Amon Amarth is: Johan Kegg (vocals); Anders Hansson, Olavi Mikkonen (guitar); Ted Lundstrom (bass); Mike Kaukinen, Fredrik Andersson (drums).
I've heard this quite a few times now, and have finally formed an opinion strong enough to write a sufficient review. My opinion? This is nearly the best album Amon Amarth has produced (a band seemingly incapable of producing weak material). The first thing that grabs you is how raw and deep Hegg's growling vocals sound. A definite improvement, as if he's truly found his Viking soul and unleashed its fury for all to hear. The song structure on this album is very comparable to their earlier work, though without getting repetitive and dull. Rather than copying themselves, Amon Amarth seems to be slowly progressing, continually adding new acts to one single masterful epic covering every aspect of Nordic pagan culture and mythology.
Versus the World opens strongly with "Death in Fire" and "For the Stabwounds in Our Backs," among the best songs to be found herein, but slows down a bit for "Where Silent Gods Stand Guard." Admittedly, this track sounds lackluster upon first hearing it, but I have come to appreciate it since. The title track is an exceptionally worthy war anthem, packed with all the imagery and violence that made every song on The Avenger so outstanding. "Across the Rainbow Bridge," the haunting lament of an aging warrior, starts off slow and melodic, but as soon as those war drums come in around the 3:00 mark, it's impossible to resist the urge to bang your head in salute to proud Vikings of ages past. This is one of the most brilliant songs Amon Amarth has ever composed, though it may be overlooked in favor of the more fast-paced battle hymns.
"Down the Slopes of Death" is the tale of Odin's final stand, wondrously conjuring the image of the Allfather astride his eight-legged horse, spear in hand, ready to charge and meet his fate. And then comes what may be the crowning achievement in the career of these Swedes, "Thousand Years of Oppression." This song rivals "The Last with Pagan Blood," awe-inspiring in its relentless ferocity juxtaposed by a sweeping melody. I get chills when Hegg cries out: "Let the world hear these words once more, Save us O Lord from the wrath of the NORSEMEN!"
Unfortunately, due to the epic quality of "Thousand Years...," the final two tracks seem overshadowed. I'm still trying to recover when "...And Soon the World Will Cease to Be" starts up. But both it and "Bloodshed" should not be overlooked; they're really decent songs. Though not quite as strong as "Legend of a Banished Man" from The Avenger, the final track is a great closer, relating the tale of Ragnarok, the end of the world.
Overall, this is a very powerful album, in keeping with the godlike caliber of its engineers. Compared to the rest of Amon Amarth's body of work, it surpasses all but The Avenger. But with the exception of "Thousand Years..." and "Across the Rainbow Bridge," every track on here falls just short of the consistent quality of that previous work. Nonetheless, Versus the World is another triumph from the masters whose names, in my mind, are synonymous with the Viking metal genre.