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Rock-solid might seem like a redundant expression regarding Amon Amarth, but the term holds special meaning in The Avenger's case. Being only the group's second full-length release, the cohesion present here is astounding on multiple levels. While these compositions are more expansive and epic than the band's more recent output, that isn't to say there is a lack of murderous compulsion. The stranglehold of the overdriven, murky passages of "God, His Son and Holy Whore" drops the listener right into the furnace as the lugubrious inclination of the incendiary death metal surges give way to slicing tremolos that burn like a buzzsaw blade. The guttural bellows that counterpoint the melodic underpinnings of "Metalwrath" make the listener feel as if he has been swept up by Hegg for a crash course in gladiatorial combat. The stop-start open note detonations that alternate between the measured surge of Söderberg near the end of the song help it stand high and mighty over nearly anything the band has released since.
"Bleed for the Ancient Gods" is a great opener, featuring a melody during the chorus that reminds me of "Runes to My Memory" along with a decent solo section. For some reason Amon Amarth's earlier albums feature more involved, traditional leadwork that was later dropped as the band streamlined their approach. The subtle lack of control present on The Avenger ends up being half of the appeal, as these compositions feature an air of controlled chaos that keeps the listener on his toes. "The Last with Pagan Blood" is my favorite here, though. The churning lower-register riffs meld with the potent bass presence, forming a gut-wrenchingly heavy disposition that plods along unwaveringly. So inordinate is it's approach that it very nearly damages the melodic inclination of some of the leads. Leads that have great potential and evoke more of that dark atmosphere that the band so effortlessly injected into these earlier albums. While they may lack the triumphant undertones of "Gods of War Arise", they certainly make up for it in zeal and tenacity. The closing moments of "North Sea Storm" is a great example of this approach, that lead is just infectious.
There are naturally more experimental elements as well, like the overly-distorted bass intro to "Legend of a Banished Man". Lundström's officious tone is upfront like on Fate of Norns, but the difference is that the rest of the band shares the spotlight this time around. Hegg also experiments with some half-shout vocal passages that remind me of Turisas and summon a similar anachronistic atmosphere. This is all just icing on the cake at the end of the day, as The Avenger can carry it's weight even without their inclusion.
You end up wishing it was longer, as seven tracks just aren't enough to rein in the primal delivery espoused by Amon Amarth in The Avenger's case. The elephantine riffs the band has become so famous for are only part of the appeal here, as a sonic balance is achieved that wasn't even present on The Crusher. It is that good.
Hot on the heels of their debut, Amon Amarth unleashed upon us the furious slab of melodically inclined death metal that is the almighty THE AVENGERRRR produced to devastating affect, this album is like Once Sent From the Golden Hall's meaner, older brother.
As I hinted on, the production here gives the album a tenfold heavier feel. Whilst on their debut I was happy to pump my fist and head-bang, The Avenger has me wanting to rampage. I swear this album could turn me into "The Incredible Hulk". Amon Amarth waste no time getting things raging, a short drum roll signals a furious riff and before I know it I'm involuntarily flailing around like a wild man, "Bleed for the Ancient Gods" packs so much in the way of bad-ass riffage, and that riff around the 2:34 mark is ridiculously heavy.
From here onwards ensues just over 35 minutes of balls out, riff mastery, Johan Hegg sounds great and his warriors are on top form. Even across the 7 minutes plus of the title track Amon Amarth keep it up, with glorious riffs and themes. Special mention goes to live staple "God, His Son and Holy Whore", which is Amon Amarth at their frenetic best.
Overall The Avenger is a furious installment in Amon Amarth's saga, and up there with some of their best material. Whilst I prefer their debut due to it offering a little more in terms of depth, if ever I'm looking for a good old fashioned bang of the head I normally look towards The Avenger.
In the world of heavy metal music, in all its various shapes and sizes, few things get me more pumped than Amon Amarth. While many listeners have caught onto this band's mighty warship through more recent releases such as "With Oden on Our Side" and "Twilight of the Thunder God" I will always see this band's glory days etched in their early existence. "The Avenger" is the band's second proper album, and a devastating array of talent that this band continues to put forth even to this day.
As described before, Amon Amarth's consistent plan of attack includes gracious melodies, simple (yet killer) riffs, energetic structure, thunderous drums, and Johan Hegg's mighty yet intelligent vocals. In the world of melodic death metal, and sometimes obvious trappings of repetitiveness of the Gothenburg groups, Amon Amarth are a gemstone that few can ignore. "The Avenger" delivers this and more, just not with the clear sound quality of "Fate of Norns" and beyond that newer listeners have gotten used to.
The album's higher points stick to their comfortable formula, though some upgrades have occured since "Once Sent from the Golden Hall." For one, the production is better, though it still pertains a sense of raw charm. Johan Hegg now sounds up front, rather than his yelling from a mountain of the last album. He has cashed in most of that gruff yelling style he used on the album prior, instead focusing more on his unmistakable growls as he charges forth with thunderous rhythms and straight-for-the-jugular riffing. This is seen in "Bleed for Ancient Gods," the incredible "The Last with Pagan Blood," and "North Sea Storm." All three of these songs are definite stand-outs, and some of the best this band has put forth.
Unfortunately, you only get seven songs on this release (though my version has a re-recorded "Thor Arise.") Naturally, since "The Avenger" isn't as strong as the album before or after, this is a bit of a snag. The title track, while building something epic with its seven minute length is just too long. Its not bad and definitely not anything near a throwaway, but the shorter songs still reign supreme here. "Metalwrath," aside from its backstory, isn't as noteworthy, either. Considering the stronger tracks like "North Sea Storm" and "The Last with Pagan Blood" are outright incredible, its hard for everything else here to stand-up to it. That being said, none of these seven songs are throwaways and all have merit of worth. This also includes the bonus track in "Thor Arise," a re-recorded song that originally appeared on the demo of the same name. I've never heard the original demo version, though this version is good, though being tacked on at the end makes it stick out a little bit. It isn't necessarily great, though still worthy. Its just that throwing it on at the end seems a bit out of place, kind of like the "Eyes of Horror" cover that appears on "The Crusher" album.
Though its not as consistent as "With Oden on Our Side" nor has as many good songs as "The Crusher," "The Avenger" is by no means a bad album. Any Amon Amarth fan is still required by the Viking gods to check it out, its just that in the grand picture of things, it doesn't stick out very much. The consistency of this band's formula that exists to this day is on this album, and the songwriting has improved over "Once Sent from the Golden Hall," even if I prefer that album to this one. For those new to this mighty band, I'd suggest looking towards "Versus the World" or "The Crusher" before this one, as both are better than this one but also because they are easier to get into and put forth more quality for your buck. Yet if you're more familiar with Amon Amarth's music and your collection is lacking this album, its like a Viking going to battle without his shield: you just don't do it.
Contrary to popular belief, Amon Amarth was not the first of the Swedish Viking death metal bands, as Unleashed predated them for some years; however, they have certainly been the most successful, in recent years their albums like With Oden On Our Side and Twilight of the Thunder Gods have been huge, with an appeal that has spread even beyond the core metal crowd. Granted, many of these noobs would likely have enjoyed metal all along, if they only sat down to listen, but Amon Amarth has become a gateway band, or a 'return' for so many that have veered away to their placid hipster lives and listening rotations.
Come 1999, they were a rising force, but not yet at their peak level of popularity (which we still may not have experienced). The Avenger was their 2nd full-length offering, and the material written was a bit catchier than that found on their debut, Once Sent from the Golden Hall. It was also the first album to feature the huge line-up that the band has maintained to this day, with Johan Söderberg joining on guitar and Fredrik Andersson behind the drums. This is a seasoned, powerful album, with only 1-2 tracks slacking behind the rest, and it's honestly better than most they have released since (at least until the past few efforts, which have been stunning).
Amon Amarth take the term 'melodic death metal' to an entirely different medium, for while the band is making almost constant use of melodies over the bludgeoning death metal base, they aren't the kind of jumpy and spotty riffs used by In Flames or Dark Tranquillity. These are woven right into the foundation of the band's crushing force. Hegg is a true jarl of the north, easily shifting from his distinctive death metal growls to a blacker rasp without losing any of the thrust; Andersson is a beast; and while Mikkonen and Söderberg do not often indulge in complex riffing, they know how to level you with straightforward, hammering rhythms that best fit the band's Norse lyrical theme. Speaking of the lyrics, they've never been this band's strength, instead a pastiche of rather simplified Viking/Norse mythology which is presented to be accessible. But The Avenger is far from the worst of them.
'Making way through blades and spears
We attack at dawn
The glory scene is near
From northern gods we're spawned'
The album wastes no time in kicking your ass with the thundering "Bleed for Ancient Gods", a song they are still making today, a decade later. Gorgeous, glorious rhythm riffs and an unending barrage of crashing drums will send you this straight to your memory. "The Last With Pagan Blood" has one of the most inspiring song titles I've ever seen, and the song itself is one of my favorites from the album, with its spear formation walls of biting sorrow. The following track "North Sea Storm" is not only the best of the album, but my favorite Amon Amarth song to date, a warlike rhythm collapsing into an eternal and distinct verse rhythm which heralds both an emotion of loss and wonderment, and a futile, atavistic clarion to battle. The band even manages to pull off a chug-down without me becoming restless, that is how good this song is, and the standard by which I just much of their other material. "Avenger" is fashioned from more subtle textures, surely the driving power of the band continues, but it thrives off its cascade of golden, fading sunlight and the plodding of its bridge rhythm.
"God, His Son and Holy Whore" was not one of my favorites here, but it maintains the thundering largesse of the album and I did enjoy the first riff. "Metalwrath" is a rather notorious track, as the band makes a jab at countrymen Hammerfall, who they supposedly had some minor feud with. The song itself is decent, but not one of the stronger on the album. "Legend of a Banished Man" thankfully bings back the glory of the first half of the record, with some great bass work by Ted Lundstrom, and a heavy as hell chugging ballast which transforms into dynamic, march-like drumming. My version of the CD also includes the bonus track "Thor Arise", which is faster than much of the other material, and not quite so memorable.
The Avenger really rides off its stronger material, but it's not an entirely kickass album. "Bleed for Ancient Gods", "The Last With Pagan Blood" and "North Sea Storm" should belong to any compilation of Amon Amarth's greatest hits, and I still listen to these today, but on the whole, the band has released superior work since (especially Twilight of the Thunder God). Viking death metal is surely not as commonplace as Viking black metal, so a band like Amon Amarth has always been welcome, and reaped the niche that Unleashed (and, to an extent, Bathory) had first carved out.
Highlights: Bleed for Ancient Gods, The Last With Pagan Blood, North Sea Storm, Avenger
Amon Amarth’s 1999 album, “The Avenger” is some brutal melodic death metal that at times is enhanced by the muddy production but at other times is hindered by the blending and sections where some of the instruments are nearly inaudible. Despite those flaws with the production, Amon Amarth still put on an amazing show with this album that has all the passion, talent, and ferocious battle-hardened intensity that is to be expected from the Viking descendants.
Johan Hegg’s wild screams in this album are like those of a berserker charging the enemy line. The vocals are quieter in the mix of this album than in “With Oden on our Side” and “Twilight of the Thunder God” but Hegg makes up for this by screaming more often than using gutturals, which do come off as weaker than normal at times as his voice cracks and garbles a lot. There are some sections where the voice is double-dubbed to add intensity to his screams like in “The Last with Pagan Blood” which goes over well, but makes the later crackling and gargling vocals sound even weaker. The lyrics are the expected from Amon Amarth, descriptions of Viking valor, Viking invasion, the chaos and intensity of battle, and victory achieved in even the most hopeless of situations. Hegg’s vocals are tougher to understand than in Amon Amarth’s later albums that gained them popularity in the underground metal community, but with the quality of the mix the vocals do have the live feel to them as though Hegg is screaming at a metal festival than screaming into a studio microphone. “God, His Son and Holy Whore” has the fastest vocals in the album. Exploding with blasphemous bitterness with Christendom’s murderous invasion of Scandinavia, Hegg screams lyrics that parallel both the harsh, gritty brutality of death metal and the intense anti-Christian spite of black metal with superb precision while giving Tom Arya a run for his money in rapid delivery of lyrics. Since this album did come out in 1999 it is understandable why Johan Hegg’s vocals had not been as saturated with guttural technique as he was still trying to strengthen his voice in order to do such an exhausting vocal style, but instead with a harsh scream Hegg’s vocals are still as strong and passionate as ever.
The frantic and intense riffing and soloing from both guitars fly every which way. It’s absolute chaos as axe-laden berserkers join the furious fray. Each riff is a cavalry charge across a plain of arrow-filled bodies and horrifyingly twisted corpses, each solo is the wail of the Aesir on their wild hunt pulling soldiers out of the fray to join them in the great hall of Valhalla. The mix does muddy the guitars at times, but in “The Last with Pagan Blood” the guitar is right up front playing a melancholy tremolo picked whine until the chugging march of warriors overcomes it. The whining riff gives the same vibe as the introduction to the solo in “Valhall Awaits Me” on their album “With Oden on our Side”, a feel as though the nine worlds are all mourning the death of another great warrior. The pause from 2:55-3:08 doesn’t stop the guitars in the least, they come back with the same heavy riffing as they had earlier in the song and resurrect the wailing riff from the beginning of the song to bring it into the battle as though a unit of reserves to give that last push to pressure the enemy to rout. “North Sea Storm” has the same melodic style riffing as the previous, but rather than as a wailing cry the riffing is more upbeat though still the dramatic focus of the song. As the brilliant guitars expose the wrath of battle and the pain of death, the solo rips through the song like the lone veteran ripping through the battle lines seeking blood expiation for lost brethren.
“Metalwrath”, through written as a song poking fun at the burgeoning power metal scene in Sweden and other parts of Northern Europe, is still a pretty heavy song. Bringing references to dragons, having tame lyrics that say describe going to battle as a group but not the battle itself, using glorifying epic descriptions of the band riding in a cavalry unit like Dethklok’s “Thunderhorse”, and poking fun at their own reverence of Thor and other Aesir Gods, Amon Amarth creates a catchy song that shows the band has the balls to laugh at their own ultra-tough personae. The band also uses this song to poke fun at the power metal sub-genre that has bands like Manowar at their helm who act so tough that it sometimes comes off as gay and glorify themselves as great warriors to the hilt.
The drumming in this album is to be expected, a slower snare and cymbal beat compared to the constant double bass kicking, few fills, a lot of eight note snare beats to give focus to the main riffs, and a lot of cymbal use during quieter sections to keep them interesting though to keep the focus on what is happening around the drums rather than have a focus on the drums that bands like Hate Eternal, Cryptopsy, and Nile do. Except in the explosive almost grind, almost black metal, snare-splitting “Thor Arise”, the drums keep a showering background of double bass thundering, and at times bring in some exemplary blast beats like in “Legend of a Banished Man”, but for the most part the drums are nowhere near a focus in the music compared to the guitars and vocals.
Amon Amarth’s “The Avenger” is a great but much overlooked album. Since most people choose keep up on trends rather than focus on the entire career of a band, this album will remain overlooked as the few purists will continue with their mantra of “I like early Amon Amarth better” and new fans will look to new Amon Amarth albums like “With Oden on our Side” and “Twilight of the Thunder God” to quench their bloodlust, but if this album were rerecorded with better quality production, I believe that fans of “new” Amon Amarth would eat this album up as they have the previous two. To clarify, no era of this band is in any way overrated, but the “early” era of this band before they stormed the metal scene seems wholly overlooked.
In today's death metal scene, consistency is an attribute sadly lacking - the only consistent bands, by and large, are those that start shitty and continue to be shitty for a long while after. It seems that most bands simply run out of ideas and disintegrate into a mass of pussified "melodic" riffs, mediocre vocals, and synthesized retardation. But there are still gems for the discerning death metal listenter - such as Amon Amarth.
The thing that makes this band great is that they took one over-arching idea blending Stockholm brutality and Gothenburg melody with an unhealthy dose of vicious Viking attitude - and then, get this, plugged a bunch of different riffs into it. This album, their second, runs a bit more melodic than their first full-length effort, but maintains a firm dedication to all that is loud, drunken, violent, and Norse.
The opening track, "Bleed For Ancient Gods," is one of Amon Amarth's best songs, dynamic and up-tempo with skilled drumming and a high riff-count. The second chorus at 2:46 is perhaps the defining moment of this album - kicked off with a snarling "War to us is holy!" and then leading into the throat-ripping "Sacrifice! Sacrifice! Sacrifice our blood for ancient gods!" vocal tradeoff. The final "Waaaaaaaaaarrrr! And then we kill!" growl is quite fun too.
Another high point is closer "Legend of A Banished Man," with a grim bass intro that conveys the image of waves swelling in the ocean - and then the main riff comes up, the "dragon ship even more feared than the nail-ship Naglfar." "Legend" is a vicious mid-tempo bruiser featuring another of the most memorable lines in Amon Amarth's catalog - "Run for your lives! Death has arrived!" The epic, march-drum instrumental bit at 4:30 puts not just a cap on the album, but a steel helmet spotted with blood and dented from a mighty axe-blow.
In between these two highlights are five solid, solid tunes. "God, His Son And Holy Whore" is particularly worthy of notice, a churning bit of anti-Christian rage that easily qualifies for the "KVLT-as-fuck" category. And the title track is an epic of revenge, which drags a bit in the beginning but begins to really fucking SLAY around the four-minute mark. The closing solo is great, Johan Hegg's screams of "DIE!" around 4:30 show some of his full potential as one of the best growlers in death; he really starts to shine on The Crusher.
But that's another review. For now, here is a short, hard-hitting, death metal opus that works well as drinking music, moshing music, raping music, pillaging music, slaying-cowardly-men-of-Christ music, or really just about anything that invokes the spirit of drunken, hairy Norse pirates. You provide the beer and weaponry, and The Avenger will provide the favor of Odin.
Amon Amarth does one thing: melodic yet brutal Viking death metal. And they do it better than anyone else. I had only heard one song by them before this album, the epic "Victorious March." After that I was hooked, eagerly jumping into this album blindfolded. I wasn't disappointed.
The Avenger is an album that inspires one to grow a beard and take up arms against the Christian oppressors like no other. The twin guitar assault is the spear of Odin thrust into your heart, Johan Hegg's growling vocals are the battlecry of a thousand frenzied berserkers, the relentless doublekick echoes with the thunderclap of Mjolnir.
There is not a single weak point over the course of the album's duration. It opens with "Bleed for Ancient Gods," a thrashing, pounding, furious sweeping battle anthem that stomps on your throat and establishes the defining credo of Amon Amarth with the chorus line, "war to us is holy." The second track, "The Last with Pagan Blood," twists the boot pressing on your jugular and doesn't let you think for one second the battle is over. This is definitely the stand out track among an entire album of stand out tracks. "...Pagan Blood" also conjures up some of the album's most vibrant imagery, an element Amon Amarth is most definitely not in short supply of.
"North Sea Storm," takes the battle to sea, again inspiring glorious imagery of Norsemen struggling against formidable enemies. This song also features the album's best solo. The title track is next, imparting a somber tale of brutal Viking retribution highlighted by another brilliant solo. In "God, His Son, and Holy Whore," probably the fastest song, the band's unconditional hatred of the Christian faith manifests more clearly than anywhere else. "Metalwrath" is a fun metal anthem, cleverly working the band's previous song titles into the lyrics. "Legend of a Banished Man" caps off the album with the story of an invincible Viking warlord's return. "Run for your lives, death has arrived..." By now, any non-metalheads you have subjected to Amon Amarth's special brand of warlike malice should be whinging in protest and praying for your soul.
All in all, The Avenger is the best Viking metal album ever put out. Each song is a well-constructed epic tale of Nordic folklore, accompanied most approriately by the all best elements of the melodic death metal genre. This is the album that should inspire artists to paint vast murals depicting proud Viking warriors dying gloriously on the field of battle, slaughtering the Christian dogs till their swords fall from their grasp, cursing their enemies with their last gasping breath. There is no other band that sounds like Amon Amarth, no other band that so clearly brings to mind such striking imagery.
The album’s one fault would be only this: it's too short. The Avenger clocks in at just over 36 minutes with only seven songs. It's a brief listen, though an intense one from start to finish. But considering how often these masterful architects pump out consistently great material, it’s an easily forgivable fault.