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May 23, 2024

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Amon Amarth
Versus The World (Metal Blade Records)

By: Vinnie Apicella

"--Recording in a new studio have new dimensions to the bands' sound," reads a matter of fact statement from the bands' latest press release. No sooner was the thought in my head as the combustive "Death In Fire" began blowing through the speakers - "Man, there's one of the few bands I can ever recall among the Death Metallists that have such a uniquely identifiable sound that you know right away it's them. Suddenly about 90 seconds in, I'm grooving, ready to dig out my sword and shield and bow down to the resounding brilliance of the barbaric battalions of the blustery north wind, "Flash Of The Blade" quite literally slings out of nowhere -- yes, "The Duelists," "Powerslave," this very discernible Maiden-like break between that's both startling and unusual, and sets the pace for an unexpectedly bumpy ride through a follow up to four albums of praiseworthy precept. And Amon Amarth can do that. They can throw in a Paul Raymond keyboard solo somewhere within an eight minute ode to Zeus if they felt like it -- not that they would, and I'd hate to be the one to try to coordinate it -- but their style is so exemplary of not just Death Metal, but of an extreme style tempered with finely tuned musicianship that plays heavy on the groundbreakers of a leather studded past, where rough edges were comfortably angled by harmonic fills, synchronized scaling and a sense of melody that peaked enough for presence over persistence. "Versus The World" could easily be the best record of Amon Amarth's career -- right away, standout tracks like the first, fourth, seventh, and ninth, suggest as much; and I'll go on to name them shortly. It's too early to judge, but it's impact is immediate; it's songs, steeped insurmountably in Nordic nihilism, boast transcendence, even discordance, where expectations of aggression remain surely met, only the path's of arrival lie littered with hidden rises and rifts. "Versus The World" earns quick marks in the early going; a potent title track that incorporates their trademark surrender or fight chorus steeped in a firebomb of dual guitar riffs and percussive power that doesn't stop until the final fall's been witnessed. "Across The Rainbow Bridge" comes away quite oppositely, however. It's foreboding entrance is akin to Anathema's "For You," then soon picks up in ferocity and equal level catchiness that peers within a contemplative direction, slowly moving and short by comparison, not unlike some of the more "absorbable" moments from God Dethroned. "Down The Slopes Of Death" returns to full offensive where a flood of quick picking attenuates the in step power riffs and double bass fills, together carrying the message of doom for any lurking beneath; "Thousand Years Of Oppression" is vintage Amon Amarth, stolen right from the pages of their MB breakthrough and arguably best "Once Sent From The Golden Hall." That was the record that set the precedent for themselves and so many others to follow in the annals of Death Metal's traditionally Thrash-based brotherhood where speed, melody, and expert timing set the rigorous pace only few have been able to believably conceive. Fist to fist, helmet to helmet, with the likes of the former's rousing "Victorious March" style, which isn't a stretch for much of AA's intended pennings, it's an inspiring impression of skull denting force that rides the fiery chariot of willful intent right to the journey's end as indisputable victor among the eight other worthy combatants. "Bloodshed" therefore, may be less of a low point as the follow up result than for its lackluster demeanor, and slips past amongst the unobtrusive rarity that's befallen only a select few; "--And Soon The World Will Cease To Be," expectedly, thankfully, draws the latest exciting chapter to its epic conclusion; written and played the way the many medieval greats of the past wrote 'em -- with imagination and conviction and plenty o' drama. Here's where the entire storm of the preceding forty minutes convulses into one violent rain down of emotion and lightning quick riffing, compounded, contrasted and ultimately cracked open in its waning moments into a tranquil sea of exit music to signal at once, the end of the "world" and yet another triumphant quest for the reigning kings of the Nordic extreme.
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