Amon Amarth is a band that very much comes and goes with me. Obviously, over the years, the vikings of heavy metal have become among the most popular bands in the extreme metal scene. While the albums of the early to mid 2000’s piqued my interest — Death In Fire through With Odin On Our Side — the last three releases have just kinda… blended in. The same powerful, battle-ready music, but just done without enough advancement from the preceding work. Were they bad? Of course not. But they just weren’t anything I would get hyped up about. The same was true as the release date of Jomsviking began approaching. I figured I would inevitably listen to at some point, but I wasn’t exactly counting the hours until it dropped. Well, that ‘at some point’ turned out to be this past week and I am thrilled to report that this is the most impressive work Amon Amarth has put forward in some time. And I find myself once again on Amon Amarth’s longship, ready for battle.
The first thing you need to know about Jomsviking is that it is a concept album. It is a tale of a lost love and a life devoted to vengeance. Violent and intense enough for Amon Amarth, sure, but the whole idea (concept?) of a concept album for this group is new. I won’t give away much of the story — it does get aggressive in a number of ways — but knowing the music is centered around a specific main character does wonders for how the album plays out. It becomes more personal, more interesting. It is a story. And as a result you become enveloped in his journey and it absolutely fires you up. Jomsviking showcases more personality and emotion than either of the previous two albums. And it resonates. Credit needs to be given there.
And then you dive into the music, which is ferociously intoxicating from start to finish, as all Amon Amarth albums are/should be, but it also showcases just enough creativity. Generally, we know what we expect and want to get from an Amon Amarth album, and we certainly get it here. But we also get just a bit more than that, allowing Jomsviking to soar. Opening with “First Kill”, everything starts the way is should… galloping double bass percussion, tremolo picking, Johan Hegg’s signature barks… it’s all there. The chorus is catchy and very much makes you want to chant along while the clarity of some of the leads offer a gorgeous melodic element (without sacrificing the brutality, of course). A similar lead work segues in “Wanderer”, one of my personal favorite tracks, that is distinguished by a more somber, isolated feeling to it (again, for Amon Amarth), and this is where the conceptual nature of the album fully grips an audience.
Now, I’m not saying this is any overly emotional album. Sure, our main character might being dealing with some internal turmoil, especially with the depressing nature of “A Dream That Cannot Be”, featuring Doro Pesch as a guest vocalist, playing the role of the young lady our hero was after this whole time. But tracks like “The Way Of Vikings”, “Raise Your Horns”, and the closing “Back On Northern Shores” maintains the same war cries and musicianship that defines Amon Amarth’s sound. The crux of this album is still one that inspires violent ambitions. And that’s why we turn to Amon Amarth anyway — to release our inner viking.
Of course, aspects of this album are a bit awkward. Johan Hegg’s spoken story-telling passages take a little getting used to and are a bit… uncomfortable at first. The same can be said for Doro’s guest work on “A Dream That Cannot Be”. It’s not that it doesn’t work, we’re just not used to this kind of vocal harmonizing or emotional context in Amon Amarth music. Again, none of this is bad… it just takes a couple listens to familiarize and learn to appreciate. It is not nearly enough to outweigh the success that this conceptual Amon Amarth album is.
To summarize… I simply can’t put this album down. It is Amon Amarth as we know and appreciate them, delivered far more impressively than on either of the preceding albums. Its ferocity is unquestioned and is enough to make any listener battle ready. But it is the story behind the music that separates this album from the others. Brilliant on all fronts, in sound and story, Jomsviking is far more than I had ever expected it to be and is so far one of my favorite albums of the year. Give this a listen at full volume and raise your drinking horn high.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”