For tomorrow’s installment of this list I’m diving deep into the underground again, but for this 12th Part I decided to include music from a couple of the biggest names in extreme metal. Both bands also seem to have arrived at a place where they’ve become… institutions (for want of a better word)… with a sound of their own that isn’t subject to significant change but is still usually appealing.
DGR began his extensive NCS review of The Heretics in this way: “To say that they’ve found a sound would be putting it politely; Rotting Christ not only found a sound, but they also basically defined it and then later let it define them. Especially in more recent years they have basically shifted from being a fire-fueled black metal nightmare into an almost Hollywood-esque war-drums-and-all hybrid of martial rhythms, ’70s prog guitar influences, and the straightforward guitar stomp and lead work that has made them so insanely catchy over the years. The group’s latest disc, The Heretics, is a giant block of that specific sound.”
As DGR further described, there is a strong sense of familiarity to the album, as its songs feel in some ways like a summing-up of the band’s career as well as a representation of them in their comfort zone. The cynical amongst you might characterize some of the songs as “formulaic”, but such dismissiveness really doesn’t do The Heretics justice (and I’ll refer you to DGR’s review for the argument against that point of view). On the other hand, we should concede that listeners who are in search of the next big thing to push the genre forward won’t find it on this album. By the same token, listeners who get a big charge out of Rotting Christ being Rotting Christ will come away very happy indeed.
Having already quoted from DGR’s review, I’ll double-down by quoting him again with respect to the song from The Heretics that I picked for this list, because I pretty much feel the same way:
“I was absolutely thrilled at the presence of a song like ‘Fire, God, and Fear‘ — which shares similar tempo and songwriting structure to the song ‘Grandis Spritus Diavolos’ before it from the album Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, to such a point that it is practically a spiritual sequel. And it is also the second song on The Heretics to follow the naming format of “Thing, Thing, and Thing”. The first in this case being the glorious “Heaven and Hell And Fire”, one of a small collective of songs that features some stellar melodic lead work that seems to dance entirely around the group’s traditional “Thud, Thud, Thud…Thud” drumming backbone”.
The song is also — of course — damned catchy, which could be said about almost every track on the album. But by my own rules, I’m limited to picking just one, and this is it.
Maybe if Amon Amarth wasn’t one of the bands who paved your way into extreme metal (as they were for me) you might not feel the same way about them as I do. Whether out of nostalgia or simply the continued ringing of the chords in my head that they first struck with Fate of Norns, I’m never going to not like a new Amon Amarth album, and I did like 2019’s Berserker.
Having said that, I readily acknowledge that Amon Amarth aren’t going to evolve in any surprising new ways, and that branding most of their songs these days as “formulaic” is entirely fair. It just happens that their formula is damned appealing to me, and obviously to many, many others.
I’m in agreement again with DGR, who in his review did identify some ways in which Amon Amarth played around with their defined sound on the fringes of some of the tracks on Berserker, including the use of more prominent lead-guitar melodies. But it’s none of those tracks that I picked for this list. I stayed with the tried-and-true Amon Amarth sound, settling on a song that was presented through a music video that also stays with the tried-and-true imagery of battle and valor in the days of the Vikings.
That song is “Shield Wall“, and for the umpteenth time in this post I’ll quote DGR again:
“Shield Wall” may be one of the most Amon Amarth songs to date, and could easily be (is incredibly likely to wind up) slotted into the live set for a long time. The bouncing rhythm of it and the martial ‘shout along with me!’ nature of the chorus is almost purpose-built for crowd interaction.”
I’d love to see this song played live, and to watch the rapturous expressions come across the countenances of the Amon Amarth faithful. Until then I’ll settle for throwing this track, which has gotten stuck in my head, onto playlists with all the other stuck-in-my-head songs this band have created over the long years.