Amon Amarth have been raiding and pillaging so long, even Mighty Odin thinks their minds are gone. The Great Heathen Army is their 12th foray into the great unknown, and their “Vikings on the prowl” schtick is as firmly in place as ever (despite a video displaying a dystopian future with MMA and guns). By this point in their long and storied career, we pretty much know what to expect from a new platter, and as with 2019s Berserker, the wheels of the Norse battering ram go round and round. There are few if any surprises here, and you get a series of stoic tales of Viking tomfoolery played at greater or lesser levels of intensity. Indeed intensity is the watchword here, as The Great Heathen Army often feels a little too slick and polished for its own good, lacking in real intensity and Northern rage. Most of the songs have anthemic moments and there are some rousing, shield-bashing ditties. But this time things feel a lot more…safe, and safe is not what most want in their Viking melodeath.
Because Amon Amarth have their trademark style down to a science by now, they can make fairly rote, formulaic cuts sound entertaining enough to pass muster. This is the case with opening track “Get in the Ring.” While it’s the very model of what the band has been churning out for years and you can almost predict what is around every corner, it still works and has enough beef and hooks to boat you against your better judgment. The problem presents itself as more and more standard issue tracks jump off the longship, often sounding like facsimiles of what came before with none qualifying as the band’s best work. The title track, “Oden Owns You All” and “Dawn of Norsemen” aren’t bad, but they feel recycled and lack the required punch and oomph to get this kind of stuff over the shield wall. Elsewhere, “Heidrun” is a folksy upbeat drinking song in the vein of “Raise Your Horns” but it feels overly silly and lightweight despite its catchy refrains and amusing goat-related chanting.
The big standout is “Saxons and Vikings” where Amon Amarth are joined by the ageless Biff Byford of Saxon for a rousing retelling of the eternal enmity between those two warring factions. This one feels way more aggressive and epic, almost like Avantasia helped write it, and having Biff presenting the Saxons’ side of the story is pure gold. “Find a Way or Make One” is also good, if somewhat more generic by Amon Amarth standards, but it brings enough nutsack and war hammer while leveraging classic Judas Priest-esque hallmarks to its advantage. The remainder fall into the lesser, B-side realm, with no song feeling outright bad but a few really smashing you upside the helm. At a trim 43 minutes and with most cuts in the 4-minute range, The Great Heathen Army almost overcomes its shortcomings to end up a satisfying if not a stellar platter of Viking splatter. It’s not a hardship to get through and there are hooks present, it just feels like a washed-out, tepid version of past heroic exploits.
As always the band is tight as hell and they know how to develop hooks and fun moments. Even lesser cuts like the title track have interesting, ear-catching guitar work and old-school harmonies that pop. Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg have long shown themselves to be great at writing galloping grooves that feel epic and adrenalized. They litter the album with cool moments, but sadly, there are fewer top-tier war galloping leads present. “Oden Owns You All” even has a riff line that sounds borrowed from old Machine Head, and that’s not a good thing. Johan Hegg is great as always, delivering reliably booming death metal vocals that feel appropriately fierce. As the album winds along in a relatively restrained fashion, it falls to him to keep things reasonably heavy, as he does on “Dawn of Norseman,” but even his leather-lunged bellow isn’t always enough with this material.
I’m the major Amon Amarth fan, so I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. That said, I’m just not convinced by The Great Heathen Army. It’s not bad and there are a few tracks I will poach for my Grand Viking Slaughter playlist, but the combination of less impactful songs and an overly restrained sound steals too much of the necessary thunder. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably find some entertainment value, but it feels like the rudder of the longship is stuck on something.
DR: 7| Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: amonamarth.com | amonamarth.bandcamp.com/music
Releases Worldwide: August 5th, 2022