Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
Label: Metal Blade
Release date: March 25, 2016
It is hard to fathom that Sweden’s bastard sons of Valhallian metal have not recorded a concept album before now, yet it is somehow true. Jomsviking is Amon Amarth’s tenth studio album and it marks the first since the band’s 1998 debut not to feature drummer Fredrik Andersson. As the band tells it, the record is a “tragic tale of love and revenge”… and an “epic original story set in the world of the Jomsvikings, the legendary order of mercenary Vikings.” The storyline was developed by frontman Johan Hegg. So what of the music?
Once again, producer Andy Sneap worked with Amon Amarth on the recording, and as always he did a masterful job on the mix. The record kicks off with “First Kill”, a track already released as a teaser for the record. The song opens with the dual guitar incursion of Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg and dramatic stick and footwork from guest drummer Tobias Gustafsson. The intro has a cinematic build that drops down to Ted Lundström‘s rumbling bass as Hegg begins his guttural oration. The song quickly turns into a sonic maelstrom of cacophonous and driving drums and surprisingly melodic fretwork. The song’s breakdown offers a vintage Iron Maiden feel.
The pounding rhythms and classic metal riffing carry over to “The Wanderer”, a mid-tempo behemoth with more fantastic twin guitar harmonies. This is followed by the thrashy and relentless attack of “On a Sea of Blood”, and the onward marching riffage of “One Against All”. There is something of an Accept vibe to “Raise Your Horns”, yet it is distinctly Amon Amarth.
At the album’s midway point, “The Way of Vikings” takes on a grand and cinematic feel of warriors on the open tundra heading into battle, swords at the ready: Then into the fray they charge “At Dawn’s First Light” in a melee of gnashing guitars and propulsive rhythms.
The pace slows for the somber death celebration, “One Thousand Burning Arrows”, which builds to a glorious ode to the Viking brotherhood. The guitar notes rain down like those many fiery arrows returning to the earth. The battle begins again on the assailing crush of “Vengeance is My Name”.
The Queen of Metal, Doro Pesch, enters the Halls of Odin for the plodding and pummeling duet, “A Dream That Cannot Be”. Her presence adds a nice contrast to Hegg’s testosterone-fueled and menacing tone, though she ably goes toe to toe and stands her ground.
Jomsviking reaches its conquering conclusion, “Back on Northern Shores”. The sonic saga ebbs and flows like a Viking longship crashing through the waters. The song is harsh and unrelenting, impassive and gloomy. The journey ends with the same determined and heroic feel with which it began.
With Jomsviking, Amon Amarth has managed to remain true to its signature sound while defiantly voyaging beyond the confines of the past. The band’s first concept record is an indomitable success. Hegg has taken the band’s passion for epic storytelling and paced it against an aggressive and brutal soundscape that is equally dramatic and melodic. Jomsviking is among Amon Amarth’s best albums to date, and the individual and collective performances are inspired all the way around. Hegg and company have delivered an early entry into the 2016 year-end Best of Lists. All hail Jomsviking!