Amon Amarth – The Great Pagan Army Review

Amon Amarth have been raiding and looting for so long even Mighty Odin thinks their spirits are gone. The Great Heathen Army is their 12th foray into the great unknown, and their “Vikings on the prowl” schtick is more firmly in place than ever (despite a video showing a dystopian future with MMA and guns). At this point in their long and storied career, we pretty much know what to expect from a new set, and as for 2019s Berserker, the wheels of the Nordic ram turn in circles. There are few to no surprises here, and you get a series of stoic tales of Viking deception played out at varying levels of intensity. Indeed, intensity is the watchword here, because The Great Heathen Army often feels a little too slick and polished for its own good, lacking any real intensity and Nordic rage. Most of the songs have anthemic moments and there are catchy ditties that destroy shields. But this time things feel a lot more… safe, and safety isn’t what most want in their Viking tune.

Because Amon Amarth now have their trademark style down to a science, they can do enough rote and stereotyped cuts that are entertaining enough to pass the mark. This is the case of the opening track “Get in the Ring”. Although this is the very model of what the band has been producing for years and you can almost predict what’s happening around every corner, it still works and has enough beef and hooks to get you on board against your best judgement. The problem presents itself as more and more standard tracks jump off the longship, often sounding like facsimiles of what came before, none qualifying as the band’s finest work. The title track, “Oden Owns You All” and “Dawn of Norsemen” aren’t bad, but they feel recycled and lack the oomph and punch needed to push this stuff over the protective wall. Elsewhere, “Heidrun” is a folksy, upbeat drinking song in the vein of “Raise Your Horns,” but it feels too silly and lighthearted despite its catchy refrains and fun goat-related chants.

The big star is “Saxons and Vikings” where Amon Amarth are joined by the timeless Biff Byford of Saxon for a gripping tale of the undying enmity between these two warring factions. This one feels much more aggressive and epic, almost like Avantasia helped write it, and having Biff presenting the Saxons’ version of the story is pure gold. “Find a Way or Make One” is also good, although a bit more generic by Amon Amarth standards, but it brings enough backpack and warhammer while leveraging the classic Judas Priest-esque punches to his advantage. The rest falls into the lesser B-side realm, with no song feeling downright bad, but few that really crush you at the helm. At 43 minutes of cut and with most cuts in the 4 minute range, The Great Heathen Army nearly overcomes its flaws to end up with a satisfying platter if not a stellar Viking splash platter. It’s not an ordeal to pass through and there are hooks present, it just feels like a washed out, lukewarm version of heroic feats past.

As always, the group is tight as hell and they know how to develop hooks and fun moments. Even lesser cuts like the title track have interesting, catchy guitar work and old-school harmonies that pop. Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg have long proven themselves good at writing galloping grooves that sound epic and adrenal. They litter the album with some cool moments, but unfortunately there are fewer high-profile war gallop tracks present. “Oden Owns You All” even has a riff line that seems borrowed from the old machine head, and that’s not a good thing. Johan Hegg is brilliant as always, delivering reliably booming death metal vocals that feel suitably ferocious. While the album unfolds relatively understated, it’s his job to keep things reasonably heavy, like he does on “Dawn of Norseman,” but even his leather bellows aren’t always enough with that material.

I am of age 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’m going to poach for my Grand Viking Slaughter playlist, but the combination of less punchy songs and an overly restrained sound steals too much of the necessary thunder. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably find entertainment value, but it looks like the longship’s rudder is stuck on something.




Evaluation: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Revised format: 320kbps mp3
Label: metal blade
Websites: amonamarth.com | amonamarth.bandcamp.com/music
Outings in the world: August 5, 2022

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