AMON AMARTH
"Twilight of the Thunder God"

(Metal Blade)

01. Twilight of the Thunder God
02. Free Will Sacrifice
03. Guardians of Asgaard
04. Where Is Your God?
05. Varyags of Milkagaard
06. Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags
07. No Fear For the Setting Sun
08. The Hero
09. Live For the Kill
10. Embrace of the Endless Ocean

RATING: 7.5/10

While I'd never, of course, go so far as to say "I do not like AMON AMARTH," I was of the opinion for a long time that their albums, while decent, were outstripped by their live reputation. "Twilight of the Thunder God" goes a long way toward rectifying this, upping the intensity of their lusty Viking anthems and creating Nordic hockey-stadium anthems full of hooks, grit and martial melodrama. "Twilight of the Thunder God" is all about gruff vocals, tasty guitar melodies, and the kinds of songs that, for the most part, could be given minor tweaks and used to fire up a soccer franchise on game day.

From faster, more black metal-tinged numbers like the title cut, to head-down 4/4 midtempo rock stompers like "Guardians of Asgaard", the emphasis is on catchiness and simplicity, giving equal time to both an undeniable groove and the amiably rough-hewn vocals of Johan Hegg — his expressive growls adding their own quasi-melody at times, especially when doubled for a more choral, chant-like effect that adds to the medieval atmosphere. Throw in a little dynamic spice, like the guest appearance from AOCALYPTICA on the mini-epic "Live For the Kill", and things get positively cinematic.

For me, the faster songs, with more urgent picking and galloping rhythms, work the best on "Twilight of the Thunder God", creating stirring atmosphere and rallying the hordes with their enthusiastic aggression. But there's really no fault to be found here, AMON AMARTH delivering the goods with an ear for what works, and what translates to the back rows of those muddy summer festivals, keeping their loud and proud melodic death metal streamlined and arena-ready. The band's exhaustive live schedule has to be an influence on this, keeping these songs lean, mean and laser-focused to blare through any dodgy opening-band sound system on the planet.

While it could be argued that UNLEASHED have been doing this whole thing longer, and better, AMON AMARTH are carving out their own niche in the sodden tundra. Their approach is more melodic and expansive, and — in a good way — a bit more rock-and-roll in the right places. "Twilight of the Thunder God" mixes plenty of ancient vibe and black metal tradition into an accessible melodic death metal brew, and the end result rocks like hell. What more could you ask for?

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