Saturday, March 26, 2016

Amon Amarth - Jomsviking (2016)

It seems like more and more bands are doing concept records these days. Dream Theater, Blaze Bayley, Between The Buried And Me, Gloryhammer, and Vanden Plas are just some of the bands that has done a concept album in either this year or last year. And now, we can add another band to this prestigious list, the Swedish death metal giants Amon Amarth, whom for their tenth full length album is experimenting with a full story. I am not surprised at all that the guys wanted to give it a shot, they do have some nice lyrical writing skills, and they do have a lot of knowledge of the Norse mythology, so creating a story within that realm seems reasonable.

"Jomsviking" is a album about... well... a Jomsviking. What's a Jomsviking you ask? It is probably best described as a viking mercenary, fighting in battle for whom ever offers the biggest paycheck. In this album, we get to follow this Jomsviking's full journey, from when he gets banished from his community, becoming a Jomsviking, and follow his quest to return and win back his lost love. Yes, we got a love story in here too folks, a love story in a death metal record, now that is something I did not expect to see in my life.

Just like with the last album, "Deceiver of The Gods", Andy Sneap is the man behind the production, and it is just as you would expect. It is sleek, tough, and loud, which I do think works well with the band's sound. And the band performs as one would expect as well, Hegg delivers his patented viking growls, Mikkonen and Söderberg brings out several sweet guitar riffs and solos, and then we have Tobias Gustafsson, who takes care of the drum duties in this album after Fredrik Andersson's departure, and he does a nice job in maintaining the band's sound.

But what I think really makes or breaks an Amon Amarth album is if it has any killer songs, and fortunately, "Jomsviking" does have a share of them. "The Way of Vikings" has some strong lyrics of two jomsvikings (that happens to be best friends) fights against each other, the opener "First Kill" is classic Amon Amarth that sets the tone to the album perfectly, "Raise Your Horns" could be a potential live favourite with its groovy, sort of Mastodon-esque riffing and its catchy chorus. We also have "At Dawn's First Light", that might lean more towards the NWoBHM direction, but it has a mood and tension that makes it stand out, and "Back On Northern Shores" ends the album with some beautiful riffing and a lot of heavy emotions, giving "Jomsviking" a worthy finish.

The best one though, by a landslide, is "A Dream That Cannot Be", and that is not only because it has a guest appearance from the metal queen Doro Pesch, but also because it adds a new dimension to this album. Doro's vocals felt quite weird at first, but it grew on me, and she portraits the female character in a strong way. The chorus here is also the most epic one in the album, and the riffing is mostly simple, but determined, which is really effective. As from the story perspective, it is one of the main moments as well, giving a little twist to it, but I will let you find that out for yourself, so I do not spoil all too much.

My only real complaint with "Jomsviking" is that it is a little bit too clean. Sure, the band has been more melodic for almost every album since their almost black metal debut in "Once Sent From The Golden Hall", but "Jomsviking" has very little death metal in it. In fact, if Johan Hegg would have been replaced by a clean vocalist, I would almost consider this as a melodic/power/NWoBHM metal hybrid of an album. It is still Amon Amarth to the core, but there is no denying that this is their softest work up to date.

For a first swing at a concept album, Amon Amarth did succeed quite well with "Jomsviking", creating a interesting story that fits well with the band's image. Even if this is a fairly soft album, I do think it holds up really well to the rest of the band's magnificent discography. It has the melodies, the riffs, the choruses, yes, everything that defines Amon Amarth. I do get it if some fans would dislike the album, but personally, I do think it is another strong effort from Sweden's finest, and it probably will land on my "best of" list at the end of the year. Another viking raid completed with great success, this time, in the way of the Jomsviking.

Songs worthy of recognition: A Dream That Cannot Be, First Kill, The Way of Vikings, Back At Northern Shores

Rating: 8,5/10 Jomsvikings

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