Review: Amon Amarth – Jomsviking
Amon Amarth, Sweden’s fearsome Norse-inspired death metal act, returns with the next link in a chain of outstanding albums. And while all Amon Amarth albums are based on Viking culture, Jomsviking stands out from the pack as a dedicated concept album based around semi-legendary pagan diehards of the Scandinavian Christianization era.
Opening with a heavy but melodic riff ‘First Kill’ sets the stage well. Heavy and fast with plenty of melodic character and powerful story-driven lyrics delivered by Johan Hegg’s signature snarling, but intelligible vocal style makes for an excellent album opener. According to Hegg, this first track opens the door on a dark love story in which the protagonist is banished for murder, while the woman he loves is married off. Helpless to do anything, he leaves his life behind and plots violent vengeance against those who have wronged him.
Picking up where ‘First Kill’ left off, both musically and lyrically, ‘Wanderer’ describes a lone Viking wandering the wilderness, shunned by his people and running low on hope. This sad story is told to the deep, heavy thump of the bass and drums, chugging guitar riffs, and melodic leads. Hegg once again takes his lyrics and becomes the lone wanderer through his snarling vocals and well-thought lyrics. The feeling that we are listening to a history story rather a heavy metal album is further driven home by the ominous ending and the powerful spoken word dialogue at the very end of the song.
Opening with sharp riffing and a fast beat, ‘On a Sea of Blood’ sees the protagonist continuing his lonely path and taking to the sea as a pirate. Musically, this track has an almost power metal feel to it, for the guitars leads have an almost heroic feel to them with higher pitches and increased technicality. Of course, this song is melodic death metal through and through. Overall, this is a solid melodic death metal track that keeps the album’s story going without boring the listener.
Punishingly heavy, the music behind ‘One Against All’ accurately captures the power of the lyrics that describe the protagonist fighting a bloody battle and facing down an enemy force alone. Driving this song are crushing riffs, hard hitting drums, and group chants of “one man!” that elevate the protagonist’s appeal ever higher, especially when Hegg declares “The weak, they tried to run, but he stayed back to fight. One by one his friends are slain. Only he remains. He knows the end is near,” and “There he stands alone, one man against all.”
Four songs down, Amon Amarth has firmly established Jomsviking as a great album. While not the most impressive track in terms of musical creativity ‘Raise Your Horns’ has its hallmarks. The strong presence of the bass guitar and Gregorian chanting a little past midway gives the song some great character, especially considering the lyrical content – As one can guess, ‘Raise Your Horns’ is a tribute to the fallen, and if it’s not immediately apparent by the title alone, the lyrics are unmistakable. Overall, this song lacks the flare of the lead guitars, save for a shriek at the very end, but it has a nice folk feel to it.
‘The Way of Vikings’ is easily the best track on the album. Everything about this song is attractive to the ear and there’s something for everyone to love, whether it be the sense of battle and pride leant by the steady and heavy rhythm, the at times folkish, at times thrashy feel of the lead guitar, or the story of two friends facing each other in combat and showing no mercy. Least to say, if this song doesn’t get your blood pumping you’re not enjoying this album at all.
Opening with heavy riff and thundering drums, ‘At Dawn’s First Light’ suddenly comes to a near halt with a melodic guitar section behind a snarling spoken word declaring “At first light, run for your life.” Then just as quickly as it slowed down, the song kicks back into a furious pace with thrash-meets-power metal feel, while Johann Hegg delivers a superb and uncompromising vocal performance. Thanks to its intense vibe and musical versatility, especially the lead guitar work, this track is without a doubt one of the very best of the album, if not the band’s discography. The only real complaint is the general awkwardness of the spoken word parts, but given the fact that this is a concept album it actually fits the song despite this writer’s well-documented opinion on spoken word in metal.
A song touching on the death of a Viking king, ‘One Thousand Burning Arrows’ touches on the Viking tradition of casting the honored dead to the sea and lighting the ship aflame to send him on their way to Valhalla. Keeping with the somber feel of a funeral, the music is more melodic than heavy, but still plenty heavy, and very detailed in the lyric department. The use of strings behind the howling guitars gives this track a heartfelt feel as does the soaring guitar solo midway through. All in all, this is quite possibly the first time Amon Amarth has managed to tap into the listener’s more tender emotions, especially the final minutes, for the squealing of the leads almost resembles the crying of loyal followers and loved ones. Lastly, the fade out in the final seconds evokes the vision of a soul departing this world securing this song in our minds for a long time coming.
As if ‘One Against All’ was not heavy enough ‘Vengeance is My Name’ has a strong thrash-meets-death metal feel to it. The riffing is fast and heavy, the drums are strong as ever, and the vocals have an unrelenting fury behind them. The title says it all about the lyrics – murder and mayhem at the hands of vengeful Viking warriors. Overall, this is the heaviest track on the album and sure to be a crowd favorite, especially for the moshers among us. But to say this song is all heavy riffs and death growls is only telling half the story; Amon Amarth’s melodic side, though not as prominent here, shows up at several points, particularly at the end with a quick but catchy solo.
‘A Dream That Cannot Be’ starts off like any other Amon Amarth song – it’s heavy, it’s melodic, and it gets your head banging. At this point, the story is just about to wrap up and it would seem that this album can’t bring anything new to the table, but that’s until the lovely voice of Doro Pesch, the revered metal goddess herself, makes an appearance as the protagonist’s unforgotten lover. What comes next in the story is a devastating revelation for the protagonist – the woman he has been longing for since his youth rejects him and violently opposes his attempt to take her as his wife. This physical and emotional battle between these two is all told through one of the best guest appearances in Amon Amarth’s history.
Opening with some nice fretwork and reserved rhythms ‘Back on the Northern Shores’ is somber and almost-ballad like for the first minute, but then kicks up the aggression for the remaining six minutes until the final thirty seconds when the song fades out in a somber fashion. Obviously picking up where ‘A Dream That Cannot Be’ left off, the lyrics detail the protagonist moving on with his life after being rejected and seeking what every Viking seeks in life and ultimately achieving it – a glorious death and entrance into Folkvangr, the hall of Freyja. Note for all you norse buffs – Folkvangr and Valhalla are the final destination for the glorious dead in viking culture. the dead are divided equally between Odin and Freyja.
With a deep story and a great deal of creativity, Amon Amarth keeps the flame burning with Jomsviking. While some might say it doesn’t stand up to Twilight of the Thunder God or Deceiver of the Gods, I beg to differ. Amon Amarth has yet to release a bad album and it seems that every album builds off of what made the last one great. That being said, Jomsviking is to Deceiver of the Gods what Surtur Rising was to Twilight of the Thunder Gods and so forth. Least to say, it’s a hard hitting melodic death metal thrill ride with some nice surprises, great source material, and an undeniably entertaining sound. Buy it! 10/10