Amon Amarth - Jomsviking - (9.5/10)
Published on March 27, 2016
Amon Amarth are probably one of melodic death metal’s biggest success stories, carving their very own niche and managing to achieve commercial success only few bands of their style will find. Having started out on Singaporean label Pulverized with their Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds EP, then promoting to Metal Blade for a highly successful string of nine albums to now offering up their tenth strike Jomsviking. While they have their very distinct style, from the guitar melodies over thunderous double-bass drums to Johan Hegg’s powerful bellow, the Swedes have always been teetering on the narrow ledge between staying true to their own sound and sounding the same (all depending on the personal point of view) and the further their career went, the more these critics came out of the woodwork.
Jomsviking is breaking a little out of their mold, with the cover not bearing any red or orange of yellow this time, instead introducing an icy blue, but it fits, especially when considering that for the first time the Swedes are taking on a concept album, about a legendary group of mercenary Vikings called the Jomsvikings. And going hand in hand with this lyrical endeavour the quartet (plus session drummer Tobben Gustafsson) is dishing out one of the band’s freshest sounding recordings in a while, pulverizing any potential accusations of standstill.
For the concept, the Jomsvikings are a group of Viking mercenary stationed in mythical Jomsborg, which is guessed was located on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, which adhered to very strict military principles, but would rent out their services, so to say, showing a different side of the Viking age, a group that has been viewed as outcasts and outlaws.
Musically the Swedes are keeping their very own sound alive, while avoiding the standstill they have been accused of with their more recent albums, and embracing a few elements that had not been there before, at least not with the same weight. First single and video “First Kill” is one of the most traditional songs, containing all the elements Amon Amarth have made their trademark, energetic, driving, with a mighty roar yet their trademark melodies and a big, powerful chorus, kicking things off on a high. And from that point on, Jomsviking turns into one of the most varied affairs they have offered their loyal host of fans to date.
Stomping “Wanderer” sets the ground for far more aggressive and fast “On A Sea of Blood” and its big riff that jumps right out. And while the band has its fair share or live hymns already, only few can rival the pure fist-pumping and sing-along power of “Raise Your Horns”, with Hegg once more proving that he is one of the few death metal growlers that remain intelligible pretty much all the time, which lends the songs even more power. Thundering epic “The Way of Vikings” is atmospherically dense and greatly dynamic, while “One Thousand Burning Arrows” puts the melodies at centre stage (but do not fret, they have not gone pop). Two surprises are in stock, though, with “Vengeance is My Name” and “A Dream That Cannot Be”, with the former delivering almost unadulterated speed metal (with growls) and the latter taking inspiration from Deceiver of the Gods’ “Hel”, where Hegg got clean support by doom metal god Messiah Marcolin (ex-Candlemass), and introducing none other than German metal queen Doro Pesch to lend her vocal talent to add another dimension to the song, showing that clean vocals (male or female) work great with Amon Amarth’s brand of melodic viking death metal.
Overall Jomsviking puts a bit more emphasis on the melodic side of their sound yet without losing any of their characteristic power, remaining cohesive at all times yet just shifting the weight to one side of the dragon ship. It should also silence the naysayers that claim that the band releases the same album over and over, because while their latest albums were excellent as well, this is the probably best Amon Amarth have sounded since With Oden on our Side. Jomsviking is going to be a very serious contender for album of the year honours worldwide – and deservedly so!