The Great Heathen Army

The Great Heathen Army

As the long-reigning masters of Viking death metal, Amon Amarth have a vast, decades-old catalog of songs about epic battles, Norse mythology, and ancient Scandinavian lore, filled with meaty riffs and memorable choruses. Though the Swedish band’s 12th album continues in this tradition, vocalist Johan Hegg says it’s his favorite Amon Amarth album in some time. “I think it’s the diversity of the songs,” he tells Apple Music. “It has some of the most heavy and dark songs that we’ve done in a while. It has some of the most melodic songs we’ve done in a while. And it also has, for us, some experimental stuff in there. It’s a little bit of everything.” Below, he tells the story—and, often, the history—behind each track. “Get in the Ring” “The idea for this came when the wrestler Erick Rowan approached us a couple of years back and asked us to write a walk-in song for him. But the song itself is about something we call a holmgang in Swedish. Basically, a holmgang is a duel. If someone would talk shit about you and you found out, you could challenge them to a holmgang. The duel could be either to first blood or to death, depending on the agreed rules. If you won, you would get the land of the other person and even their wife and everything.” “The Great Heathen Army” “This song is basically telling the story from two perspectives of how the Vikings arrive in England in 865, and how they eventually conquer the city of York, the Vikings’ capital in England. It’s pretty straightforward that way—it’s a song that’s based on historical events.” “Heidrun” “Heidrun is a mythological character. She’s a goat that stands on the roof over Valhalla, the hall of the gods. She eats the leaves of the big world tree, and the milk that she produces is the mead that the fallen warriors drink in the hall of the gods. It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek as well, because you can either read the lyrics as [being about] a bunch of Vikings who are traveling the world and fighting and drinking, or—with a bit of imagination—you can see a touring metal band.” “Oden Owns You All” “This is a war cry. In the mythology of the first war between the Aesir gods—Oden and Thor and all those—and the Vanir gods, which is basically another race of gods, there’s a big battle. Before this battle, Oden throws his spear over the heads of the Vanir army and screams, ‘Oden owns you all!’ The significance of that is, in battle, Oden would claim the fallen warriors. So, ‘Oden Owns You All’ basically means you’re all going to die. We’re sending you to Oden. It’s pretty brutal.” “Find a Way or Make One” “On the face of it, this is a song about a man who faces an army all by himself. He knows he has to find a way to win the battle, or he has to make a way, because there is no going back. But the idea actually came from my wife, who gave me a tip about a podcast where they use this particular phrase to talk about how you face certain obstacles in your life, and you get to points where you don’t know how you’re going to get past this. But you have to find a way or make a way because you can’t stop. You have to keep going.” “Dawn of Norsemen” “This is the story of the attack on Lindisfarne in 793, which is the first recorded Viking raid. It’s not the first Viking raid, but it’s the first one that actually was recorded. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, there’s a really interesting passage about the attack where they talk about these omens of dragons in disguise and whirlwinds and whatnot. I had to put it in the song. I reworked it a bit, but it’s straight out of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.” “Saxons and Vikings” (feat. Saxon) “Obviously, we had to ask Saxon to be on a song called ‘Saxons and Vikings,’ so we’ve got Biff Byford singing on this with me, and then Paul [Quinn] and Doug [Scarratt] doing the solo for the song. You could say it’s the end part of ‘The Great Heathen Army’ because this is where the English finally face off against the Viking army, and eventually a truce is signed where they pretty much split England in two. We wrote this as a mouth-off between the Vikings and the Saxons where they talk shit about each other before the battle, basically. Biff wrote his own parts, and I think he did such a great job.” “Skagul Rides With Me” “My wife and I were working on a script together for a TV series, and we’ve been researching for our characters. We found this interesting Viking who is from the area we live in, and his name was Toste. He was said to have the Valkyrie Skagul on his side because he was always victorious in battle. The Valkyries are female warriors of Oden who would bring the dead from the battlefield, but you could also evoke them on the battlefield to help you out. Some even say that the shield maidens are the inspiration for the myth of the Valkyrie.” “The Serpent’s Trail” “This story comes from a seminar on ancient storytelling that I attended with my wife. The serpent’s trail is like a labyrinth—the first part of a journey through the realm of death into hell. The second part is when you go back up, and that’s the eagle’s trail. When you come back out, you become the dragon because the serpent and eagle have combined. But it’s really about an internal journey, the psychological approach to any issues you face in your life. You travel to the core of the problem, where you face your demons, and then you have to make your way back out.”

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