What's not to like about AMON AMARTH?
They've been faithful metal warriors for going on two decades now, and they look like The Lord of the Rings' Riders of friggin' Rohan, for Christ's sake!
But even the bravest, most committed soldiers in metal's fearsome army can have a tough day on the battlefield, and there's no shame in admitting this was pretty much the case with the Swedish group's 2011 offering, "Surtur Rising" - a pretty solid effort that nevertheless failed to measure up to recent, admittedly career-best predecessors like "Twilight of the Thunder God" and "With Oden by Our Side".
However, with 2013's "Deceiver of the Gods", AMON AMARTH's battlefield blood lust appears renewed afresh, and the roiling riffs, percussive punctuations and savage roar introducing the opening title track leave little doubt that the Swedish quintet is fully armed once again with enough quality songs to repel enemy forces and give no quarter when they retreat in slaughter.
That's right: it all comes down to songs, kids, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, because it's not like this band has ever wavered from the one true path of melodic Norse death metal in the past - they've just failed, now and then, to unleash undeniably potent material like the muscular and majestic "Father of the Wolf", merciless steamroller that is "Coming of the Tide", and an all-time career standout in "Loke Falls", which sees spine-tingling leads cascading around clinical riffing precision like clouds of black arrows darkening the sun.
Then there's "Under Siege", which interrupts its forward charge for a brief bass solo bass of no particular consequence other than reminding us one need not be a leather-and-fur-draped, sword-wielding buffoon like MANOWAR's Joey DeMayo to deliver evocative war metal - and you can look to the gruesome, flesh-tearing sound effects opening the ensuing "Blood Eagle" for further proof.
Another album highlight, "Hel", adds operatic vocals contributed by none other than the mad monk himself, Messiah Marcolin (of CANDLEMASS fame), and there are simply no misfires to report on through to the closing "Warriors of the North", which brings the day's hostilities to an end with vintage AMON AMARTH ingredients stretched to eight, epic minutes of heroic musical carnage.
No, not a thing has changed about the group's fundamental melodic death metal formula - we said as much right from the start - but if their ninth studio album doesn't contradict all bands that feel they must evolve or perish, even against their fan-base's wishes, we don't know what will.
Indeed, just like the striking depiction of Thor and Loke going "mano a mano" for all eternity on its cover, "Deceiver of the Gods" suggests AMON AMARTH will carry on fighting the good fight for heavy metal, to the best of their abilities, until the end-days of Ragnarok.