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AMON AMARTH: ‘The Great Heathen Army’

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Metal Blade Records

August 5

While most of the metal loving world would be familiar with Amon Amarth I have yet to be scarred by their visceral tales of Viking folklore and battle. Not because I am not interested, it’s just I have always found the violent way of life depicted from warriors of this era to be better digested visually rather than by ear.

Amon Amarth have all of the right attributes to provide a sonic template for a way of life that rewarded courage, so perhaps it is long overdue that I park my carcass and allow my mind to be swept along to the sonic plains of Valhalla.

With the band’s latest sonic battle The Great Heathen Army threatening to ignite the inner Viking in us all from August 5 there’s no better time than now, so I gather my drinking mug and strap on a sword in preparation for… I don’t even know what to expect, which is both terrifying and exciting at the same time.

Starting with what could double as a Gunners track with Get In The Ring, the battle lines are soon drawn as a sweepingly invasive intro plunges us headfirst into the swarming masses on the back of a ripping drum passage leading into oblivion.

Vocalist Johan Hegg sounds nothing like what I imagined Hagar The Horrible would after a few wines, the harshness in his voice creating a sense of foreboding that continues throughout.

There’s heaps going on here, with varying layers of music throwing down unseen challenges that eventually defeat themselves as the guitar once more takes charge in rhythmic beat to Hegg’s militant cries.

Already my preconceived notion of happy-go-lucky beer-swilling music has been dismembered, a pleasant surprise that forces me to skol my first lager with more haste than intended.

A quick guitar lick brings an abrupt close to proceedings, before another lick chuggs the title track into action.

This song was released as a single, so you know what to do… (and yes, if you are really taking notice you would know Get In The Ring was also a single, but I can’t exactly skip the opening track, can I?)

Heidrun belts to life courtesy of a measured drum roll that continues like a call to arms before the guitars chugg to life and Hegg introduces the closest track to what I had imagined yet.

This one has a friendly disposition, like what I envisage would be a welcome home from cutting the neighbours head off style afternoon romp back in the Viking days.

There’s even a few harmonic interludes here and I can make out the words “hail the dead” on occasions so maybe I am on the right track?

Oden Owns You All sounds like it is a statement rather than a question, and who am I to argue?

This one thunders to life full of aggression and impending carnage. Gone are the spoils of victory, it sounds like the Viking lads are headed straight back in to the fight and marching onwards by rite of musical passage.

Amon Amarth certainly know their way around a song, filling the void with wave after wave of sonic precision that seems calculated and deliberate. Guitar solos abound but don’t dominate and the constant battle march enticed with each snap of Jocke Wallgren’s drums announces yet another dagger to the heart of the guilty.

I like the attitude of these guys.

Find A Way Or Make One says it all, tempered guitar licks travelling from ear to ear as Hegg sharpens his broadsword before once more leading the assault.

“Stand tall and fight” is great advice, but I wish it had been given to me like this instead of by way of the back of my Father’s hand as I was growing up.

You almost want to thrust your first upwards as Hegg barks the orders, swept up in the landscape painted by a barrage of musical intent. I think this guy might be my new hero.

A cool guitar solo with a strange tone disrupts the peace before normalcy is restored once more, and I snap myself to attention as again I am ordered to stand tall and fight.

Just point me in the direction, I’m ready!

Dawn Of Norsemen throws you straight into the fight without pleasantries, casting you into the middle of the field with only your sword and cunning to see you through. It is kind of anthemic and brutal at the same time, which is similar to the way I have always pictured Viking life to be. As with most of these songs, Dawn Of The Norsemen doubles as a whimsical journey into a world long evaporated, painting glorious pictures of life through death in such a way that is relatively painless and easy to digest.

Saxons and Vikings bounces out of the gate with a wicked drum roll that gives way to some aggressive guitar work, and off we go again. The track quickly steps into quicker territory after an already exhaustive opening passage, the guitars spiralling towards oblivion that lead to… what the fuck is this? It sounds like Ronnie James Dio has just jumped into the thick of things with a booming presence that has turned the whole battle on its head.

Upon closer inspection, I find out it’s actually Biff Byford from Saxon providing the guest vocals, delivering one of the best cameos these tender ears have ever heard.

For once, a guest artist is used to enhance the meaning of a song rather than as a show of face (or voice). The contrasting vocals compliment ach other beautifully and make Saxons and Vikings by far the stand-out track for me!

Skagul Rides With Me saddles up, rekindling the one-man battle waged by Hegg who seems to have recovered from the loss of Byford much better than me.

We must be nearing the end of the album because the vocals seem to have a lighter feel to them, freed from the hostility of war and encroaching on the spoils of victory.

As I prepare to follow The Serpent’s Trail, the echoey sounds of what seems like horns fill the air before fading into the distance and bowing once more to the might of guitar.

Hegg delivers a spoken word style of metal here, and for the first time I can understand everything he says.

I was right, he is angry, but he is also proud.

Proud of his band, proud of his heritage, and proud of the entire output captured on The Great Heathen Army. If this was a battle fought on the fields of blood, then I have no doubt Amon Amarth would emerge triumphant where most around would fall.

Up until now, I didn’t know Vikings were so good at metal, but now I have yet one more reason to give myself over to their way of life.

Sonically as well as visually.

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