It’s been thirty years since beard and battleaxe aficionados Amon Amarth began their quest for world domination. Armed with swords, shields, and drinking horns, the hairy horde has journeyed far and wide, going on to become one of the most popular bands in Swedish metal history. Rarely deviating from their tried and tested formula, each successive album is a reliably thunderous collection of ancient history, myths, and legends told in the loudest, catchiest ways possible
Although some entries are undoubtedly stronger than others, and while some fans might still prefer the band’s older, faster material, the simple fact is that Amon Amarth is one of those rare bands lucky enough to have been around for decades without ever recording a single career-threatening album. Making their much-anticipated return, the band’s twelfth full-length studio release, The Great Heathen Army (Metal Blade) takes its title from a vast alliance of Viking warriors who invaded England in the ninth century, and continues the trend of adding even more instant classics to an already impressively solid body of work.
While thankfully not a cover of the old Guns N’ Roses track, the openly combative ‘Get in the Ring’ certainly shares the same angry sentiments. Imposing frontman Johan Hegg bellows and roars antagonistic lyrics about fighting, axes and swords to nobody’s surprise, but phrases like “bring it on” and “come at me” give the impression of a more modern breed of berzerker. Driven by a simple but classic sounding AA riff, guitarists Johan Söderberg and Olavi Mikkonen chug their way across blood-soaked battlefields on the formidable yet familiar title track.
There’s always room for songs about goats in metal, so the jaunty trot of ‘Heidrun’ is sure to be welcomed by all those who thought Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher stole the show in Marvel’s latest movie outing, Thor: Love and Thunder. ‘Oden Owns You All’ and ‘Find a Way or Make One’ replace speed with crushing heaviness and boast instantly catchy hooks while the epic melodic brutality of ‘Dawn of the Norsemen’ finds the rhythm section of bassist Ted Lundström and drummer Jocke Wallgren bringing a lightning storm from the halls of Valhalla itself.
The fast-paced, historically charged and basically magnificent ‘Saxons and Vikings’ makes the most of its title by featuring guest vocals from none other than Biff Byford, frontman of NWOBHM legends Saxon. Another melodic monster, ‘Skagul Rides with Me’ combines piledriving intensity with Iron Maiden licks and background choirs before Hegg demands nothing less than your complete attention with mid-paced cinematic closer ‘The Serpent’s Trail’.
Despite choosing arguably the record’s two weakest tracks as singles, and featuring cover art unlikely to win any major awards, Amon Amarth still prove to be an imperiously unconquerable force. Another authoritative slab of head-severing valkyrie violence, The Great Heathen Army is another masterclass in Viking death metal, delivering axes, goats, victories and riffs all worthy of the God of Thunder himself.
8 / 10