From their underground smash debut Once Sent From The Golden Hall (1998) onwards, Amon Amarth have been an unstoppable creative force. With a unique and unmistakable sound that combines the best of several epic strains of metal, the quintet have become renowned for their ageless anthems and explosive, theatrical live shows. Albums like 2008’s widely acclaimed Twilight Of The Thunder God and 2016’s conceptual triumph Jomsviking, the Swedes have been consistent standard bearers for heavy metal as a life-affirming and communal experience, armed with a seemingly endless stream of instant classic songs.
Now reaping the rewards of all those years of hard work, Amon Amarth are now regarded as one of the metal world’s most vital and imperious live acts. From headlining festivals across Europe to claiming a place on Slayer’s final tour of the US in 2019, they have honoured the adventurous ethos of their Viking forebears by taking their music anywhere and everywhere.
Unfortunately, as the world ground to a halt early in 2020, Amon Amarth were in the midst of a wildly successful world tour in support of their most recent album, Berserker. Disappointed but unbowed, the band decided instead to forge a new creative path, resulting in their most crushing and heroic full-length album to date, The Great Heathen Army.
“Basically, we were in South America when the shit hit the fan, so we had to cancel the last couple of shows and head home,” recalls vocalist Johan Hegg. “At first we thought we’d just see how it played out, and maybe book a couple of tours, but fairly soon we realised it was going to be a long hiatus. When it was getting close to being a year, we thought, fuck it, there’s no point in going back out on the road with an old album, so let’s just start working on new stuff instead. So that’s what we did.”
One of the best-loved metal bands in the world, Amon Amarth are firmly dedicated to aiming high when they hit the studio. Recorded with esteemed studio guru Andy Sneap at the controls, The Great Heathen Army represents another bold leap forward for the band, as their trademark sound undergoes yet another skilful, evolutionary overhaul, both lyrically and musically. From the noisily rabble-rousing Find A Way Or Make One and the pummelling, pugilistic Get In The Ring, to the evocative fury of Saxons & Vikings and the cinematic squall of the title track, The Great Heathen Army encapsulates the essence of this legendary band, while still allowing acres of space for new ideas.
“Again, The Great Heathen Army is not a concept album like Jomsviking, but I’m taking inspiration from some of the same historical elements,” says Hegg. “There were also some really cool and different ideas I wanted to explore, and they came very much from my wife, Maria, who has been tapping into the more esoteric aspects of Viking lifestyle and culture. Musically, I would say there are a couple of surprises on there, a little bit of uncharted territory for Amon Amarth. Overall it’s one of the heavier albums we’ve made. There are some dark and heavy songs that are really powerful and in-your-face, but we obviously have some trademark Amon Amarth songs on there as well, and a few surprises. It’s a really well-balanced album. It sounds great. Andy Sneap is awesome. It was great to be able to work with him again.”
Buoyed by the most dynamic and destructive set of songs Amon Amarth have written in a long time, The Great Heathen Army is an album fuelled by inspirational stories. While still rooted in times past, these tales of bravery, brutality and dogged determination have very obvious resonances amid the troubled times we live in today.
“That’s kind of what the song Find A Way Or Make One is about,” Hegg notes. “You might be facing obstacles, whether it’s the pandemic or something else, and there are no ways around it, so you have to make a way. That’s what the Vikings did. You can’t stop fighting just because there is something in your way. I often use mythology and history as a backdrop for other things I want to discuss. I’ve always done that. The Great Heathen Army is about when the invading Viking fleet arrived in England in 865 AD. The Vikings had been raiding England for a long time, but this army was something else. It was an invasion army and deadly effective against the British. It’s a massive historical event. It’s fascinating. Somehow, the English won and they defeated the heathen army, so anything is possible!”
Armed with their 12th and arguably finest album to date, Amon Amarth are poised to return to full action with a bloody, broadsword-wielding vengeance. The release of The Great Heathen Army will kick-start another relentless global campaign, commencing with a co-headlining tour of Europe alongside Machine Head and fellow countrymen The Halo Effect. Still ruthlessly devoted to the ways of the warrior, Amon Amarth have Odin’s wind in their sails like never before.
“We’ve always had the mindset to always outdo ourselves and write a stronger album than the previous one,” Hegg concludes. “We always try to do something special with each album, too. Song by song, I think this might be one of the strongest albums we’ve ever made. It was really difficult to agree on the singles for the videos, because everyone had such different opinions. I think that’s a good sign!”