Amon Amarth – Fate of Norns
Metal Blade, 2004
1. An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm
2. Where Death Seems to Dwell
3. Fate of Norns
4. The Pursuit of Vikings
5. Valkyries Ride
6. The Beheading of a King
8. Once Sealed in Blood
Certainly, the metal world is polluted with cheesy bands proclaiming themselves Vikings. Songs of valkyries and swords and sailing in ships of yore to conquer foreign lands, they’re a dime a dozen. The culture itself, however, is not one to mess with: should you encounter a particularly vigilant Scandinavian, you may never hear the end of the plight of Vikings, how they have been wronged, and how Odin owns ye all. You can find elements of this history throughout power, death, black, and a hundred other derivatives of metal which decended from the blistery north. Many of these are just as goofy as one might imagine.
And then, there’s Amon Amarth. In six short years, five albums have been recorded. All have nearly identical cover art. Most of the music ideas haven’t evolved, either. But what the band does have going for them above all others is a tight musicianship, complete from lyrics/songwriting to sheer ability. Even without straying from their formula, they have still managed to grow quality-wise. The dual guitar of Olli Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg spill beautiful melodies and harmonies that fit the spirit of their craft, Fredrik Andersson’s speedy drumming and Ted Lundström’s bass retain a powerful foothold, and the gurgly growl of Johan Kegg wrap up a fierce death metal outfit which takes that which has been descecrated by other Viking-wannabes and makes it great.
For those who fell in love with 2002’s Vs. The World (at least the first disc of new material), Norns has more of the same to be found within. Extremely strong song structures, more catchy hooks than one would ever expect from a death band, and the added bonus of a history lesson are just a handful of reasons why Amon Amarth has done nothing but gain a more massive following with each release. And why not? They take the best of what they have done before and continue to emphasize it. Without changing, they still get better. It’s a glorious mystery that most bands would kill to understand.
With that being said, there’s no real way to narrow down or dissect which tracks on Fate of Norns are superior or inferior to the rest. All hold a power and an attraction that make each a solid track with its own entity, not easily blending into a mass, but still creating an overall feel. The disc kicks off with the thundering “An Ancient Sign of Coming Storm,” a wonderful reassurance that Amon Amarth didn’t decide with this album to suddenly shift gears into other realms. “Pursuit of Vikings” stands out easily as the death metal equivalent of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” with the same type of marching-toward-uncharted-lands feel and lyrics, unleashing the Viking within us all. Featuring more of the individual talents at times, “Beheading of a King” manages to sneak in mini-solos by their more than capable musicians between some nearly thrashy riffs. The title track more than earns its spot as such, and the entire album wraps up just as fiercely as it kicked off with “Once Sealed in Blood.”
In one word, the entire Amon Amarth experience — especially Fate of Norns — can be easily summed up as solid. Of course, one may find them a little too solid, and nobody could ever recommend playing their entire discography back-to-back. There may be such a thing as too much Viking. However, for the forty minute runtime of Norns, the Swedes don’t come close to wearing out their welcome. Even if the schtick wears thin for some, there’s still some great playing to fall back on. Simply put, for a death metal fan, there’s far too much within Norns to respect that one can’t stick them in a niche and walk away.
Is it legendary? In storyline, yes; however, it seems as though Vs. the World was (and will remain) more memorable in the long run. This shouldn’t put a damper on their current offering, but one can only wonder how long it will be before Amon Amarth fails to impress, either by creating the same songs repeatedly or by failing to recognize that they are capable of more than what they produce. While Fate of Norns is a great disc and certainly better than a lot of the stagnant death genre, it may be their quirks which now endear them to their fanbase that may eventually become their undoing. Hopefully, the future will show a bit more variety and some new ideas for Amon Amarth, lest the magic wears off.