For AMON AMARTH, it has been a long and bloody campaign. Their 18 year Viking conquest has catapulted the band to the top of the pile of heavy metal and the Swedes are now at forefront as one of the scene’s biggest bands in extreme metal. With the band’s explosion in popularity and the departure of long serving drummer Fredrik Andersson last year, here we have Jomsviking; the first concept album for AMON AMARTH. The stakes have never been higher. Does this new record continue the band’s conquest into new territories?
Concept albums often mark a drastic shift in a band’s direction; both lyrically and musically. Jomsviking‘s concept is entirely focused on the lyrical content of stories written by vocalist Johan Hegg and thankfully, nothing feels out of place. The tale of love and revenge make for huge choruses and the lyrical content of Jomsviking sits perfectly in place with the band’s back catalogue.
Unlike recent records, Jomsviking takes a more cautious approach to unleashing the mayhem. First single, First Kill is slow in it’s build up with a slow pounding drum beat before Johan Hegg takes to the helm with his recognisable growls before unleashing it’s barrage of blasts from the drums and twin guitar riffs. It’s typical AMON AMARTH and despite the slow introduction, the track roars the record into life. From there, things only continue to improve. Wanderer has some of the best leads on the record with a lead riff that hooks the listener in an instant. With a slow and pounding pace, this is a track that is isolated in it’s guitar play, focusing on melody over intensity allowing the talents of guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg to really shine.
With the story of Jomsviking focused upon one overarching theme, the transition between tracks is minimal and yet so effective. The closure of Wanderer contains an interest twist as spoken word builds anticipation before unleashing into the venomous On A Sea of Blood. Riffs whirl in the background whilst Johan Hegg roars like a phoenix above the fire. A quick tempo change and once again the trademark AMON AMARTH style is presented through Johan Hegg‘s hair raising growls and a mesmerising solo.
One Against All is unfortunately largely forgettable with the track sacrificing the momentum gained with repetitive guitar play and style however Raise Your Horns instantly regains the charge with one of the most enjoyable choruses in AMON AMARTH‘s career. Intoxicating riffs combined with intertwining vocal deliveries from Johan Hegg scream influences from folk metal. It’s uplifting and reinforces the song’s title; to raise your horns for battle. Interludes of chanting and a war-like drumbeat from stand-in drummer Tobias Gustafsson, whose performance is exquisite, only continues to immerse the listener into the world of Vikings.
One musical characteristic that is upheld throughout the course of Jomsviking is the slick melodies of the guitar work. There are so many moments across the record where the riffs and solo play take centre stage. The Way of Vikings features one of the best solos on the record, both melodic yet ferocious the tones replicate the tug of war in battle with such ease, it only sets to reinforce the concept AMON AMARTH are aiming for. At Dawn’s First Light yet again hurls the guitar play to the frontlines and whilst impressive, the riffs throughout the track become repetitive a little too quickly and the drumbeat is largely forgettable. Hegg does a formidable job with his vocals across the track with faster delivery, something that is not really experienced with AMON AMARTH, yet the sound dampens the impact somewhat.
With concept albums, surprises are often contained within and One Thousand Burning Arrows solitary tones is one of the biggest surprises on the record. With the pace steadily building up to this point, the track retracts to a slow, melodic and solitary musical delivery. Drumming is faint, riffs are incredibly melodic and Ted Lundström‘s bass keeps the rhythm slowly building before an almighty bridge explodes at the height of the track. It adds an extra level of depth to the band’s sound and really captivates what AMON AMARTH are about; a band effortlessly replicating the Viking culture into sound. Johan Hegg‘s isolated vocal introduction to Vengeance Is My Name gives the listener a split second to breathe until unfolding into a whirlwind of harmonising riffs and double bass drumming which makes for one of the fastest songs on the record. This is what makes Jomsviking so enjoyable; the pace is constantly tugged and pulled, enabling a multitude of emotions to be experienced throughout.
A Dream That Cannot Be is a standard AMON AMARTH song through and through. Containing enough characteristics that make the song sit well in their back catalogue of tracks, it’s the inclusion of Doro Pesch‘s clean vocals that give the track it’s cutting edge. Pesch‘s vocals add an extra level of harmony to the backing music and her powerful voice reinforces the pummelling beat. It may not sit well with some of the band’s fanbase, but the band’s experimentation helps push Jomsviking and give it a name of it’s own. Standing at a mighty seven minutes, closing track Back On Northern Shores unfolds with slick solo guitar play as Johan Hegg slowly unleashes his growls. Anticipation builds and then the track explodes into life with easily the best riffs on the record. Melodic, intoxicating and strong, the guitar play boosts the track into an epic finale Jomsviking truly deserves.
As their tenth record, AMON AMARTH have a Goliath with Jomsviking. With the pressure to succeed their stellar back catalogue, especially the last four records, AMON AMARTH have pushed themselves and have delivered with possibly the best record in their career to date. It’s not perfect, at times the music drags and feels repetitive, but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. The slight experimentation with new musical ideas and the refinement of their craft has resulted in a sublime offering from AMON AMARTH. With Jomsviking, the Viking invasion marches proudly on into new territories.
Jomsviking is set for release on March 25th via Sony Music in Europe and Metal Blade Records in the US.
Like AMON AMARTH on Facebook.