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Viking metal chieftains Amon Amarth go back to brutal basics on new album The Great Heathen Army

Album review: Amon Amarth’s The Great Heathen Army piles on the blood, gore and Biff Byford guest spots

Amon Amarth: The Great Heathen Army album cover
(Image: © Metal Blade)

Thirty years ago, if you’d said to Johan Hegg and his Viking-adoring metal minstrels that someday they’d be playing arenas and headlining festivals, they’d probably have laughed you out of whatever dive bar you’d found them in.

Fate has a funny way of conspiring to make the implausible possible, however, and 12 albums later it’s hard to argue that anyone in heavy metal better embodies the sheer theatrical lunacy of our genre better than Hegg’s Viking horde somehow turning raging melodeath into a venue-filling spectacle on a par with the Iron Maidens and Rammsteins of this world.

The Great Heathen Army is simultaneously everything that helped Amon Amarth climb to the top in the first place and a return to the darker, less showy sound of their early days. But even without a First Kill or Guardians Of Asgaard to hang its hat on, the band’s innate sense for fist-pumping riffs and colossal hooks remains impossible to deny.

Find A Way Or Make One has a riff that wouldn’t be out of place for a bouffant-sporting 80s arena metal act, while Saxons And Vikings is a nudge-and-wink so hard it cracks a rib. Even so, hearing Biff Byford singing on a thunderous Amon Amarth track is a wonderful show of how the genre has evolved, while also serving as an implicit endorsement from the metal gods of old.

Stacked against the likes of Berserker or Jomsviking, it’s hard to imagine The Great Heathen Army swelling Amon Amarth’s ranks as much as their more bombastic fare did. But by stripping away the glitz and going right for the throat, Amon Amarth remind us all exactly how they – and the great Viking hordes – terrorised and thrilled Europe in the first place, as an all-conquering force of blood and terror.

Rich Hobson
Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.