Swedish metalheads Amon Amarth are a genre unto themselves. For twenty years and now ten albums, they have been the only name instantly associated with the term “Viking Metal.” They admittedly do not have much variety (every song sounds vaguely Nordic, and all the lyrics are about, well, Vikings), but they don’t need variety. Which brings us to their tenth album, Jomsviking, which actually is a little bit of a change. The sound is still technical, melodic death metal, and the lyrics are still exclusively dealing with Norsemen, but for the first time Amon Amarth have created a concept album that tells a particular story, and the musical extremes of both the aggression and the relatively tranquil moments serve to highlight the lyrics very effectively, as well as set a mood fitting the tale. It’s not perfect, but it is a fun experiment.[columns] [column size=”1/3″]
Release Date: 25 March 2016
Playing Time: 00:52:16
Label: Metal Blade Records
“Raise Your Horns” is the first big experiment here. The verse riff is slow and melodic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy. In fact, what it sacrifices in speed, it makes up for in being really damn catchy. The bridge and chorus speed things up again, but also shift the song into brighter, more celebratory territory. “The Way Of Vikings” starts as a dirge, but quickly morphs into a galloping battle anthem. Johan Hegg once against delivers some low-end, gravelly roars, and helps make this one of the album standouts. The best song on the album, “At Dawn’s First Light,” has some excellent dynamics, shifting the feel throughout. The music can get downright cheery, with some dueling guitar solos and a lead riff over the chorus that screams for fists full of beer mugs (or mead horns) to be pumped.
“One Thousand Burning Arrows” focuses the narrative on a fallen comrade. I’ve always been a sucker for the concept of a Viking funeral, so having one narrated in song is undeniably **COOL**. That said, it’s one of the less interesting tracks musically. “Vengeance Is My Name” jumps into the thrash realm, with a riff (and, honestly, even a vocal) very reminiscent of early-90s Slayer. The guitar runs are among the more memorable on the album, and the drums, while never overwhelming, do steal the show in the chorus/post-chorus. “A Dream That Cannot Be” has an unfortunately dull intro riff, but the verse is vicious. The bass plays a very similar line to the guitars, but the lower frequency is emphasized and this song feels like the heaviest yet as a result. Guest vocals from Doro Pesch of Warlock take a little getting used to, but end up enhancing the track, which serves as the emotional finale to the album. Final song “Back On Northern Shores” starts deliberately slow, but slower riffs seem to be where Amon Amarth have found their best material on Jomsviking. Both the leads and riffs on “Back On Northern Shores” are striking, and the band once again manages to set a mood with the melodies, making the lyrics jump out.
As a concept album, Jomsviking succeeds admirably. The music fits the lyrics like a movie score, accenting the emotions of the narrator, and the story is interesting enough to warrant attention. As just an album, however, it struggles with uneven pacing, too many of the faster riffs on multiple songs that sound similar, and half an album’s worth of filler. If you have the time to sit down and appreciate Jomsviking as a whole, the flaws can be overlooked.