Amon Amarth- Fate Of Norns
Band Homeland- Sweden
Released in 2004 on Metal Blade records, “Fate Of Norns” is the seventh full-length album from the mightiest Swedes to ever tread upon Midgard. Of course I’m biased and opinionated, but there’s no band that has ever come close to having the impact Amon Amarth has had upon my spirit. And after all these years, it doesn’t appear as if another band could even hope to come close.
Consisting of 8 songs with a total playing time of 40:01, this album was a complete shock for me. Even more than “VS. The World” did. I’ll be totally honest and admit that when I first heard this album, I was not happy with it. At all. Read on for details.
Unlike “VS. The World”, I didn’t not read the lyrics first. Many of the lyrics on that album affected me deeply (still do), and I know that is eventually what turned me on that album. When I first started this review, I read the ORIGINAL notes I took on “VS. The World” and I will tell you, I hated that album. And I was floored. But the lyrics worked me past my initial objections, and eventually some of the songs wound up in my top play list for Amon Amarth compilation albums. But had it not been for my absolute desire to like the album, it would have become a dust collector with no further attention paid to it.
That is why I did not read the lyrics along with this album. Because I knew it was going to have major challenges. First and foremost was some inside information I had that was straight from Olavi Mikkonen. He was in a “riff dry spell” and he couldn’t come up with anything he liked and they were going to studio soon. Knowing that one bit of information was enough to make me nearly fear the release of this album.
So without lyrics (third time I’ve mentioned that now, let’s see if we can get past it this time) I played “Fate Of Norns”. It was absolute and complete devastation. And I don’t mean the crushing sounds coming out of my speakers. I’m talking about absolute and complete devastation as the emotional effect the album had on me. It sounded forced, unimaginative… the drumming was a rhythmless drone that was flat, empty, and hollow. The guitars had a flat choppiness and disharmonic resonance. Only the vocals remained the same. Which is why I nearly cried the first time I heard “Fate Of Norns”. This was the “contract” album… this was the “ok, we’re done” album. This was the last album from Amon Amarth. This was Ragnarok for true kings of Sweden.
I played it a few more times when I first got it back in Sept ’04. Then I added it to the rack where I keep my Amon Amarth CDs (yes, they have their own separate CD rack that they share with other bands who sing of Scandinavian lore) and there it stayed for a very long time.
But about a month ago, I had forgotten a lot of what I had heard initially, and went back to the album to remember why I thought it was so bad in the first place. And after listening to it again, I really had to reach to find things that stood out (or rather, did not).
The first song, “An Ancient Sign Of Coming Storm” starts out with the trademark Amon Amarth sound. But then it gets a bit muddy before the vocals start. And I really think the engineering on drums was a bad choice. That opinion remains unchanged, and that opinion applies to the entire album. They still sound flat, hollow, and too much to the foreground of the overall sound. But the technique is still there. Which is a relief, because Fredrick Andersson is an amazing drummer and this is the Andersson I remember.
Hegg is also in top form, roaring his oaths to the High Ones in the fashion I have grown accustomed with on each Amon Amarth album. Again, he uses his “story teller” technique and opens “Where Death Seems To Dwell” with gruff spoken word. This song is an Amon Amarth song. It’s slower, which is nice, and it’s very heavy. It also has one of the most harmonic interludes on the album. Olavi must have written this song before he went dry, as this is an honorable Amon Amarth song.
“The Fate Of Norns” starts with an Amon Amarth riff, and Hegg follows quite soon with vocals. It’s not untill they hit the first chorus that it starts to sound weird to me. It’s got something to do with the tone of the guitar. But the song is not a loss by any means. It has very heavy rhythms, and some original cord applications while still maintaining the Amon Amarth sound.
“The Pursuit Of Vikings” is the crown jewel of this album. In fact, this is the song that single-handedly turned me around on this album (a lot like what happened on “Annihilation Of Hammerfest” from “The Crusher”). After multiple listens, I have decided that the evolution of Amon Amarth can be a positive thing, because as they reach into the future, they bring a good deal of the past with them.
“Valkrie’s Ride” seems to exist only to be the antithesis of “The Pursuit Of Vikings”, as I simply cannot get into this song. I know that it will grow on me, but man… this song I just cannot get into. Everything is wrong with it. The tone, the throwaway riffs… ugh. I wish this one had wound up on the editing room floor and stayed there.
“The Beheading Of A King” is much more along the lines of what I have come to expect from Amon Amarth and serves as another good example of pushing forward while retaining a solid connection to the past. This is a powerful song. It’s heavy, upbeat, and driving.
“Arson” is the epic track on this album, weighing in at a hefty 6:48, which is nearly an eternity compared to the rest of the songs on the album. It’s slow and driving, reminding me a lot of “Amon Amarth” from “Once Sent From The Golden Hall”. I really enjoy the heaviness of this song. It’s not blazing and “in your face”, it’s subdued and laid back. It does become a pounding assault later in the song, but still retains its “slow and heavy” feel to it. I put this one right up there with “Pursuit Of Vikings”.
“Once Sealed In Blood” starts out as another truly Amon Amarth song. Crushing intro, driving guitar melody, and brutal Hegg vocals. But the breakdown confuses me. I can’t say that I like it a lot, even though it has a “sing song” quality to it. Not the song I would have finished up the album with. I would have buried this more towards the middle.
Overall, this is my least favorite album. The musical talent is there, the conviction is there… so what went wrong? Could I be right that this is indeed the final Amon Amarth album? Could the True Kings of Sweden be losing the fires of Muspelheim? Could the Sons of Thor be facing their own date with Jormungand?
Only the Norns know.
An Ancient Sign Of Coming Storm