Amon Amarth has a reputation that other bands wish they have. They’re simply just a powerhouse in the world of death metal with no intentions of stopping. But I, like many other fans, have been perhaps a little unwilling to honestly express our slight disappointment in their last few studio albums. It’s not that any of them have been bad, but they definitely have been perhaps a little too similar to each other. Not so much boring, but as if each of their new albums have been sequels to each other. Outstanding sequels at that, but nothing too groundbreaking. However, with Jomsviking now upon us, Amon Amarth’s first concept album, we get full definitive proof that the band’s reputation is worth it’s weight in gold, and more.
Jomsviking is the band’s first go at a full concept story album. It’s a dramatic and tragic story of love and revenge based on the history of the jomsvikings. Here’s the description from frontman Johan Hegg himself:
"It's a pretty simple story where a young man is in love with a girl but unfortunately she's being married off. He accidentally kills a man when this happens and he has to flee," … "But he swears to have revenge and win her back. He can't let go of the past. He feels that he's been wronged and his life has been destroyed. The story of the Jomsviking is the background – it's the way he finds to go back and claim his revenge. The way the story evolves is not a happy story… it's a tragedy, I guess! But I like sad endings, because they're the ones that affect you the most."
Knowing the basis of the story ahead of time definitely helped immerse me into the album a lot deeper than if I had just gone in cold turkey. I was intently listening to every lyric to see how the story progressed. I won’t go into every single detail, but don’t let the romance aspect of the story let you think this is strictly a love story. It gets as epic, violent, and just straight-up Viking as any good Amon Amarth album gets. The first track of the album, “First Kill” for instance, is a very violent depiction of that kill highlighted by Hegg. And then there’s the accompanying music video…
One of my personal favorite moments happens towards the end in “A Dream That Cannot Be”. Doro Pesch makes a guest appearance on this track portraying the woman that this whole story is about. Doro’s voice compliments the band perfectly and is such a great contrast to Hegg’s signature growls that it grabs your attention immediately. The band has tried clean vocals before, which I thought was pretty interesting, but I think it’s especially appropriate in this case. Personally speaking, this moment didn’t jar me so much that it took me out of the album, but honestly pulled me in even further.
Musically speaking, Jomsviking is Amon Amarth at it’s finest. All of the familiar elements that make them so memorably are present and in full force to stab you right through the chest. Hegg’s commanding growl leads the charge, guitars alternate from chugging along or picking along to memorable melodies, and drums thunder along and pummel you senseless. But while the death metal elements are done extremely well, it has a good mix of the faster and heavier to the slower dirge-like songs as well. “On a Sea of Blood” is a good representation of the speed that they are capable of, and “One Thousand Burning Arrows” shows the other side of the spectrum. And honestly, this may sound like absolutely lazy journalism, but if you are even remotely aware of Amon Amarth’s work, that is exactly what you get on Jomsviking. They are definitely one of the leading melodic death metal bands around, and with albums like this it’s not hard to see why.
Again, none of this is particularly new for Amon Amarth. But having the narrative following along is definitely new for the band and I believe it has paid off in spades. The music hasn’t particularly changed, but the overall immersion of the album as a whole has improved drastically. This is definitely one of Amon Amarth’s finest. Jomsviking, while not entirely different from Amon Amarth’s already spectacular discography, does succeed in breaking a little new ground for the band. The concept and the narrative is a fantastic way to captivate your listening experience. And I am running out of ways to just keep showering compliments on this album, so stop reading already and pick up your copy.