The Northern Crusades

If you were to ask me right here and now what my 5 favorite metal bands of all time were, without hesitation I’d mention Amon Amarth amongst that list. And while I certainly have my preferred era of the band’s sound (With Oden On Our Side through Surtur Rising are untouchable, in my mind), there really isn’t an era of Amon Amarth‘s work that I don’t like – that is, until recently.

It’s not that their last two albums have been “bad” (music is, should, and always will be subjective), they just… do nothing for me. You could read European cattle pricing rates out loud for 6 hours straight and the entertainment value for me would be essentially the same as putting on Berserker and The Great Heathen Army back-to-back. And that stinks! I miss the anticipation of new material from my longtime Viking friends. But alas, it seems maybe the machine has gotten too big – the novelty too much a driving force. I’m not convinced they’ll NEVER make great music again, but as things stand, I’ll need to find a new scratch for the itch – and I may have just found it… in Barcelona?

That’s right, fellow displaced Heathens! From the land of tapas and Rumba comes Icestorm, a band wearing their epic, battle-worn hearts on their sleeves to bring us an album packed to the brim with pure Amon Amarthian worship – to such a degree the I often wondered if I’d accidentally put the wrong album on. And shameless as some of the riffs may be, The Northern Crusades is an absolute delight should you find yourself craving a more inspired Amon Amarth effort.

But Icestorm may not be quite so one-dimensional as they may seem on first track “Across the Baltic Sea” (which is, quite simply, just an Amon Amarth track in a thinly-veiled disguise), because the great trick the band really pulls is often taking their love of Sweden’s most prolific viking metallers, and adding their own little twists to the sound – sometimes with a great addition of Ensiferum or Turisas-esque Folk Metal elements, such as on “The Iron Fist of Lance Shaft” which starts with a riff very reminiscent of AA‘s “God of War Arise” or “The Pursuit of Vikings,” but adds a super infectious Folky sing-along part that just begs your participation. Then there’s “The Teutonic Charge” which, very appropriately, adds some Teutonic Thrash elements ala Kreator or Sodom to really get your head banging in short order. You’ll find similar instances on “The Power to Fight” and  “Fields of Death” which both pack a ton of power, especially the latter which sees the band at perhaps their heaviest – even breaking out a little Bolt Thrower rumble  to add to the mix (again, with that song title? Very appropriate).

When the band is truly at its best however, is when the Amon Amarth love fest becomes a bit more of a background element. For what it’s worth, already established fans of the band might be a bit confused about all this talk about Ice Storm‘s apparent love for the band, as this seems to be a new development in their sound. The album’s two finest moments happen to come on the last two tracks, “Novgorod Arise” and “Triumph of the Pagan Warriors,” both of which lean more heavily on other Melodeath influences to create truly epic, rousing listening experiences, only breaking out recognizable AA riffs here and there to keep the central theme alive, but not shove it down your throat. “Triumph…” carries almost a bit of a Finnish, Bel’akor/Insomnium vibe that, when paired with some more of the folk elements heard earlier on the record, sound really fantastic.

There’s a lot to really like about The Northern Crusades. I love the all-in attitude of the entire endeavor, between the outrageously long and descriptive song titles, the dorky scene-setting intro that only Sabaton fans would truly appreciate, it hits a few very specific niches that have me hooked, line and sinker. If this is a bit of a re-brand for the band, then well done, my dudes. May ye ride this glorious wave to whatever successes may come.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
March 3rd, 2023


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