Sound — 8
Like the thud of a war drum as the longboat pierces the mist, Amon Amarth are constant. The part-time Vikings and full-time melodic death metal band have been plying their trade for over two decades, writing rousing anthems and staging bold Norse theatre before huge crowds with barely a moment's rest since 1992. Their form has had its ups and downs, peaking most recently with 2008's "Twilight of the Thunder God," but in truth they are entitled to bask in the glory of their classic debut album, "Once Sent from the Golden Hall." Their style is, for all intents and purposes, a battle they won many moons ago, but that doesn't mean there's no fun in heading to a re-enactment every once in a while. Especially after a few flagons.
Ninth album "Deceiver of the Gods" sees the Swedes in defiant mood, throwing low swings of the hammer and flexing their death metal muscle with Iron Maiden-esque melody filling out the top of the mix. The beat of rapid bass drums and the guttural roar of Johan Hegg are ever-present, creating a booming low end with the help of famed producer and reliable packer of factory-standard hits Andy Sneap. The relentless barrage of "Shape Shifter" and "We Shall Destroy" make this a characteristically high-testosterone, take-no-prisoners affair, but there are a handful of tracks which transcend the machismo and tread some new ground for the band.
"Under Siege" is fashioned as a shorter take on the "Maiden epic," threading sequences of melodies together to establish a narrative drama, playing out variations on the theme and eventually letting the bass guitar guide everybody home. "Hel" also takes cues from older forms of metal, punching out powerchords and stirring a hint of darkness into the pot. The crown jewel, however, has to be "Warriors of the North": a long and richly-woven tale of restored glory, expressed through the album's finest riffs and most convincing instrumental performances. Going from strength to strength with thunderous sturm und drang, it brings the album to a thoroughly satisfying close.
Lyrics — 8
Johan Hegg is the star of their live shows and so it is on record - the great hairy beast gurgles his way through 12 engaging tales of death and glory on "Deceiver of the Gods." He may look and sound like a brute but his storytelling is shaped by experience and an incredible passion for his work. The stories are as genuine and full of life as they were on day one. His finest hour here is "Hel," where he duets with ex-Candlemass vocalist and doom metal legend Messiah Marcolin. The main man's growl may be louder than his guest star's operatic cry, but musically and lyrically the song glows with the spirit of classic heavy metal. The way this band approaches their subject matter is steeped in tradition.
As Viking-themed bands go (predictably, some have a tacky feel to them) Amon Amarth are as good as it gets for combining entertainment value with a degree of authenticity. Hegg's use of terminology, his rhyme and rhythm and his ability to stir emotion make the words feel very real, so even sceptics could find themselves being taken for a ride by his tales of Midgard, Valhalla and god knows where else. You know what you're going to get with this guy, and you're better off getting it from him than almost anyone else.
Overall Impression — 8
The band's biggest fans will have been streaming this album on UG already, but in case you missed the memo you are looking at one of Amon Amarth's best works here. It really has got it all. You could say very few of their albums fall short of the mark, but "Deceiver of the Gods" is that bit heavier and that bit more anthemic whenever it needs to be to stand out from the rest. Not every song will go down in their folklore, but the truly excellent "Warriors of the North" certainly will, and the songs which share its scope, ambition and masterful execution will earn this record a special place in the hearts of their fans.