Sweden's very own modern-day Viking horde return with a truly epic masterpiece.
The Jomsvikings were a legendary order of Viking mercenaries from the 10th Century who hailed from Jomsborg, a stronghold located on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Jomsvikings were fierce in battle, noble in character, and loyal to their cause. They not only fought for their own brethren, but also alongside other rulers and communities across Scandinavia, and in other lands. Jomsvikings were so elite that you can even become one today -- if you see that in your future -- but that's not the focus here.
Who is more qualified to tell the tale of a Jomsviking in musical form than Amon Amarth? Exactly. The mighty Swedes have spent their entire career writing albums based on Viking/Norse mythology, each containing songs that bleed deep lyrical substance, while harnessing the power of their unique brand of Heavy Metal. The band's progression over the years has been sequential with each studio release, and Jomsviking, their tenth album, is their most exciting and musically-ambitious yet.
Jomsviking is entirely a concept album based on an original story created and penned by frontman Johan Hegg. It catapults us into the world of a young Norse man and his tale of love and revenge. As the woman he loves marries someone else, he inadvertently kills another man and, as a result, must leave his homeland. In the wake of what transpired, the Jomsviking declares vengeance and swears to win his love back. The explosive opening track, First Kill, describes the overall story, and it's clear that Amon Amarth have already sworn their own oath to make this album even better than 2013's Deceiver of the Gods. In fine Amon Amarth fashion, the band are absolutely relentless in their delivery of this very fast and furious onslaught filled with crushing, fist-pumping rhythm and battle-ready riffs. Hegg's deathly growls lay perfectly on top of the music, and you can tell that his technique has improved (if that was ever even possible before?).
Melody is something Amon Amarth incorporate more of this time around, even in the heavier songs. Mid-paced tunes like Wanderer -- featuring uplifting, big soundscapes, guitar riffs and solos -- and One Thousand Burning Arrows -- with its anthemic undertones -- are prime examples of how creative the band have become. A Dream That Cannot Be sees German singer Doro Pesch lending her talents to the mix, and while she already has the chops, what really makes it work well is the monstrous audio effects added to her voice. The pair of Raise Your Horns and The Way of Vikings are both very much Viking battle hymns, but the latter has a slight edge with its soaring melodies and intricate guitar work. This is easily the best track on the album for its composition alone. Of course, Amon Amarth have built their reputation on insanely fast, aggressive tunes, and there are plenty of those on the menu here. On a Sea of Blood (another stand-out), At Dawn's First Light, and Vengeance Is My Name all absolutely crush the ground below, and will undoubtedly please those who like a long-lasting adrenaline rush.
On a Sea of Blood
No matter how hard they could try, Amon Amarth never disappoint. They are just one of those select bands that progressively keep getting better and better with each release. Jomsviking takes Amon Amarth to a whole new level. The music feels very cinematic, almost score-like, and that alone adds a lot of substance to the framework of the songs. Heck, The Way of Vikings, as an example, could easily be featured in the TV show Vikings or any Viking-themed film for that matter. The music is tight; the arrangements are put together very well; and with such a concentrated effort from all personnel -- including Tobias Gustafsson (Vomitory) stepping in for the departed Fredrik Andersson behind the drum kit -- the end result is a resounding victory. And we can't leave out the masterful Andy Sneap for a job well done on the production side. A+ performance there too.
On the flip side of all this positive praise, it's really difficult to zero in on any negative critique of this album, because there really isn't any. Honestly, other than maybe a few familiar notes/tones from other Amon Amarth efforts sprinkled here and there, there is nothing to complain about here. Let's call a spade a spade, and while we're at it, let's just call Jomsviking a magnificent achievement. Albums like this just don't come around that often, folks. The songs on Jomsviking are exceptionally hefty, bombastic, and full of heart, paving the way for an exhilarating listening experience to all those who decide to take the journey. When it's all said and done, this is just Amon Amarth proving yet again why they remain one of the best bands in the Heavy Metal genre.
Images courtesy of Metal Blade Records.