Wrestling. Heavy metal. History. Vikings. Goats. Legends. Biff Byford. More heavy metal. Quite literally all human – and Caprine – life is to be found on Amon Amarth‘s twelfth album, The Great Heathen Army. Listening to the album is a superbly immersive experience. But is it a death metal one?
As the band gets bigger and bigger, more and more of their long term fans purse their lips, furrow their brows and bemoan the fact that Johan Hegg and company are in some way selling their Norse souls to ‘the man’, watering their product down to pander to metal’s lowest common denominator, in the process raking in cash and laughing all the way to Valhalla.
I may be wrong, but wasn’t the Viking way always to kick the doors in, crack a few skulls, and then make off with the booty? If it was, then TGHA would seem to me to be a very ‘Viking’ album indeed. And so what if the band now crank out self-empowerment mental wellbeing anthems like Find A Way or Make One instead of battering on about Loki every ten minutes?
Listen – if you gave up on the band circa Jomsviking, as many did, then there probably aren’t too many tracks here that’ll have you taking up the cudgels for the band again; But, if you’re a bit more relaxed about things and just like the thought of rousing metal delivered in ludicrously bellicose fashion, then this is a record you’ll be spending a fair amount of time with over the coming weeks.
Dawn of Norseman, for instance, might well come to be seen as ‘quintessential’ late-period Amon Amarth in years to come, it’s martial rhythms section, chugging axes and a for-the-ages bellow from Hegg all combing to form a truly memorable piece of melodic death metal. Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg absolutely slay on this track, managing to wrench the spirit of names like Smith, Murray, Hoffmann and, er, The Boss (as in Ross) from their oh-so-anthemic lead playing.
‘We’ll break your legs like twigs, and cut you all like pigs!’ shouts Biff Byford on larger-than-life team-up Saxons and Vikings; Of course it’s silly, but there is no denying the absolute heavy metal thunder that the Barnsley big teaser whips up just by his very presence on the track, and indeed the album. Hegg’s tradeoffs with the great man are a true highlight of the record – probably of the band’s career, if truth be told – but it’s a true marker of how far this band has come that Byford’s presence on TGHA is, in real terms, just a supporting one. Amon Amarth are about as big as it gets now in their field, and it would be foolish to forget that fact.
So, forget the cynics, close your ears to the naysayers, and just prepare yourself for a rip-roaring ride through some of the best balls-out, horns-up heavy metal you’ll hear this year.
The Great Heathen Army releases Today.