The Great Heathen Army

Metal Blade
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Get in the Ring
02. The Great Heathen Army
03. Heidrun
04. Oden Owns You All
05. Find a Way or Make One
06. Dawn of Norsemen
07. Saxons and Vikings
08. Skagul Rides with Me
09. The Serpent's Trail

Rhetorical question incoming: has there ever been a more joyful phenomenon than the rise and rise of AMON AMARTH? As if to prove beyond doubt that the route to glory involves hard work, persistence and a cast-iron identity, the Swedes have become one of the biggest metal bands on the planet by ruthlessly sticking to their musical guns, with only the inevitable advantages of decades of experience allowing them a few defining tweaks and upgrades along the way.

"The Great Heathen Army" arrives as AMON AMARTH prepare to launch another sustained touring campaign, more often than not in arenas, and from "Get in the Ring"'s opening seconds, it is obvious that this is a heavyweight record, custom designed for ambitious challenges ahead. Both an unapologetic, festival-ready dose of new, gleaming, Viking-populated anthems, and one of the darkest and most brutal albums they have yet made, "The Great Heathen Army" feels celebratory, too: an extravagant blowout to mark the start of the next invasion.

Since making that all-important international breakthrough with, depending on who you ask, either 2006's "With Oden on Our Side" or 2008's "Twilight of the Thunder God", AMON AMARTH have edged proudly and persistently towards an avowedly traditional heavy metal ethos. Although they are still packing an absurd amount of bottom-end weight here, the band's songwriting has matured to such an extent that every last song has both a heroically stirring chorus and at least one unexpected detour.

"Heidrun" is an exuberant dalliance with folk metal, but murderous and punishing in every other respect; "Oden Owns You All" is all unsullied death metal grinding, with the forward momentum of a fleet of tanks. The title track is destined for live show staple status, thanks to the perfect combination of barbarous thunder and melodic intelligence; "Find a Way or Make One" gleefully blurs metaphorical lines over a churning metal riff worthy of '80s OZZY and delivers an inspirational mantra for the ages. "Dawn of Norsemen" is AMON AMARTH in windswept warrior mode, with a dash of frozen, black bluster, and quasi-Celtic refrains spiraling into the ether; "Saxons and Vikings", which pairs frontman Johan Hegg with SAXON's Biff Byford, is every bit as bombastic and brilliant as any certified metalhead will have hoped. The album's dark horse, "Skagul Rides With Me" is a simmering slow-burner, with a cinematic streak a mile wide; while six-minute closer "The Serpent's Trail" is the sound of sheer, unstoppable confidence: AMON AMARTH's classic blueprint, polished up for a new era and imbued with real authority.

That authority is hard-earned and well-deserved. When AMON AMARTH posit the notion that those present might quite like to join something called "The Great Heathen Army", the only sane response is an unequivocal thumbs-up. The gigs will be fucking wild.

Author: Dom Lawson
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