Amon Amarth

Jomsviking

Written by: AP on 14/06/2016 22:59:44

The unwavering consistency of Amon Amarth’s repertoire has earned the Swedish metallers a fearsome reputation. Mention the name, and most of the genre’s connoisseurs will respond along the lines of ”Ah! Vikings, and huge, heroic melodies!” — the two staples upon which the Tumba-born quintet has relied for close to two decades now to construct an ideal formula for drinking and headbanging… which in turn represent the two most vital cornerstones for the sustained thrift of heavy metal as a genre. It would thus be foolish to expect an upheaval of those principles on this tenth studio album “Jomsviking” which, as its title betrays, is built around the quasi-legendary brotherhood of Viking mercenaries. The record marks the first time Amon Amarth have tackled a full blown concept, its cover the first time the artwork has not followed the band’s signature fire-and-black colour theme; yet musically, there is next to no separation between “Jomsviking” and its predecessor, 2013’s ”Deceiver of the Gods”.

Indeed, the best way to describe “Jomsviking” is to liken it to a meticulously engineered, well-oiled piece of machinery. You feed it the conceptual framework, and out comes hilariously austere lyricism about first kills, courage, vengeance, warcraft, drinking and feasting. Out comes an assortment of staccato riffs and soaring melodies that straddle a tightrope between epic and overblown, and a thunderous rhythm section which often sounds like the hooves of a thousand horses racing into battle. The extravagant bombast of “First Kill”, “One Against All” is exactly the reason ‘Amarth is so popular; they offer ample opportunities for windmill action, drunken sing-alongs and the famous Viking row pits that have become a standard feature of the group’s concerts. Who could resist the urge to roar ”Raise your horns, raise ‘em up to the sky! We will drink to glory tonight! Raise your horns for brave fallen friends! We will meet where the beer never ends!” with the obligatory drinking horn in hand when “Raise Your Horns” blasts from a festival PA? Who could say no to what must surely become a call-and-response between the men and women of a live audience during the chorus of “A Dream That Cannot Be”, which features a generous cameo by the legendary Doro? Who wouldn’t whip out the old air guitar for the verse, and then pump their fist as the chorus valiantly rolls in on a tide of double pedals in “Back on Northern Shores”?

The trouble is that by Amon Amarth’s usual high standards, much of “Jomsviking” feels like a washed out rehash of its closest predecessors. Old school fans and metal truists alike would agree that the band completed the transformation into a Disney version of itself quite some time ago — something that vocalist Johan Hegg seems to admit to, and even take a certain pride in — but even so one longs for those definitive melodies that made both “Surtur Rising” and “Twilight of the Thunder God” such memorable pieces of music. Even at its catchiest, “Jomsviking” never soars toward Valhalla, never sounds as preposterously grandiose as past songs like “War of the Gods” or “Free Will Sacrifice”, which inevitably leads to the conclusion that perhaps Amon Amarth’s concentrating on bringing across a coherent story had the adverse side effect of removing too much focus from the music? Steps have been taken to meet the minimum requirements for a solid ‘Amarth release, but certainly “Jomsviking” does not deploy the full extent of the band’s proven firepower. And as such, the album also marks a first for the undersigned, of being disappointed by this band.

Be that as it may, should you consider yourself an avid fan of Amon Amarth, it is unlikely that the experience of listening through “Jomsviking” would cause you to abandon your affection for the band. The music is recognisably theirs, and features plenty of moments that, while not as stark as their counterparts on previous albums, are potent enough that when you recognise them in the live setting, you will likely be roaring with approval, horns in the air. If, however, you are an ‘Amarth virgin, “Jomsviking” is not the record to justify the high regard in which the band is held — instead, I would recommend you to dig deeper into the discography and unearth their true Viking metal gems.

6

Download: One Against All, Raise Your Horns, A Dream That Cannot Be, Back on Northern Shores
For the fans of: Ensiferum, Insomnium, King of Asgard, Suidakra
Listen: Facebook

Release date 25.03.2016
Metal Blade Records

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