“ Genre: Hard Rock & Metal - Heavy Metal / Artist: Amon Amarth / Audio CD released 1999-12-06 at Pulverised „
Amon Amarth's first official recording is classed as an E.P. for its comparatively short playing time, but as these five exclusive songs simultaneously introduce and perfect the Swedish band's distinctive sound, it could rightfully be considered their debut, and an indispensible purchase for melodic death metal fans.
The notion of a 'melodic' branch of death metal is likely to cause some amusement to anyone who has experienced the genre in its most brutal, ear-piercing forms, but as with most off-shoots the transition was fluid and inevitable. Rather than base their grinding guitar riffs, blasting drums and discordant, squealing guitar solos on thrash bands such as Slayer, many death metal performers in the early nineties began to incorporate the steadier pace and dual guitar harmonies of traditional heavy metal bands into their style. The best melodic death bands combined the two approaches and crafted music that was powerful, complex and catchy, most notably from the likes of Dark Tranquillity and Amon Amarth, while others tended to get a little confused and ended up sounding like Iron Maiden with laryngitis.
'Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds' is based exclusively on Amon Amarth's now classic style, captured here in its infancy before the band's energy and creativity waned, and although the subsequent albums 'Once Sent from the Golden Hall' and 'The Avenger' are classics in their own right, nowhere is the band's complexity and vision more concentrated than on this first release. The band is perhaps best known for its almost exclusive focus on Viking themes, tales of battle and Norse mythology dominating the growled lyrics and live shows usually featuring an interval in which Viking warriors would crowd the modest stage and engage in several minutes of sword clashing during the band's titular song. Despite this conceptual focus, and the band's undeniably authentic Viking appearance (they all have long blonde hair and most have accompanying beards), I don't associate their distinctly melodic death metal sound with Viking conquest in the same way I do the so-called 'Viking metal' bands such as Bathory, Moonsorrow and Månegarm, whose folk elements, slower pace and use of ancient language paint vivid pictures of Norse sagas. Nevertheless, in their more laid-back moments, Amon Amarth's reliable rhythms conjure images of a longboat crew setting sail for rape and pillage.
Credit must be given to every member of Amon Amarth for their outstanding performance on this debut, particularly the incredible dual guitar harmonies and powerful riffs of Olavi Mikkonen and Anders Hansson and the perfect drumming of Nico Kaukinen, whose talent at variation and knowledge of when to slow things down keeps the rhythm section interesting and entertaining rather than the simple double bass drum and blast beat assault of many of his lesser contemporaries. Johan Hegg growls his way through the lyrics admirable above the beautiful and harmonious cacophony, not distinctive enough in resorting to the customary masculine roars of all death metal but clearly full of energy and ability at this early point, as evidenced by his frequent screams as each new guitar riff bursts into life. Of course, he has the unfortunate status of being the key ingredient that will put many non-death metal fans off this recording, which they could otherwise appreciate immensely. Last but not least, Ted Lundström's bass work deserves applause simply for being so audible in the first place, clearly heard throughout the recording providing a great backing rhythm for the harmonised guitars that helps to ground the whole thing when Mikkonen and Hansson leap into solos. Hansson and Kaukinen sadly departed after this release (in the sense that they left the band; they didn't die), while the rest have proceeded to essentially replicate their performances for the rest of their successful career.
1. Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds
2. The Arrival of the Fimbul Winter
3. Burning Creation
4. The Mighty Doors of the Speargod's Hall
5. Under the Grayclouded Winter Sky
The album begins as it means to go on by launching straight into a heavy riff performed by both guitars, that soon evolves into the dual harmonies that make this album exceptional and innovative at the time, before every other Scandinavian band decided to copy it. The guitar harmonies are almost reminiscent of Bathory's melancholic melodies in their slowest stages, but for the most part this is tight and powerful, evident even in the controlled solos. It's a difficult task to describe each individual song as they follow very similar styles, which for some listeners will prove to be a disadvantage, but there are enough differences to distinguish each impressive song from the next, though admittedly it takes several listens to define each piece. 'Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds' is the shortest song on here and works as a great introduction, featuring a couple of speed changes and a nice slow solo that set up the sound that the listener will experience for the next twenty-five minutes, and the harmonised lead-out at the end is perhaps its best feature.
'The Arrival of the Fimbul Winter' is a song taken from the band's earlier demo of the same name, though obviously this version is more polished and better executed. Amon Amarth's style is at its peak here, and will not descend for the remainder of the disc, Hegg yelling outside the verses to join in with each new movement. There's a great sense of structure to this song, returning at the end to riffs introduced at the opening, and the dual lead guitars are the perfection of melodic death metal, reminiscent of what Dark Tranquillity were doing around the same time. Much use is made of tremolo picking to add a distinct warbling sound to the speedy riffs, and the time changes are all noticeable without seeming forced. Inaugurating a slightly calmer and more reflective portion of the album, 'Burning Creation' foreshadows the medium speed blaring that would dominate the band's work in the new millennium, while also exuding an incredible atmosphere without needing to resort to keyboards, something I always admire in bands. The guitar solo is something of a release from this more thoughtfully paced piece, squealing and squeaking in a way that harks back to the eighties, but still refined and kept under control before the nice fade-out at the end.
It wouldn't be a Viking album without the trademark sampling of a horse, though the accompanying sound of a cart being towed makes a nice change from the repetitive galloping that worked so well for Bathory, but got old quite fast. 'The Mighty Doors of the Speargod's Hall' has a suitably slower pace similar to the previous song, and seems primarily concerned with maintaining its compelling and - yes - catchy rhythm across the near six-minute playing time, which it does without ever seeming to drag on. Kaukinen's drums are at their best here, and the band never loses its energy or focus. Finally comes perhaps the album's crowning achievement, 'Under the Grayclouded Winter Sky' which beats almost anything they would release later, with a couple of exceptions (such as the excellent 'North Sea Storm'). Fading in slowly with the musicians already playing at full pelt, this is the only song to take full advantage of the dual guitar harmonies as a separate entity, circling around the great vocal melody and rhythm section with a newfound complexity. Every change this song throws up is exciting, from the stopping and starting of the drums to the album's longest and most involved guitar solo, which grinds to a crashing halt for a final reprise of the main riff.
'Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds' may be a short album, but it catches Amon Amarth at its very best, and is certainly an instance of quality over quantity. The perfect and necessary addition to any collection of their earlier albums, all the material is exclusive and the remaster fixes the slightly inferior production values, which I thought were impressive for a 1996 debut E.P. in the first place. Metal fans may find the band a little hard to approach for their reliance on a repetitive sound and lack of distinct chorus sections, but the death metal growls are essentially there to provide a focal point amidst the excellent instrumentation, which is what the songs are really about. Although hard to come by in its original form, pictured here, the E.P. is more readily available on the special 'Viking edition' of 2002's 'Versus the World' album as a second disc, followed by the two earlier demo releases that are also well worth listening to. It may lack Viking authenticity, but this is a classic release of mid-nineties death metal.