Amon Amarth - With Oden On Our Side - Metal Blade Records 2006
Running Time: 42:23
Beginning at a furious double-time gallop, "Valhall Awaits Me" charges into battle, the drumming of Fredrik Andersson clearly now a rallying point for Amon Amarth. I'm not sure how they do it, but every album thus far has been more energetic - more alive, if you would - than the previous. Johan Hegg's delivery here seems as if he's spent the past year gurgling the blood of his conquered enemies, and adds even more bite to the already rabid attack of the band. As in Norse lore, the triumph in the song is not in the simple act of dying, but giving your life on the battlefield, gaining entry to the beloved hall cloaked in bear skins and proud. Unequivocally memorable, "Valhall Awaits Me" had even this jaded critic singing along by the second run-through of the chorus. There's just something about this band that demands, like MANOWAR, a suspension of disbelief. You have to be willing to (in the case of Amon Amarth) return to Asgard, pay the toll on Bifrost, and hustle Odin for a ride on Sleipnir in order to really "get it". Swift arpeggios herald "Runes To My Memory", Hegg employing a lower, far more guttural register than he's used before. Of late, Fascinaton Street studios has taken on the role of Sunlight Studios in the early '90s, or Studio Fredman in the latter '90s, being responsible for career-defining albums by fellow Swedes Opeth and Katatonia. Jens Bogren's production has certainly added another weapon to Amon Amarth's arsenal, giving With Oden On Our Side an open, breathing sound, yet still managing to keep things crushing, as in the downbeat of the verses to "Runes…". Too short, if any complaint could be leveled at "Asator", the song begins with a positively Maiden-esque guitar pattern bearing aloft Hegg's vocal rendings like fire-hoofed steeds. Andersson has clearly sold his soul to Thumppa, the little-known Norse god of drumming, because his work on even the first three tracks devastates anything he's done in the past.
"Hermod's Ride To Hel - Lokes Treachery Part 1" is the beginning of a hopefully continuing tale, and has all the earmarks of a classic metal epic. Subtle leads weave themselves through the fabric of "Hermod's Ride…", intermingling with the thud and chug of true Swede-death. The start of a song cycle at this point in Amon Amarth's career is a brilliant idea, letting the fans know that the band dedicated, and in this for the long haul (voyage?). Further proof lies in the rigid schedule the band adhered to whilst writing WOOOS, punching in at 9am and out at 5pm for five days a week over the span of two sessions. This commitment to the songs and the fans has undoubtedly resulted in Amon Amarth's most solid album to date. "Gods Of War Arise" and the title track are masterful midpaced death, amazingly tight cymbal work introducing the latter, Andersson again on this album a study in creativity within the sometime stagnant death metal genre. Containing a deadly groove and triumphant chorus, this is the one that'll see a legion of would-be Vikings holding high invisible goblets of mead in the live setting. The production keeps With Oden On Our Side at a constant high point, no slower material (as the title track to Fate Of Norns) being aired as yet, Amon Amarth sticking with a more victorious forward charge this time around. Bursting with soaring leads, "Under The Northern Star" is a majestic ballad voiced by homebound warriors long in battle, the guitars here are emblazoned on the memory before even the end of the tune. How very wrong Hegg's graveled, solemn delivery should sound when singing on slower material, yet how unexpectedly right it actually is. The melding of subhuman growls with attempts at carrying a tune is something few death metal vocalists have managed, but Hegg is clearly in his comfort zone here. "Prediction Of Warfare" runs this ship ashore in true Viking fashion, serpentine leads winding about rumbling bass and war drums in a dream of battle rife with apocalyptic images of Ragnarok.
There's truly a story in each song, and at just over forty minutes, there's no way to tire, or have the album bog down into drudgery. The history of any people, but that of the Norse and Swedes in particular, is one born of violence and bloodshed, honour and retribution. With albums as vital as With Oden On Our Side, Amon Amarth is doing their part by carving out a legacy in metal.