Sweden’s Amon Amarth are one of the most consistent bands in modern metal, up there with Motörhead and Napalm Death. They haven’t made a bad album…well, ever, and since their fourth full-length, 2002’s Versus the World, they’ve been on a decade-plus streak that shows no sign of abating. Fate of Norns and With Oden On Our Side, released in 2004 and 2006 respectively, were fine holding patterns, but on 2008’s Twilight of the Thunder God, the band released what remains its masterwork. Writing more expansive, epic songs than at any time in the past, they also brought in guests for the first time: Entombed vocalist L-G Petrov on “Guardians of Asgard,” the cello ensemble Apocalyptica on “Live for the Kill,” and Children of Bodom guitarist Roope Latvala on the title track. They took three years to record a follow-up, 2011’s Surtur Rising, and while the songwriting remained at a high level, it was just another great Amon Amarth album, not the genuine shock Twilight had been when it arrived.
The band’s latest album, Deceiver of the Gods, marks some small but notable changes for the band. For the first time, they’ve recorded outside of Sweden (at Backstage Studios in the UK), and after three albums with producer Jens Bogren, they’ve chosen to work with Andy Sneap instead. These decisions will mean little to the casual listener, but shifts in methodology can help snap a group out of creative ruts, and that’s what’s happened here.
Amon Amarth‘s sound is commonly described as death metal, but it’s much more immediately palatable than that; it’s a fist-pumping, beer-hoisting, shout-along sort of post-thrash. Frontman Johan Hegg has a deep, gravelly roar that’s perfectly intelligible at all times, particularly when he’s bellowing the songs’ anthemic choruses. Behind him, guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg crank out riffs as catchy as any in hard rock or metal, and the rhythm section of bassist Ted Lundström and drummer Fredrik Andersson keep things rumbling along with an almost metronomic precision.
Despite taking their name from the Lord of the Rings novels, they’re deep into Norse mythology—almost all their songs are about the old gods, except for the ones that are about being a Viking warrior. One of the few tracks to exist outside these two categories (or in some overlapping zone between them) is “Slaves of Fear,” an anti-religious anthem from Surtur Rising. On Deceiver of the Gods, they mostly stick to mythology throughout, focusing on Loki (or Loke). And musically, they mostly do what they’ve always done, with a few notable exceptions. “As Loke Falls” is a showcase for shredding guitar harmonies that at times recalls Iron Maiden, while “Hel” is a doomy stomp which features caterwauling guest vocals from Messiah Marcolin, formerly of Candlemass. The album’s most epic moment, though, comes at the very end. “Warriors of the North” is over eight minutes long, and it soars for every minute of its running time, telling a story of intrigue among warriors and kings that’s worthy of an ancient saga. (If you’ve never read Sagas of Warrior-Poets, do it; it’s like a string of soap opera plotlines, with extra sword-fighting.)
Deceiver of the Gods is one of the best metal albums of the year so far. Amon Amarth are at the peak of their powers, utterly confident and aware of both the boundaries and the potential of their chosen style. These are vital, hard-charging songs that even a first-time listener can enjoy, but loyal fans (like me) will be even more pleased that their favorite band has once again come through as expected.
Stream “Father of the Wolf”: