Battalions of the Norse assemble!
For the better part of 30 years, the metal institution that is Amon Amarth has been a stalwart standard bearer for the Swedish melodic death metal movement. Originally cutting their teeth as part of the old school death metal scene in Stockholm under the moniker Scum, they would join the likes of Unleashed in promoting the historic exploits of the Viking Age within said stylistic niche, but also strike pay dirt in the broader scene by discovering a perfect middle ground between the brutality of the older style with the melodic consonance and atmospheric nuance that would be popularized by the then newer Gothenburg melodeath sound. In the years since they’ve been a pinnacle of consistency in the recording studio, churning out classic albums one after the next from the late 90s to the present, and also proving a colossal force of nature on the touring front. Now following the scourge of worldwide lockdowns, these five Nordic bards of brutality have returned to raise the bar yet again with “The Great Heathen Army,” the band’s twelfth album to date.
Though never a band to sacrifice aggression for the sake of commercial viability, one could maybe argue that this outfit’s stylistic evolution since 2008’s “Twilight Of The Thunder God” has been towards a more structurally accessible and slicker niche. But for those who might have grumbled a bit about the unfettered fire after the spirit of Bolt Thrower that the band had emitted from their primordial beginnings up until 2002’s “Versus The World,” their concerns likely began to subside with the release of the music video for this album’s leading single “Get In The Ring” in early June. Taking the band’s gritty Viking image and superimposing it into an apocalyptic future setting more befitting the Mad Max universe, it would subsequently garner over a million views on YouTube and rave reviews among the fans on the platform, with comparable numbers materializing on various streaming platforms. But more so than the cinematic visuals was the combination of haunting, Slayer-like dueling guitar harmonies and the pummeling battery of the surrounding music that would sell the fact that this band is still as in tune with their old school death metal roots as ever to any naysayers.
Suffice it to say, the aforementioned leadoff single and opening track of this album is just the tip of an iceberg massive enough to sink an entire fleet of Titanic-like vessels. The ground-shaking stomp of the groovy title anthem “The Great Heathen Army” further displays a rediscovered affinity with the darker echelon of the death metal sound circa the early 1990s (particularly “The IVth Crusade”), spearheaded by the guttural berserker growls of vocalist Johan Hegg, who continues to match forbidding displays of animalistic aggression with the biggest names of the death metal spectrum. Subsequent crushers like “Heidrun” and “Dawn Of Norsemen” prove no less gigantic in stature, but lean a bit heavier on the Gothenburg side of the coin with greater melodic guitar hooks that take on a more folksy character and further vivify the explicit Viking themes being communicated, the latter even taking a few cues from the likes of Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum with a brilliant atmospheric bridge at the song’s center, conjuring up the image of a roaring campfire in the frostbitten north to go with the relentless bombardment of riffs and fury.
There is pretty much a bit of everything concerning death metal to be found on here, which has basically been the case for most of Amon Amarth’s output since the early 2010s, but the level of refinement has been ratcheted up something fierce. Arguably the most intense and definitely the most rapid-paced of the mix is the thrashing beast dubbed “Oden Owns You All”, which could double as one of the more insane cookers off a recent Cannibal Corpse album, yet still makes time for occasional streams of melodic splendor to keep it from sounding like a more amped-up copy of said band’s sound. “Find A Way Of Make One” hits all the marks of a mid-paced banger that also showcases one of the more involved lead guitar displays out of Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen in a while. But the offering that ultimately steals the show is the brilliant crusher “Saxons And Vikings”, which in addition to hitting all the right musical notes reprises the band’s semi-recent practice of bringing in iconic guest vocal talent to complement the arrangement and sees a truly unforgettable interchange between Saxon’s own Biff Byford with Hegg to bring home the corresponding bygone rivalry of the Norse and Britons.
Whether one takes more to the nastier sound that originally carried this outfit to prominence at the turn of the millennium or the more polished one that has kept them a household name since the late 2000s, the latest opus bearing the Amon Amarth seal is the triumphant return that all can get behind. It matches the melodic pizzazz of “Surtur Rising” and rivals the thunderous power of “Versus The World,” and one might even venture that it’s the best showing that this quintet of melodeath mainstays have put forth since the latter, though even a conservative estimation of it would put it a rung above the past three LPs. There isn’t a dull point to be found in the gargantuan battle axe that is “The Great Heathen Army,” and though a few scattered scoffers might remark that it is simply more of the same, it’s a safe bet that the medieval lords who fought to repel the original Viking raiders might have remarked similarly while still being in utter terror of such an unrelenting foe.
Released By: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: August 5th, 2022
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
“The Great Heathen Army” track listing:
1. Get In The Ring
2. The Great Heathen Army
4. Oden Owns You All
5. Find A Way Or Make One
6. Dawn Of Norsemen
7. Saxons And Vikings
8. Skagul Rides With Me
9. The Serpent’s Trail
- Olavi Mikkonen / Lead guitar
- Johan Hegg / Vocals
- Ted Lundström / Bass
- Johan Söderberg / Rhythm guitar
- Jocke Wallgren / Drums
Pre-order “The Great Heathen Army” HERE.
Swedish melodic death metal pioneers and stalwarts bards of the Viking Age Amon Amarth deliver a pummeling, modernized kill-blow in nine parts that promise to shake the metal masses to their very core