As it turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks. More precisely, in the case of Amon Amarth, an old dog can learn new tricks. 19 years and eight albums into their career, they've finally made an album I want to listen to. It's not that their earlier records were unlistenable. They were just uninteresting, with a few rousing anthems each and many lesser songs of textbook melodic death metal. The catalogue suggested a greatest hits treatment, which Metal Blade bestowed upon Japan (?) last year.

However, the catalogue also suggested that Amon Amarth were capable of more. Two moments transcended the usual Viking posturing (swords, beards, mead). The first was "Runes to My Memory", a genuinely touching last will and testament. The second was the title track of Twilight of the Thunder God. Its bridge abandoned the usual minor scales for a spicy flatted second that slammed the song into another gear. These were rare moments of tension in a catalogue filled with release and not much else.

Now Amon Amarth have suddenly become sophisticated songwriters. Believe it or not, they've made a headphones record. Melodies, harmonies, counterpoint, and layers abound. It's still an Amon Amarth record - some songs sound like rewrites of earlier ones - but it's just better. Instead of simply plowing through riffs and picking up the slack with hair-twirling, the band works hard at details. Guitars tremolo pick, palm mute, and unwind luscious melodies. Songs contract and expand, waxing smooth and spiky. Amon Amarth have historically been standing-up music for me, but I love sitting down with this record.

Greg Moffitt's cover story on Amon Amarth for Decibel's April '11 issue is instructive. The band indeed wanted to go deeper on this record. And it wanted to dispel the stereotype of Vikings as brutes. They were smart, resourceful people. Evidently so are Amon Amarth. Metal abounds with brute strength, a trait I appreciate. But I appreciate craftsmanship as much, if not more. Kudos to Amon Amarth for avoiding another record of the tried-and-true. They woodshedded and worked on their craft and outdid themselves in a big way.

On their upcoming US tour, which begins today, Amon Amarth will play two sets, with no support bands. One set will feature Surtur Rising in its entirety - a treatment well deserved.

— Cosmo Lee

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"War of the Gods"

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. . .


4/14 The Bottom Lounge - Chicago, IL (SOLD OUT)
4/15 Station 4 - Saint Paul, MN
4/16 Granada Theater - Lawrence, KS
4/17 The Summit Music Hall - Denver, CO
4/19 Wonder Ballroom - Portland, OR
4/20 Showbox Sodo - Seattle, WA
4/22 The Regency - San Francisco, CA
4/23 Ace Of Spades - Sacramento, CA
4/24 House of Blues - West Hollywood, CA
4/25 Nile Theatre - Mesa, AZ
4/27 White Rabbit - San Antonio, TX
4/29 Culture Room - Fort Lauderdale, FL
4/30 Beacham Theatre - Orlando, FL
5/01 Masquerade - Atlanta, GA
5/02 Jaxx - Springfield, VA
5/03 Peabody’s - Cleveland, OH
5/05 Best Buy Theater - New York, NY
5/06 Paradise Rock Club - Boston, MA
5/07 Theatre Of Living Arts - Philadelphia, PA

. . .

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