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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.