Amon Amarth – The Great Heathen Army
Released: August 5th, 2022
Johan Hegg | vocals
Olavi Mikkonen | lead guitar
Ted Lundström | bass
Johan Söderberg | rhythm guitar
Jocke Wallgren | drums
It’s story time again kids, so sit back in your favourite chair, chuck some headphones on, and let the gentle melodic waves send you on a journey to far away places and forgotten times. Unless of course like me, you’re listening to Amon Amarth. The gentle melodic waves are a sonic Warhammer smashing you in the face. You’re guaranteed both a journey and history lesson.
The Swedish quintet once again delve into the history books bringing stories of heroism and battles back to life. As with any Amon Amarth album, it’s not just historical fact, there’s a good dash of myth and legend to wade through. As a history nerd, I have as much fun looking up the song titles and lyrics as I do listening to the music. The album title and second track ‘The Great Heathen Army’ is steeped in reality, recounting the tale of a huge Viking army that invaded and tried to conquer England. The song has a relentless marching cadence creating an earworm invading and occupying the space in your head reserved for the catchiest of melodies. But what would melodic death metal be without melody?
The blood and guts lyrics fit the genre as does Johan Hegg’s baritone vocal growls, but musically this album above all others before has evolved into more traditional metal. Still with the ability to be lightning fast and crushingly heavy, but I’m finding the music on The Great Heathen Army more nuanced. This is not a nine-song battering ram to the walls of Kattegat. It’s peppered with shades of dark and light with sonic brutality and rousing choruses fitting of the Halls of Valhalla. A mead swilling toast to Odin.
On the subject of the sweet drink, I got an education and had a bit of a laugh with the song ‘Heidrun’. Once again we enter the hallowed halls to drink with others worthy of admittance. Legend has it a cauldron is filled with mead each day by the mythical Heidrun to quench the thirst of every warrior now residing in the great hall. The cauldron is so large it never runs dry of the fermented honey brew. So who is this mythical being? A Shield Maiden entrusted with the very sacred duty of making sure no one goes thirsty, or a daughter of Odin with legendary beauty and the strength of a thousand barmen. Nope. Heidrun it turns out is a goat who eats from a sacred tree, fermenting the leaves in her belly and from her udders flow the sweet alcoholic brew. You won’t see that in the Marvel movies kids!
As ‘Heidrun’ is an early highlight, the song of the album is tucked over on side two. It’s a reprise of the title track. The army has invaded, the Poms are fighting back and all hell has broken loose from Wessex to Mercia. Who better to bring in than the most famous Saxon next to King Alfred… The mighty Biff Byford. It’s only fair as Hegg had a guest appearance on Saxon’s brilliant 2018 release Thunderbolt. On ‘Saxons and Vikings’ the two frontmen go head-to-head trading blows and vocal styles, taking turns to wish the other an increasingly gruesome end. Hegg’s gruff menacing Viking invader is met head on by Byford the heroic Englishman defending King and country. The result is pure genius and will surely find a place on my next “Best Duets Mixtape”.
Amon Amarth have again demonstrated why they’ve climbed to the top of the heavy metal mountain and become a genuine headline act. After a failed invasion with the last album Berserker, let’s hope the craziness of the last couple of years is behind us. With fate shining on the five Swedes, here’s to a world tour so we all get to face The Great Heathen Army.
Amon Amarth – The Great Heathen Army tracklisting
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
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