Like Iron Maiden, Amon Amarth understand metal. They understand that metal is not just about musicianship, although they are mighty fine musicians; nor is it just about monstrous riffs, although they have those too; rather, classic heavy metal is about the whole package – the presentation, they passion and the spirit – and it is in these fields that Amon Amarth stand head and shoulder above the competition in a market that reached, and surpassed, saturation point some years ago. Over the years Amon Amarth’s profile has risen steadily. There has been no meteoric ascent, because these grizzled veterans are content to bide their time, each successive album building upon the last to create a body of work that is truly impressive and that, in years to come, will be regarded by all as one of the great back catalogues of the genre.
‘Deceiver of the Gods’ comes beautifully packaged. Metal Blade, who have a long history of supporting bands no matter how adventurous their endeavours (check out Cannibal Corpse or The Ocean if you are unconvinced), and Amon Amarth have worked together to release the album in a multitude of formats starting with a digi-pack which, as a stand-alone effort, is pretty damn special anyway thanks to Tom Thiel’s beautiful cover art. If the basic package is not enough then a rather nice box set offers the digi-pack plus an EP of rare as hen’s teeth tribute songs to the band’s heavy rock influences – AC/DC, Motorhead, Priest and Sabbath and a poster of the awesome cover art, whilst for the truly dedicated a super-deluxe, ultra limited (5000 copies) version comes complete with a bust of Loki.
As for the album itself, ‘Deceiver of the gods’ may prove to be Amon Amarth’s best effort yet. Ignoring the stunning artwork that so captures the attention initially, it is clear that the band (working with legendary producer Andy Sneap) have laid down an album of sonically perfect death metal that not only captures the raging Viking spirit of metal, but also the epic grandeur inherent in the subject matter. Here there are bristling riffs, berserker percussion and sweeping, epic melodies, all of which make for a complete listening experience that is as vivid as any comic book. It is exciting, red-blooded metal of the highest order and it is certainly in the running for one of the albums of the year.
Opening with the title track, the band are clearly in the mood to take no prisoners as Johan Hegg roars out the immortal opening lines “Since I was born they have kept me down, they have forced me to conform, I will tear down their holy crown, in a vengeful thunder storm,” showing he has lost none of his ability to unleash a turn of phrase that not only sits in context but which could easily become a unifying battle cry for metal fans in general. The band, meanwhile, unleash riffs as sonically shocking as thunderbolts from the Gods themselves tempered with a sense of proud melody that brings to mind images of long-lost warriors putting on their carefully tended battle armour for one last swing of the mace. ‘As Loke falls’ opens with a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the early maiden albums before exploding into a blaze of furious riffs and guttural roars destined to send shivers down the spine of anyone who worships at the altar of metal, being both melodic enough to reference the masters of the genre – Priest, maiden and Sabbath – and heavy enough to please even the most ardent seekers of brutality. ‘Father of the wolf’ has a frighteningly taut groove to it, Andy Sneap’s typically excellent production providing Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen’s guitars with the sort of pristine clarity that most bands can only dream of whilst maintaining enough grit to keep everything from becoming too polished.
Maintaining the furious, adrenalin soaked pace, ‘Shape shifter’ is surely an album highlight thanks to the unfeasibly tight performance turned in by drummer extraordinaire Frederik Andersson and Johan’s deep, guttural roar never sounding ever less than absolutely in control over a track that moves effortlessly between brutality and melody. ‘Under siege’ offers up nimble, harmonised guitar licks for a brighter sound that offers a contrast to the band’s thunderous, bass-heavy sound and then ‘blood eagle’ is unleashed, talons clutching at quivering flesh, with gang chant vocals, a gruesome opening sample (blood gushing) and a riff that is utterly irresistible. ‘We shall destroy’ is a confident, death metal triumph with towering riffs bursting upon the listener like waves against a rock before the band pull a surprise ace out of their sleeve with ‘Hel’, a track that features a guest appearance from doom legend Messiah Marcolin who more than holds his own on a track that shows Amon Amarth flexing their creative muscles with no small amount of success.
Of the final two tracks, ‘coming of the tide’ is a straight forward blast of furious death metal, the band racing against one another and yet still finding time to imbue it with an underlying sense of melody that keeps things memorable and then ‘warriors of the north’ closes the disc with a tale of infamy, deceit and, finally, honour and noble sacrifice. It is an epic tale that is both furiously heavy and yet noble in scope, the music perfectly matching the perfectly phrased lyrics. It is a well-judged ending and it leaves you wanting much more from a band who have topped their own impressive legacy with consummate skill and unwavering self-belief.
‘Deceiver of the Gods’ is an epic masterstroke from a band who have been steadily improving with every release. Utterly epic in scope, it is both musically and lyrically excellent, the band’s skill and intelligence leaping from the speakers with every song. Ruthlessly paired back, there is not a single song that outstays its welcome and not a hint of filler, and it seems hardly to be hyperbole to suggest that any and every metal fan should consider adding this excellent release to their collection.
If you really love Amon Amarth then this amazing special edition is the only way to go: