AMON AMARTH EPIC MONOGRAPH + REVIEW OF "THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY" (2022)


By Enrico Spinelli 

This 2022 has given me the opportunity to fill some of my musical gaps, including Amon Amarth, a historic Swedish death metal band active since 1998 and one of the most successful realities in today's extreme metal scene. After collecting their 12 albums (unfortunately the debut EP is currently out of print) I dedicated myself to listening, strictly in chronological order, so I have the pleasure of sharing a retrospective of their discography. I hope not too verbose, leaving at the end of the page, a sort of subdivision, which I took from my friend Giovanni Gagliano.

I state that, as always, these are personal opinions, highly criticizable and subjective at best. And so...
DISCOGRAPHY

The band's first album, "ONCE SENT FROM THE GOLDEN HALL" (1998) is a real bolt from the blue: a Swedish death metal, ferocious with small melodic flashes, proud and epic in the evoked atmospheres; the lyrics then refer to the Viking dimension and mythology without forgetting a violent criticism of the Catholic Church, responsible for the eradication of pagan traditions in Scandinavia.
Between 1999 and 2002 three works "THE AVENGER", "THE CRUSHER" and above all "VERSUS THE WORLD" were released, consolidating the consensus towards the band and enriching their curriculum with high-quality tracks.

The first setback comes in 2004 with the release of "FATE OF NORNS", not a bad record but mainly made up of midtempos: no fast tracks and also the epic halo in their compositions is also rather penalized; the result is a rather flat and bite-free album.
And so we come to 2006 with "WITH ODEN ON OUR SIDE", and behind a more than minimalist cover there is a real masterpiece: the band fully shows its maturity with an album where ferocity, melody and epic reached the perfect harmony and the result falls by right among the classics of Swedish Death Metal. Not least the subsequent "TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GOD" of 2008, which in my opinion is the most beautiful cover of their discography, which confirms the excellent trend of the group, giving us three quarters of an hour massive, powerful and well dosed with anger and melody. It all seems too good to last, and in fact "SURTUR RISING", 2011, does not prove to be as good as its two predecessors: even here I cannot speak exactly of a bad record, but essentially empty, repetitive, not very incisive, even if some pieces fit perfectly (among all the splendid "Destroyer of the Universe"). It is then that the band decides to turn their own course, accentuating the melodic component at the expense of the Death one. 

If "DECEIVER OF THE GODS" of 2013 (Rhapsody inspired, already from the cover) marks a step forward compared to the previous one and still maintains a drop of violence, even without replicating the glories of the best albums, "JOMSVIKING" of 2016 perhaps marks the lowest point of the discography: only the growl voice remains death metal while the music has more relevance to power metal; this would not necessarily be bad if at least the quality of the compositions were good, but the songs play without leaving the shadow of a shiver or a gasp. "BERSERKER" of 2019 tries to revive the fortunes of the group and certainly marks a step forward, but the prolixity of the record destroys even the few convincing ideas.

And so we come to the last studio work, released this year, on which I will spend a few more words.


"THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY"
After two really "poor" albums, expectations could only be low, thanks to a cover that marks the triumph of tacky, and in fact - let's face it right away - we are still far from a quality work, yet there is something good. The early midtempo "Get the Ring" shines in its darkness and nastiness and the same goes for "Dawn of the Norseman" and "Skagul Rides With Me"; in terms of speed, "Oden Owns You All" doesn't mind either, although it is largely predictable. If we then look at the epic material, I cannot deny that I had fun with "Saxons And Vikings", which also features the guest of Biff Byford. If all this makes sense, the rest trumps in the dark, between an interrogative title track, the irritating dance of "Heidrun" and an ending with uncertain boundaries that denotes more confusion than a desire for experimentation.

This is a partially listenable album, always far away from the good times and from a very specific direction. Maybe more plays will make me appreciate this work more but this will only be time to tell.
We do not know what the next move of these gentlemen will be but, given the great commercial success, it seems difficult to imagine a return to the beautiful atmospheres of the past ... and in lean times it is also difficult to blame them.

So, summing up, before saying goodbye, I would like to divide their outputs into the following categories, always according to my personal opinion:

MASTERPIECES:
"ONCE SENT FROM THE GOLDEN HALL", "VERSUS THE WORLD", "WITH ODEN ON OUR SIDE", "TWILIGHT OF THE THUNDER GOD".

EXCELLENT:
"THE AVENGER", "THE CRUSHER".

ORDINARIES / FOR COMPLETISTS: "FATE OF NORNS", "SURTUR RISING", "DECEIVER OF THE GODS".

AVOIDABLE: "JOMSVIKING", "BERSERKER".

I keep the last one out because it is still too early to find the right place for it, I am still suspended between disappointment and the "let's see with the following plays"

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