Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One Great Song - "Fate of Norns" - Amon Amarth - 2004

Heavy metal fans aren't stupid. The genre, frequently written off as mindless, is rich with song after song featuring not only the most complex musical expression you could ask for but also with lyrical content that is often staggeringly creative, thoughtful and downright literate. Metallica's "Creeping Death" recounted the story of Moses, Iron Maiden provided Powerslave's tour-de-force via an incredible interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Iced Earth's Glorious Burden offered a history of armed conflicts from Attila the Hun to the American Revolution through the battle of Gettysburg - hell, even my mom would approve of that one.

Amon Amarth, purveyors of all that is gloriously Viking in the world of metal, are viewed by many as a guilty pleasure.  But, more than a one-trick pony, they go way, way beyond horned helmets and battleaxes. Nowhere is this more apparent than their finest lyrical moment to date, "Fate of Norns."

The third track from 2004's Fate of Norns, the band's fifth proper full-length offering, "Fate of Norns" goes beyond Oden, Surtur and Frost Giants. This tracks digs deep and tackles the death of a child, the first lines cutting deep: I feel a chill in my heart / like lingering winter cold / I and my son are torn apart /  he was just six winters old.

"Fate of Norns" doesn't offer Amon Amarth's most memorable riff by any means.  There are no noteworthy changes in dynamic nor approach from their established sound. Even the vocal is delivered in Johann Hegg's usual throaty growl. And, even in a Viking setting a listener - or singer - can only conjure in the imagination, the track devastates: I carry him to my ship / he seems to be asleep / but the deep blue colour of his lips / is enough to make me weep.

No man should have to bury his child / yet this has been my share / the tears I shed run bitter and wild / it's a heavy burden to bear. Heavy, indeed. Heavy stuff from a heavy band and, uncool as it may be, I find it hard as a father to keep from getting misty every time I hear it. I am unfazed somehow by modern country and pop songs designed specifically to achieve this effect and I know it goes absolutely counter to the expected effect of the delivery - rapid-fire drums, evil guitars and gut-bending basslines - or does it?  Metal at its most successful brings you immediately to an emotional razor's edge. It takes very little, then, to be pushed into the throes of delirium, riot, rage - or, in this case, despair.

His body feels so light in my arms / his skin is pale as snow / yet his weight feels heavy in my heart / as my sadness continues to grow. Amon Amarth have successfully carried their Viking approach across eight albums and "Fate of Norns" makes it easy to see why it hasn't gotten silly or tired. In fact, it's gotten better. There are plenty of epic battle anthems and tales of mythic warriors clashing but they are sown along with tracks like these - they could happen any place, in any time.

They do happen in every place. In every time. 

And that's why they work.

The fate of Norns awaits us all / I know this to be true / It's time to answer Oden's call / my son, he calls for me and you
Fate of Norns

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