Artist: Amon Amarth
Label: Metal Blade
It has been weirdly hard for me to decide if I like Amon Amarth or not. If you had asked me 6 years ago, I’d have said, “Yes, absolutely!” I really enjoy seeing them live, and don’t get me wrong, they have some absolutely fantastic material, but on the flipside, sometimes their music sounds very repetitive, on some albums all the songs blend into one another, and sometimes the lyrics are just… let’s say “simplistically written.” They are very upfront with little subtlety in a genre that gets cheesy very easily if it doesn’t have some depth.
So, I really wanted to give Jomsviking a spin because, on one hand, the Jomsviking were very interesting, and on the other hand, I haven’t really gotten into an album of theirs since Twilight of the Thunder God back in 2008.
To give a bit of background on the album, it’s best to quote vocalist Johann Hegg from this Blabbermouth article:
“The Jomsvikings and their world is the background for the story of a young man that 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 way the story evolves is not a happy story.” – Blabbermouth (read more here)
Listen to the album in full:
The first track, “First Kill,” pretty much involves everything I already said about why I love and don’t love Amon Amarth. It has their trademark heavy rhythmic sound, which I totally dig. The lyrics, on the other hand, are very blunt. I don’t want to say that they’re not poetic – that would be doing them a disservice. Actually, the lyrics are quite interesting and introduce the story very nicely. It’s just a combination of melody of the song and the lyrics that sound very… forthright, and not necessarily in a good way. I suppose it’s just the blunt way the growls introduce the story that bothers me, because it’s a pretty decent song and a reasonably strong starter to the album.
The next thing I noticed about this album is that it goes by in a heartbeat. It’s not short, per-se (or maybe a bit short at 52:08), but it feels like the whole thing goes by in a flash. Songs like “Wanderer” are liable to please fans of the heavier, more grinding sounds Amon Amarth has used. “On a Sea of Blood” is one of my favorites, with a really nice solo with some really good melodic lines.
“Raise Your Horns” is a fairly good track. It has the right feel, a hint of a marching beat, with the nice rhythms. It’s this song that made me realize two things about my feelings towards Amon Amarth: the first is that Johann Hegg has perhaps one of the most easy-to-decipher growlers I can name – it’s very easy to understand the lyrics a lot of the time (at least when compared to other death metal vocalists). The second is that this quality is a blessing and a curse, because a lot of death metal vocalists won’t get any flack for writing mediocre poetry in their lyrics because only the die-hard fans will learn the lyrics and the rest won’t understand.
Most of the songs on the album maintain the solid level of musicianship and the heavy “Viking” sound that I like from Amon Amarth, without really reaching the stand-out musical hooks that songs like “Guardians of Asgard” or “Valhalla Awaits me” had back in the day. “At Dawn’s First Light” is another song that bothers me vocally, but again only in the beginning.
“One Thousand Burning Arrows” is a nice song – it’s very moody and has a nice atmosphere to it, fitting the theme of the king’s funeral perfectly. “Vengeance is My Name” continues the trend of very weird vocal starts to an album that have been throwing me of and interrupting my groove. These songs feel very strange because I want to dislike them immediately, but the music that follows is always quite fine.
Perhaps the most unusual song on the album is “A Dream that Cannot Be,” which features none other than Doro Pesch. For fans of Doro, this song is probably a highlight of the album. For me, I feel like the #1 band I’d love to see feature Doro is… Rush, maybe? She has a really interesting voice, but I don’t feel it especially suits this song, or maybe this Viking-style music. She’s more in her element in that classic metal scenario. If I were to pick a female vocalist to play the female lead in the story, I’d have gone with someone like Alissa White-Gluz, who has a lovely voice but also some serious grit – she and Hegg would’ve been simply beautiful singing together. To tell the truth, I love the theme in this song – that the boy has returned as a man, but the girl has moved on and tells him to leave her alone because it’s her life, not his – but the execution lyrically is quite weak and repetitive. For me personally, this song was a bit of a disappointment based on the potential it could’ve had.
The final track and climax/close of the story is “Back on Northern Shores.” This is a nice, long(er) song, as the finale should be. It has great fast-paced energy and acts as a nice conclusion to the tale, but doesn’t stand out from the rest of the songs in the way an epic climax should.
Ultimately, I’m fairly happy with this album as a whole unit. It’s powerful and rhythmic and nicely story-driven. The album art is very nice and the band as a whole are performing at their usual strong level. The style is perhaps more melodic than they’ve been in the past, but I’d consider this a plus rather than a minus, and a nice evolution of their sound. However, the story is good but the lyrics are quite weak at times, and sometimes the vocals are a bit weird and jolt me out of my mood – I think less lyrically-oriented listeners will enjoy it for its music much more than I did, preferring to have it as background music.
Rating: 7/10, 3 stars.
1. First Kill
3. On a Sea of Blood
4. One Against All
5. Raise Your Horns
6. The Way of Vikings
7. At Dawn’s First Light
8. One Thousand Burning Arrows
9. Vengeance is My Name
10. A Dream that Cannot Be (ft. Doro Pesch)
11. Back on Northern Shores