Monday, December 23, 2013

Year End Album Reviews # 5:

Under the Influence EP by Amon Amarth

Metal Blade Records, 2013

The Parquet Courts* did a good job in 2013 with Tally All the Things That You Broke, but Under The Influence has to be the most interesting EP I heard in 2013.

Beyond the quite-wonderful "Viking Metal" phrase, I hadn't been all that familiar with Amon Amarth. Then I heard that they were headlining a show in January with Enslaved and Skeletonwitch as support. And since there was no question, because of my fandom for Enslaved, and my interest in Skeletonwitch, that I was going to get my geriatric ass to that show, I figured it'd be a good idea to buy Amon Amarth's latest, just so I could be sort of familiar with the headliners when I did.

Turned out I bought some kind of deluxe version of Deceiver of the Gods, which included this EP, and good thing I did.

While there are some good examples out there (I'll recommend Coverkill in addition to the Metallica and Slayer and Rush stuff you'd already think of), the cover album over the last ten years has become something of a cliche. But though it pays tribute to Mötörhead, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest, Under the Influence is not a cover album (or EP). Instead, Amon Amarth wrote and recorded four new songs of their own, one each in the style of the bands mentioned.

It was a risky thing to do, if you think about it. If you miss the mark, the whole thing falls flat on its face. You look like a bunch of highfalutin' idiots, and besides, with all due respect to Amon Amarth--I liked the melodic death approach of Deceiver of the Gods quite a bit--they're probably not as good as any of the bands they pay tribute to here, excepting perhaps AC/DC.

But they pulled it off. On each of the four songs, you know for certain within 30 seconds which band is being, umm, tributed. Amon Amarth nail it both musically and lyrically. The AC/DC tune is characteristic of the Aussies in that it is both singlemindedly concerned with sex, and hilarious, both things as they should be. "Stand Up to Go Down" is full of double- and single- entendres, sort of the only place you could still go after "Whole Lotta Rosie." And you'll swear it's Angus playing the solo.

Johan Hegg sings the Sabbath tune ("Satan Rising," natch) with uncharacteristic clean vocals that actually end up sounding a bit like Ozzy when he dropped down, and it ends with a characteristic production trick. And Amon Amarth have quite the feel for proto-doom, how about that?

Hegg sounds a little bit like Lemmy (probably because the esteemed Mr. Kilmeister is about as guttural as you can get outside the death metal scene), but "Snake Eyes," like the AC/DC riff, is also particularly on target with the lyrics, which covers the Kilmeister fascination with gambling, and even manages to name-drop "Born to Lose."

The Priest tune probably faces the biggest challenge, because Hegg sounds nothing like Rob Halford. But Amon Amarth get the twin-lead attack down, as well as the Priestian shout chorus.

Under the Influence gets a whole bunch of the details right, and is exceedingly clever, to boot. Again, something like this would have been very easy to botch. Amon Amarth's home field so to speak is melodic death metal, yet they show a wonderful facility with styles not their own on Under the Influence. Not to make it more than what it is, but it's undeniably a fascinating and deft achievement.

Four Stars.

*Or is it Parkay Quarts? Or Parque Corts? (Return)

File Under: Viking Metal Bands Who Know How To Play Proto-Doom

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