There are bands that, when they come back with new music, you pretty much know what to expect. Consistency is important for some, and comfort zones aren’t necessarily bad thing as long as the art you create still comes from the heart and has the energy and intensity that makes it so important to your audience. Not everything has to be a wheel reinvention.
Swedish giants Amon Amarth have been creating rousing, surging death metal that’s awash in melody, excitement, and Viking lore for 30 years now, and a new record from the band comes with some expectations that they faithfully meet just about every time out there. I’m not sure if it was the pandemic that ended their tours in support of their last record “Berserker” or if it was different energies surrounding this band, but their 12th record “The Great Heathen Army” definitely isn’t totally by the numbers. Look, it’s an Amon Amarth record, and longtime fans aren’t going to be left in the dark. But the band—vocalist Johan Hegg, guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg, bassist Ted Lundström, drummer Jocke Wallgren—show some new wrinkles on this nine-track, 43-minute bruiser. Their energy is impossible to miss, and there’s an urgency that feels super amped up to a different level, making every drop of this thing alluring and fun as fuck. It’s also one of their shorter records, but it skimps on nothing and is a lean, mean beast here to punish you.
“Get In the Ring” gets the record off to a rowdy start, swinging and stomping in, daring their foes to meet them in combat. For an opening track, it’s doesn’t have the spark of most songs that start Amon Amarth records, but it’s certainly not bad, Hegg taunting, “When the sun begins to wax, come find me in the ring,” as the band mauls you senseless. The title track is a killer, a song that could end up a classic and should rouse live crowds as riffs char, the rhythms devastate, and Hegg promises “10,000 warriors from the north.” Gang shouts of “hail hail!” crush, and the catchy assault continues and drags their foes’ faces in the dirt. “Heidrun” is another pummeling track that starts with folk-flavored electricity and great verses that get your juices flowing. The band pays homage to the great mead maker, shouting, “Who’s the goat? Heidrun!” a line that would be silly if anyone but this band was delivering it. Instead, it creates more energy and what should be a high point for their live shows. “Oden Owns You All” is devastating as the ground quakes, the leads swell, and Hegg’s growls dig into the guts, coming out deeper and soaked with drink. Maiden-like guitars increase the glory as the playing thrashes and ends in a pile of bodies.
“Find a Way or Make One” brings jolting riffs and Hegg demanding, “Stand tall and fight!” as he amasses the troops. The song is defiant and blood-soaked with Hegg vowing, “When all hope is gone, I will find a way,” as the playing crushes and leaves dust and carnage behind. “Dawn of Norsemen” delivers a gigantic surge, raining down blows and even entering into calmer waters later, with acoustics adding texture. Start/stop mangling wrenches the guts, the chorus stirs again, and the fiery guitars slam home the final exclamation marks. “Saxons and Vikings” is a fucking treat, the highlight of this record, a duet between Hegg and legendary Saxon frontman Biff Byford as they make the cases for their own people. Each vocalist presents a different perspective and with their distinctive voices, it’s easy to keep the story straight. And this is just a joy to hear, two amazing forces combined for one of the most memorable songs in the Amon Amarth canon. “Skagul Rides With Me” heats up right away, vowing victory with the gods, torches burning brightly. “Where lesser men have failed, I will conquer,” Hegg vows as warm leads change the temperatures, and a final chorus gives one final gust. Closer “The Serpent’s Trail” is a dark one, starting with a spoken intro and adding vulnerability to the bravado. “In the darkness I am drifting, I am losing my direction,” Hegg levels as the storm gathers, the band bringing the rains along with them. The power crescendos, the band flexes its might, and everything ends in flames.
Amon Amarth are about as reliable a band as you’re going to find in extreme metal, but they add some new flourishes on “The Great Heathen Army” and sound revitalized as this record is an absolute blast to hear. Longtime fans will know what to expect, and they’re definitely served a feast with this tremendous album, one that contains one crusher after another. This band could crank out anything at this point and still be met with raucous masses at their shows, but they put everything they have into this album and deliver another killer we’ll be listening to for decades.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/amonamarth
To buy the album, go here: https://www.metalblade.com/amonamarth/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.metalblade.com/us/