Amon Amarth have cemented themselves as one of the best bands in the melodic death metal genre, crafting their own unique sound and brand of music since they were formed back in 1992. Some of the criticism the Swedish band receives comes from the fact that they have been consistent with their sound, creating an aura of similarity on the last few albums. But they broke the mold a bit, and delivered with one of their best albums to date.
With Jomsviking, Amon Amarth took a crack at their first ever concept album, weaving a tale of love, murder and revenge based on the story of the legendary Jomsvikings, a fierce group of Viking mercenaries in the 10th and 11th century. Here’s Hegg’s own description of the album (From Metalinjection.net);
“It’s a pretty simple story where a young man is in love with a girl but unfortunately she’s being married off. He accidentally kills a man when this happens and he has to flee,” … “But he swears to have revenge and win her back. He can’t let go of the past. He feels that he’s been wronged and his life has been destroyed. The story of the Jomsviking is in the background – it’s the way he finds to go back and claim his revenge. The way the story evolves is not a happy story… it’s a tragedy, I guess! But I like sad endings, because they’re the ones that affect you the most.” – Johan Hegg
Don’t let the romance aspect turn you off, this album is as fierce and brutal as any of their other past releases. Their music has this epic feel to it, immersing you in the midst of a Viking battle and in the Norse mythology that shrouds the story that the band has crafted. They stepped their game up from Deciever of the Gods, and it’s easily the best album they’ve released since the stellar Twilight of the Thunder God back in 2008.
For those that were disappointed in Deciever of the Gods, there are tons of reasons to come back and listen to Amon Amarth’s latest release. Deciever of the Gods had some fantastic songs, some of the other tracks failed to leap out at me. On Jomsviking, just about every single track is fully capable of blowing you away, tearing down your village and destroying everything in sight.
Johan Hegg delivers with another excellent vocal performance. I’m a big fan of his because while he delivers that growl and edge needed in death metal, it’s all very clear and easy to understand, helping the story telling come through perfectly.
The twin guitars of Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen are stellar, and the album is jam packed with incredible solos and memorable riffs. This is also the first album in about 20 years that doesn’t feature Frerik Andersson on drums, but Tobias Gustafsson of Vomitory fills in very nicely.
Another risk that the band took was the use of spoken word in some of their songs, such as in “At Dawn’s First Light” and on “Wanderer.” It adds to the story telling element of the album, and even provides this cinematic or dramatic feel to the songs, drawing you in and blowing you away with the same fierce sound that Amon Amarth is known for. It’s incorporated just enough and adds another element to the songs.
Jomsviking is full of songs that will become staples at Amon Amarth’s live shows, and some that are among the best ever put out by the band. “First Kill” was the first single released, and it’s an excellent way to begin, drawing you in with a catchy chorus and some sweet guitar work. “At Dawn’s First Light” and “Vengeance Is My Name” both incorporate the spoken word parts expertly before providing some of the most aggressive and energy-filled moments on the album. These are two of the songs that make you feel like you’re out on the battlefield with the Jomsvikings.
“Raise Your Horns” is going to turn into a concert staple, with its anthem-like sound, some great riffs, and a chorus calling to “drink to glory tonight.” Perhaps the best song on the entire album is “On a Sea of Blood,” which changes the pace of things to an up-tempo style combined with incredible shredding from Soderberg and Mikkonen plus a really catchy hook towards the end of the song. I’ve had this song on repeat for a few weeks now, and that’s not changing anytime soon.
Perhaps the only low point on the album, if you can even call it that, comes towards the end of the story on the track “A Dream That Cannot Be.” The song features Doro Pesch from Warlock delivering clean vocals alongside Hegg’s trademark growl. The clean lyrics clash a bit too much with Amon Amarth’s style for my taste, but it’s still a solid track and does an excellent job of furthering the story of the album. But They make up for it with “Back on Northern Shores,” an epic closing track that draws the tale of the unnamed warrior to a close.
Amon Amarth took some risks on this album, using spoken word, going to a mid-tempo pace on some of their songs, and trying their first concept album. But every single one of those risks paid off and comes together to create a fantastic album from start to finish. Jomsviking will satisfy long-time fans and new listeners while delivering a new twist on their trademark brutal Viking metal.
Standout Tracks: On a Sea of Blood, Raise Your Horns, The Way of Vikings, At Dawn’s First Light, Back on Northern Shores