Updated: Aug 7, 2022
Release Date: August 5, 2022
Genre: Melodic Death Metal, Viking Metal
Label: Metal Blade Records
The Swedish Viking metal legends Amon Amarth have returned from a forced two-year hiatus that was caused by the chaotic challenges of being in the music industry amidst the COVID-19 pandemic with their twelfth studio album, The Great Heathen Army. The band's latest nine-song offering is one of their most melodic and grooviest compilations of songs to date. The band is made up of vocalist Johan Hegg, guitarist Olavi Mikkonen, guitarist Johan Söderberg, bassist Ted Lundström, and drummer Jocke Wallgren. The five musicians have been voyaging the lands together since 2016, but throughout the band's thirty-year career, Amon Amarth has always discovered a way to thrust their sound further with each record. An interesting fun fact, Amon Amarth's new album is their first since their debut, Once Sent from the Golden Hall (1998), to feature the band on the album artwork. The Great Heathen Army was produced by the remarkable Andy Sneap. He is best known for performing in Judas Priest, Sabbat, and Hell and his producing work for bands such as Judas Priest, Accept, Cradle of Filth, Arch Enemy, Megadeth, Kataklysm, and Testament, to name a few.
The Great Heathen Army blasts out of the gate with the barn burner lead single "Get In The Ring." It's as classic Amon Amarth as you can get sonically on the band's new album. The track was written for the All Elite Wrestling signed professional wrestler Erick Redbeard -who is great friends with the band- as an "entrance" song for him to use as part of his in-ring persona. Lyrically, it fits both Viking and wrestling themes perfectly. Redbeard is the lead character in the band's music video for the song. The album's title track, "The Great Heathen Army," follows and tells the story of a significant historical event and Viking tale of the invading Viking fleet known as The Great Heathen Army, that arrived to raid England in 865 A.D. The track and the album are loosely an analogy for how anything is achievable if you put all your might into it. Musically, "The Great Heathen Army" oozes the melodic death metal essence of the band but is backed by a solid groove metal guitar riff that shines some of the new creative decisions the band brought to this project to take the band forward.
"Oden Owns You All" is easily the heaviest track on all of The Great Heathen Army. With their newfound groove metal elements, the song grows to become an immensely heavy, chugging guitar riff-riddled number with some of Hegg's most harsh and guttural vocal performances on the entire nine tracks. The end of "Oden Owns You All" is an facinating surprise, with things steering back into the territory of groove metal and Hegg using a more "cleaner" vocal style. "Find A Way or Make One" features a fun back and forth type of thing with the use of backing vocals right off at the track's start. The song is endlessly melodic, and the band tackle facing any type of obstacle in your way with no way around it, so your only choice is, as the title says, to make a way around it. Something their lyrical influences -the Vikings- did when they walked the earth many centuries ago.
For the fourth time in the band's thirty years and twelve albums, "Saxons and Vikings" features an additional vocalist. This time no other than longtime Saxon frontman Biff Byford. "Saxons and Vikings" is another surprising musical piece from Amon Amarth. The song is incredibly melodic, and while it's because of the vocal style, it's still quite a melodic death metal song. However, instrumentally, "Saxons and Vikings" leans very into the realm of heavy metal. Which juxtaposes Byford's clean vocals immensely well. The standout moments of "Saxon and Vikings" are the call and response type of moments between Hegg's and Byford's distinct singing styles. Both voices together are quite the palette cleanser and is exceedingly enjoyable mixed over one another. The blistering guitar solo within the song is just the cherry on top of this monster of a tune. As The Great Heathen Army closes out with its gigantic six-minute long number, "The Serpent's Trail." This particular track on the album features various combinations of metal vocal styles. Hegg opens up and eventually closes out the song with these parts that are just talking and are quite a storytelling venture. Hegg then gradually progresses into his signature guttural growls, and subsequently, as the track develops over its lengthier time span, Hegg starts hitting some higher tone of screams and growls.
The Great Heathen Army is further proof that Amon Amarth constantly pushes themselves with the fraught mission of topping their last release. With renewed creative direction, the band was proficient enough to even tweak their sound just enough to bring something reenergized to the album and make it like no other Amon Amarth record to date. Unlike their album Jomsviking (2016), The Great Heathen Army isn't a concept album. With the new record, Hegg took a lot of inspiration from some of the same historical elements he wanted to explore. Some of these aspects came directly from his wife, Maria, who has been delving into the more obscure elements of the Viking lifestyle and culture. While again using themes of Vikings -something the band will seemingly always touch on- The Great Heathen Army is fuelled by numerous inspirational stories of bravery, brutality, and determination that resonate with these troubled times we live in currently. Pre-save/Pre-order The Great Heathen Army here.