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'Versus the World' was the start of a new era for Amon Amarth, achieving relative breakthrough status in the metal world at the same time they toned down the aggression and intensity of their Viking-themed death metal. Coincidence, or shameful change of direction for something more commercially viable? Either way, 'Versus the World' stands out in the discography as the point at which Amon Amarth stopped being exciting, and all their songs started to sound more or less the same.
These nine songs are all very similar in their mid-speed melodic death metal and growled conquest narratives, with the exception of two songs that feature some higher-pitched lead guitars and a slower pace for contrived diversity. Amon Amarth's distinctive sound continues here and is always good to hear, the guitars remaining deep and heavy without much in the way of the unnecessary solos and lead harmonies sometimes associated with melodic death metal, with a tendency to carry off a rhythm through relentless tremolo-picking (that's about the only technical term I know for guitar playing, so it's nice of the band to give me the opportunity to use it ad nauseam).
While the band has remained mostly stable across its continuing career, it's the drummer that has tended to revolve in a Spinal Tap manner with most releases, and here Fredrik Andersson proves himself to be the most interesting member of the band, his rhythms evoking the Ancient Norse imagery much more successfully than the often boring guitars and vocals of Johan Hegg, whose angry growl now sometimes sounds out of place in the newly mellowed music. Ted Lundström's bass similarly gets a greater presence in the spotlight, particularly when the guitars go into the higher sections.
While nothing here matches the high-energy romps of old Amon Amarth classics like 'North Sea Storm,' there are a few songs that stand out above the general mediocrity. Opener 'Death in Fire' is almost the perfectly contrived live opener/closer with its powerful guitar riff, great drums and war-torn lyrics, though it still lacks the energy on disc of the earlier albums, the slightly slowed pace sounding a little distracting. 'Thousand Years of Oppression,' 'Where Silent Gods Stand Guard' and the title track are nice and fairly definitive summations of the band's sound at this point in their ceaseless repetition, slightly unfitting battle lyrics and nice main riffs, while the lighter end is carried off with the central 'Across the Rainbow Bridge' and final '...And Soon the World Will Cease to Be,' seeming a little too planned-out in their positions, both of which are probably the best offerings of the album, mixing lighter lead guitars over the ever-present heavier foundation and effectively giving listeners two for one. It has to be said that they are both pretty similar, and the final song succeeds better in realising what track five didn't quite articulate.
The rest of the album follows the same slow, steady rhythms to the point of tedium, especially as the album enters its second half and Hegg's vocal melodies all start to sound exactly the same. Often cited as the band's magnum opus, presumably by people who haven't heard the earlier stuff, 'Versus the World' marks a distinct shift in approach for Amon Amarth that would lead to a trend of increasingly disappointing albums hereafter. There's a special "Viking edition" of this album with a bonus disc containing the first classic E.P. and the band's two great demos that's worth checking out, but prepare to be disappointed when the bonus disc considerably upstages the main album.
1. Death in Fire
2. For the Stab Wounds in Our Backs
3. Where Silent Gods Stand Guard
4. Versus the World
5. Across the Rainbow Bridge
6. Down the Slopes of Death
7. Thousand Years of Oppression
9. ...And Soon the World Will Cease to Be