A concept album? From Vikings about Vikings?
Transcribed on a longboat by Stephen Brophy after being released by Metal Blade Records on 18 March 2016
For those that don’t know these Swedish melodic death metal behemoths, well where have you been hiding? Not only one of the finest proponents of the genre over guts of the last twenty five years, but Amon Amarth are simply one of the finest bands to watch live and always interesting to follow their progress and releases. So with a new album – their first concept album no less – hitting the shelves, how does it stack up to their previous output and is it too different for their long standing fans to take in?
Jomsviking is the follow up to 2013’s excellent Deceiver Of The Gods, and this is their tenth full length studio album. Over the years their sound has changed, but essentially they still maintain that Swedish sound, they still sing about the same subjects and the quality of the music always speaks for itself. This time around the subject matter relates to the story of a member of the Jomsvikings, a band of tenth century mercenaries, who although Pagans sold their services to the highest bidder. Our main protagonist’s story progresses through battles and bloodshed in his quest to reconnect with his true love and his home village.
What we do find is eleven tracks of varying pace. As expected it’s not a one hundred mile per hour blast fest, but it was never going to be. The band have progressed and evolved from the early days of Once Sent From The Golden Hall through the Versus The Wold era, which were excellent albums for their time, and maybe Jomsviking is exactly where Amon Amarth should be in 2016. ‘A Dream That Cannot Be’ is a duet with the wonderful Doro Pesch and it’s thankfully so far from a ballad it’s great, the mix of styles working terrifically and helps with how they are trying to portray the story.
The lead track ‘First Kill’ relays the story of how our Jomsviking killed the current love of the object of his affections, and this causes him to flee his homeland, shunned by family. There is a terrific flow to this album, the songs are very different in how the story is told, but it fits together perfectly. Maybe to some a concept album from a Death Metal band is a step too far, but if the parts are all as well made as this and everything works so well it’s great. Yes, generally concept albums these days are left in the realm of Progressive Rock, but let’s change all that.
Some highlights from the album aside from the already mentioned songs are ‘On A Sea Of Blood’ which is Amon Amarth through and through, retaining that edge while always running with melodic and catchy riffs. Then there’s the closing track that ties up the sad but likely expected end to our story, to fight till death is ‘The Way Of Vikings’. It’s one of the more aggressive tracks on the album once we get through the building intro, the life of a mercenary leads to not having an option to pick your battles. This is definitely an ambitious project from an experienced and well established band and although it hits the right notes with me, there will definitely be some who would prefer a more straightforward Death Metal album, but the band should be commended for pushing their own boundaries.
There is definitely a maturity about this one, a scene is painted visually, and the story weaves its way through the ups and downs and the adventures of our Jomsviking. Yes, there’s still crisp and heavy riffing, Johan’s vocals still contain venom and aggression where needed, but it’s also toned down in moments where that is more effective. Although the pace is slowed in many places there’s not a foot out of place as usual, it will be very interesting how this album is handled live if indeed we ever get to see it as a full piece.
9 out of 10
- At Dawm’s First Light
- Back On Northern Shores
- A Dream That Cannot Be
- First Kill
- On A Sea Of Blood
- One Against All
- One Thousand Burning Arrows
- Raise Your Horns
- Vengeance Is My Name
- The Way Of Vikings