album or if it is an issue with the music itself. I mean, the album is not overly dynamic, lacking quieter passages. It’s all non-stop heaviness with a melodic edge and can at times feel semi-repetitive. But again, I’m not sure whether this is my actual, legitimate reason for discontinuing this album from my playlist or if it is merely the inability of my feeble brain to appreciate the death growl. Perhaps in time I will be able to rate this album, but absolutely not now.

All in all, I had a mixed appreciation with this album. Basically, I enjoyed it because I tried to enjoy it but it was an unnatural, fatiguing effort. For fans of the band or genre, certainly check this one out. But for those like me (none of the above), you should really know what you’re getting into.

Edit:

Having let my thoughts on this matter settle and become coherent, I would rate this album a B+. The instruments are good, but certain sections throughout the album are a bit empty. Honestly, I feel that mixing good clean vocals with the growls would have made this album better (especially on the “emptier” sections), although the word on the street is the vocalist can’t do clean… Surtur Rising is a good album, but is not as consistently awe-inspiring as I would have hoped.

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  1. baeleron
    March 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Clean vocals would have utterly ruined this album, as they ruin many other otherwise excellent albums. It’s fine that you don’t like extreme vocals, but perhaps you should confine your reviews to genres where you actually have some knowledge.

  2. Alex
    March 14, 2011 at 1:29 am

    There is no way this is anything lower than an A. If you don’t listen to metal and DM in particular do not review this stuff.
    Just a heads up, Opeth is hardly death metal, it’s more progressive.

  3. Zach
    March 23, 2011 at 5:27 am

    You have to understand that clean vocals just does not fit this type of music, especially when you put the whole album in context. Johann Hegg’s (hope I spelled his name right)vocals fit the music perfectly in the grand scheme of things. Please do not review Death metal albums unless you can come to accept all kinds of vocal styles.

    And Alex is right, everything about this album deserves no less than an A.

  4. Carson
    April 12, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    this is a 5 star album cover

  5. Ben
    April 24, 2011 at 3:03 am

    I’m not gonna write rational stuff here. Just listened to the album one time, and FREAKING HELL it’s amazing! It’s true Amon Amarth, with a little extra twist too keep it interesting, but not so much that the band loses it’s soul.

    There’s only a few bands of which the albums are catchy the first listen and stay strong for a LONG time, Amon Amarth is one of them. Never disappoint! I almost had tears in my eyes from not being able to handle their awesomeness. Where other bands fade, Amon Amarth stays strong, eternal! I think the production is perfect and so are the vocals, they fit this style.

    About genres, Amon Amarth are only one genre, that is “the best genre”.

    A fat 9/10 from me.

  1. March 16, 2011 at 12:40 am

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