Norse Mythology in Modern Culture
Amon Amarth is one of the most blatantly Norse Mythological metal bands in existence. In fact, they are probably the only band in the world that is this closely tied to Norse Mythology. Everything from their album names, to their song titles, to the lyrics embedded in the gut wrenching brutality of their fast-paced melodic guitar riffs, screams Odin, Thor, Loki and all the other gods and characters spoken of in the sagas and stories passed from generation to generation through both written and vocal methods. In true saga style, with the oral tradition of the most ancient establishments and peoples in the Nordic region, they sing the stories of the Eddas and send praise to the gods long after the time of their magnificence.
The introductory album from Amon Amarth, entitled Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds, has many different references to the gods Odin, Loki and Baldr throughout the album. One of the more obvious references is from the song “Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds”, which refers to the universal weeping from the story Baldr’s Dreams in the Poetic Edda by Snorri Sturluson. In Baldr’s Dreams, Baldr, the second of Odin’s sons, dreams of dying and the Aesir are so disturbed by this that they send Odin down to Hel to figure out the meaning of the dreams. Subsequently, he is in fact murdered by the hand of his blind brother Hod, facilitated by Loki and the spear he fashioned out of mistletoe. Following the death, Hermod goes on a quest to return Baldr to the realm of the living. He meets with Hel, daughter of Loki and ruler of Niflheim, and, after much pleading, she makes a deal with him stating that only if “all things, living and dead, will weep for him”(Lindow), shall he be able to return to the land of the Aesir. The first song on the album shares the album title and lays out Baldr’s Dreams in a modern poetic way that is also exceedingly heavy metal. The lyrics play out the dream and then the revealing of the culprit, Loki, as follows: “Nightmares, demons haunt my taunted mind, I’m scared, my death’s foreseen ungloryful. Please Father make my demons disappear, please Mother, death is everywhere.” …“The evil force around us still wants to destroy me. Who is the evil slayer, I cannot see? Loki, the deceitful God, discover the arrow of death. Pointed for the Hod the blind by the jealous Loki the arrow cut through the skin and into the heart of the bright one. Silence spread throughout the hall Aesir as the God of Light fell to his knees dying! Sorrow throughout the nine worlds the bright God is gone, sent to Niflheim by the deceitful…” (Dark Lyrics) When looking at the original story and the lyrics, the connection is painfully obvious.
The subsequent albums are entitled, Once Sent from the Golden Hall, The Avenger, The Crusher, Versus the World, Fate of Norns, With Odin On Our Side, Twilight of the Thunder God and Surtur Rising. Once Sent from the Golden Hall is a hint to Valhall and the great halls of the many Aesir. The Avenger, The Crusher and Twilight of the Thunder God are referring to Thor who is commonly known throughout Norse Mythology and Nordic histories as the god of thunder. Versus the World is about Ragnarok, the epic impending battle between the world of the Aesir and the world of giants colliding to determine the future of the universe. Fate of the Norns is self-explanatory. The Norns in Norse Mythology are the determiners of the fate of everything in existence. With Odin on Our Side is another Ragnarok reference of sorts in that a couple songs on the album speak of fighting on Odin’s side during the great battle to end all time. Lastly, Surtur Rising is about the rise of the giants right before the start of Ragnarok. Surtur, or Sutr as it is spelled in the Eddas, is the final opponent of Freyr during the battle of Ragnarok. He weilds his giant sword that has a glow so bright that none can look upon it without a squint as described in both the Poetic Edda (Voluspa) and the Prose Edda (Gylfaginning).
Not only does Amon Amarth do a great job of relaying the stories from the Eddas and the Sagas as the pertain to the gods, but they also describe all of the characters that act as help to, and also those made to antagonize, the gods. Odin’s Ravens, Hugin and Munin, are mentioned in the song called “As Long As The Raven Flies” which says that the “sky belongs to Asagods as long as the raven flies”. (Dark Lyrics) “Risen From the Sea 2000” is about the Midgard Serpent stating that when “He’s risen from the sea. The beasts of hell are here. Come to rule the world. And you will be in fire.” (Dark Lyrics) Skoll, the wolf eternally chasing after the sun until Ragnarok, when he is finally able to catch and devour it, is mentioned in the song, “…And Soon the World Will Cease to Be”, when it is said, “Across the western sky he runs, a wolf so grim and mean, devours the eternal sun, and soon the world will cease to be.”(Dark Lyrics) One last example of the inclusion of all the elements of the mythology is the power of Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir, which is hinted at and blatantly mentioned various times throughout all of the albums they have put out up to this day. Coincidentally, the number of albums they have out so far happens to be nine. The number nine is a sacred number in Norse Mythology and other mythologies around the world. In Norse Mythology there are nine worlds; Asgard, Alfheim, Vanaheim, Midgard, Jotenheim, Svartalfheim , Nidavellir, Muspelheim and Niflheim. Skadi, the “snow-shoe-god” and her husband Njord, ruler of “the motion of the wind”(Lindow), would spend nine days in the mountains at her home and then spend nine days at his home by the sea, continuing with the nine trend. In Ragnarok, Thor is fighting the Midgard Serpent and as he is engaged in battle with the serpent, he is struck by it. While he is dying, he takes nine final steps before falling to his demise. A final example of this fixation with nine, and perhaps the most important example, is the nine days that Odin spent hanging from Yggdrasil to gain knowledge and power. Amon Amarth’s lyrical rampage in “Thousand Years of Oppression” tells the story of Odin’s sacrifice to himself as follows: “He hung on the windswept world tree whose roots no one knows, for nine whole days he hung there pierced, by Gugnir, his spear. Swimming in pain, he peered into the depths and cried out in agony. Reaching out he grasped the runes before falling back from the abyss. He gave himself unto himself in a world of shearing pain. Go that we all may live our lives by the wisdom that he gained.”
“The Fate of Norns” is a shining example of how the band also integrates their personal lives into the myths that they constantly, and consistently, reference in all of their music. This song portrays a mourning of the loss of a son of only six years old that was the only chance of continuing the legacy of the father’s name. In the middle of the song the lyrics state that “the fate of Norns await us all there is no way to escape the day to answer Odin’s call or walk through Hel’s gate.” The Norns “established laws, they chose lives for the children of the people, fates of men”, meaning they were involved in the fortune of every man’s life, or death as it may be. (Lindow)
Ragnarok, the final hoorah for the world of the Aesir and the gods themselves, is a huge influence on the musical flavorings of one of the most amazingly brutal, and yet melodically pleasing, metal bands in existence. Would you expect anything less? Hailing from Sweden, one of the metal capitals of the world, Amon Amarth is one of the most Norse mythologically inclined bands in the world. They use Norse mythology in every aspect of their music and truly epitomize the image of a modern day Viking. They pillage every stage that they bless with their presence and ravage the eardrums that their melodies touch. A live show from these guys brings you back to a more primal time of humanity where the gods were made from and of nature and there was still a mysticism in the hearts and souls of the people. To conclude, Amon Amarth is blatantly Norse and they deserve to be recognized as one of the major contributors to the continuing interest in Norse mythology and love of the past heritage of a great region of the world. “The wait is soon at end, always charge, never bend. Morning is here, make your stand. Live for honor, glory, death in fire!”
Dark Lyrics.“Amon Amarth Lyrics”. Metal Lyrics.
Larrington, Carolyne. The Poetic Edda. New York, New York: Oxford University Press 2008.
Lindow, John. Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. New York, New York: Oxford University Press 2001.
Sturluson, Snorri. Edda. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing 1995.