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"The Avenger" is the 2nd studio album by Swedish death metal band, Amon Amarth. It was released in 1999 on Metal Blade Records and produced by Peter Tägtgren. The line-up for the album was Johan Hegg (vocals), Olavi Mikkonen (guitar), Johan Söderberg (guitar), Ted Lundström (bass) and Fredrik Andersson (drums).
Amon Amarth underwent a line-up change from their debut album to this one, with Johan Söderberg coming in as second guitarist, and Fredrik Andersson replacing Martin Lopez on the drums. Production-wise, it takes on a heavier existence and that famous 'wall of sound' feel to it.
The album begins with "Bleed For Ancient Gods". It is a furious beginning with Andersson's drums powering away throughout, lots of vocal growls and some serious riffs. Genre-wise, it's more straight forward death metal than the Viking sound the band has become known for. The song is a live favourite but I get the feeling it doesn't quite work in the studio.
"The Last With Pagan Blood" is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. The drumming on this song is incredible, and it's clear to note Amon Amarth has got someone special in Fredrik Andersson. The track is about how invaders tried to take their ancient lands and having to fight them off to win their religious freedom.
"North Sea Storm" is a powerful and melodic song with very heavy lyrics. Musically it's another excellent track, with crushing riffs from the guitarists. Lyrically, the narrator talks about how he's stricken, watching a battle, as his last breath draws nearer until the end arrives. This is my one of my favourite songs on the album.
"Avenger" is the longest song on the album at just over 7 minutes. The song continues the epic adventure of bloodlust, as the hero of the song forges his blade with magic and seeks revenge, which he eventually gets before plunging the sword into his own stomach, tired of bloodshed and conflict. This is another great Amon Amarth song, but could have benefitted from being a little shorter in length.
"God, His Son and Holy Whore" is a full-bodied death metal song. It's probably the heaviest track on the album, making full use of double bass on the drums and crushing riffs galore. However, it's not without its controversy. The title should give a clue as to what it's all about, which is basically anti-religious in nature.
"Metalwrath" is a stunning song of which only Amon Amarth could produce. It's a homage to their previous recordings with a heavy dose of Norse mythology mixed in. This is my favourite song on the album, purely for its energy. Once again Andersson's drums are incredible, and Johan Hegg's vocals are at their angriest.
"Legend of a Banished Man" ends the album with a tale of a man who would not convert his religion to that of his King and was exiled for doing so. It's a straight up heavy metal song with classic riffs, monster bassline and a killer chorus. A strong runner for song of the album, but just doesn't quite make it. If it had been put in the middle of the album, it may have pipped "Metalwrath", somehow.
In summary, this is a very good album, and one which you should own if you're into death metal with a hint of mythology at the same time. Amon Amarth seems to hit all the right notes with the music and Peter Tägtgren has done a wonderful job at producing it. I listen to this album a lot, and you would too if you went out and bought it.
1. Bleed For Ancient Gods
2. The Last With Pagan Blood
3. North Sea Storm
5. God, His Son and Holy Whore
7. Legend of a Banished Man
My rating: 8/10
Amon Amarth's second album revives the fierce intensity that was sadly lacking on their previous effort. With the death metal foundation back in full force, and epic Viking concepts still as strong as ever, 'The Avenger' is Amon Amarth's finest full-length release, even if that length is a little lacking at only thirty-seven minutes.
My issues with the preceding album all seem to have been remedied, with only the title track feeling overlong and repetitive in its focus on narrative over music, as it's the only song in which Johan Hegg's increasingly confrontational vocal style seems truly out of place, his yells of "Die! Die!" only serving to irritate rather than inspire latent Viking bloodlust in my veins (I'm hopeful that one of my ancestors was ravished at some point). The rest are all excellent death metal songs, incorporating melodic elements perfectly without seeming forced or succumbing to a tamer sound as hindered the previous release. Without any drawn-out, repetitive mock-epics stealing the limelight (apart from the one already exorcised), this is a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas that uses every concisely edited minute to its fullest, in longer and shorter songs alike.
A brief drum intro leads into the album's first harsh death metal riff with stonking bass clunking away above fierce drums, and already it's clear that this will be a fast-paced ride. This is a distinctly angrier album than any other thus far released by the band, and this is enhanced by Hegg's raspier vocal tone as much as the prominence of heavy guitar riffs in place of the endless melodic leads that can become irritating in the rest of their discography. The tremolo-picking frenzy returns in 'The Last With Pagan Blood' which also has some great thrash riffs, and makes effective use of slowing everything down to near silence - carried only by a soft bassline and a heartbeat - before launching right back into the volume. It's a bit of a contrivance admittedly, but they do it well, and repeated listens could even cause neck-hairs and other body parts to stand eagerly to attention for more die-hard fans.
The great thing about these songs is that they never stop moving and re-inventing themselves in unexpected but logical ways, 'God, His Son and Holy Whore' being the most technically diverse with a frenetic pace and multiple guitar changes, and classic guitar solos blasting forth from 'Bleed for Ancient Gods' and especially 'North Sea Storm,' the latter of which has the distinction of being one of my favourite guitar solos in the world. In fact, everything about 'North Sea Storm' is excellent, and really is Amon Amarth at their very best: there's a great contrast between the drums like rolling waves and the hard riffs persevering through, and the lead guitars sneak in between the compelling vocal lines without drawing distracting attention to themselves. It's so strong, there's even a section that gets by with Hegg letting out a sustained yell rather than bothering to write some more lyrics, and it sounds great.
The last two songs of the album are a little less distinctive as usual, the first for being a slightly out-of-place anthem to the glory of metal, but one thankfully packed with great riffs and perhaps a way in for metal fans who have thus far been a little alienated by the Viking stuff, while 'Legend of a Banished Man' closes the proceedings on an expectedly grand note, forsaking the frenetic pace and harsh riffs for a steadier rhythm and sing-along verses but allowing plenty of time for more well-integrated lead guitars and pummelling drums. 'The Avenger' may be one of Amon Amarth's less instantly accessible albums, but it's guaranteed to become a firm favourite for the initiated. Hail to Odin or whatever.
1. Bleed for Ancient Gods
2. The Last with Pagan Blood
3. North Sea Storm
5. God, His Son and Holy Whore
7. Legend of a Banished Man
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Bleed For Ancient Gods
2 Last With Pagan Blood
3 North Sea Storm
5 God His Son And Holy Whore
7 Legend Of A Banished Man