As if ‘Deceiver of the gods’ was not stunning enough Amon Amarth are back to pillage and destroy once more but, this time, with a full-blown concept album. It’s hardly a surprise that these blood-crazed Swedes should attempt something so overblown as a concept record given that the band’s ambition has always screamed from their fabled live performances and devastating long players, but even so there’s an aura of expectation surrounding ‘Jomsviking’ that is palpable, no mean feat in these days of ‘seen-it-all/heard-it-all’ ennui. Happily, having had ‘Jomsviking’ on the stereo on repeat for many days now, we can confirm that the album more than lives up to the hype with expectation, so often an album killer, is not only met but exceeded by ‘Jomviking’.
The album makes one hell of an entrance and hardly lets up across its fifty-minute runtime. From the moment the thunderous riff of ‘first kill’ scythes into view, with Johan Hegg’s happy roar as defiantly strident as ever, it’s clear that Amon Amarth have stepped up to the challenge of providing the best possible soundtrack to Johan’s myth-imbued tales of the bloody mayhem wrought by the Jomvikings, a 10th & 11th century clan of pagan mercenaries, and the result is arguably the band at their most bitingly concise and brutally melodic. Possessed of that mysterious ingredient that serves to elevate certain albums (think ‘Peace sells…’ or ‘master of puppets’ and you’ll know what I mean), everything about ‘Jomsviking’ just feels bigger, bolder and more assured (and let’s face it, Amon Amarth have never lacked self-assurance) and the result is a modern metal masterpiece that will see the band expanding their sizable fan base yet further. As the album piles straight into the frost-rimed metal of ‘wanderer’ it’s impossible to avoid the sense of awe inspired by the band. Tapping into the dizzying mythology of a Viking clan in the grip of a potent bloodlust, ‘on a sea of blood’ is a near perfect blend of furious thrash and trad-metal chops that sees the band pitting harmonised guitars against a furious vocal approach that leaves a trail of dead in its wake. However, where the Amon Amarth of yore may have attacked such a song with admirable vigour and little restraint, here the band imbue the music with just enough melodic bite that it lodges itself deep in the memory and refuses to come out. Simply epic, ‘on a sea of blood’ is the perfect showcase of Amon Amarth’s mighty skills and the ambition leaps from the speakers. Surely an anthem in the making, ‘One against all’ sees Johan intoning the vocals with his customary gravitas whilst the guitars rage around him like a maelstrom whipped up in response to his existential fury. By the time the massed chorus appears you’ll be too busy head banging to care of course, but goddam if this isn’t a full-blooded heavy metal album that also takes the listener on one hell of a voyage. No less impressive is the monstrous groove of ‘Raise your horns’ which manages to sound like an entire army marching to war thanks to the layered vocals and crushing percussive assault that announces the track.
Providing a moment of folk-infused calm, the intro to ‘the way of vikings’ is atmospheric and grand before the guitars tear the mood to shreds and the listener finds themselves under a brutal assault that sees huge, churning riffs underpinning Johan’s meaty roar. Short and to the point, ‘at dawn’s first light’ switches from a full-blooded blast of death metal to a sinister warning before settling into a high octane take on classic metal, Amon Amarth coming across like Judas Priest on steroids. Another track that emerges from a calm intro, ‘one thousand burning arrows’ once again sees Amon Amarth aiming for the epic. A grand, noble piece of music, it packs a mighty punch, but one that is tempered with a poignancy that is rarely seen in Amon Amarth’s work. One of the most obviously conceptual songs here, it helps to underpin Johan’s story with real emotional weight. With the listener now emotionally invested in the album’s outcome, it’s time for a bloody reckoning, which is provided in the crushing ‘vengeance is mine’, a track that sees Johan outdo himself vocally. ‘A dream that cannot be’ is a huge anthem that features a stunning contribution from Doro whose presence further emphasizes the classic rock influences that lie at the heart of ‘Jomsviking’. It’s a grand moment of metal solidarity from two artists who nominally share the same genre, albeit from very different angles, and the result is nothing short of electric. The album concludes with the epic length ‘back on Northern shores’, a near perfect conclusion to the record that sees the band conclude the story in suitably dramatic fashion.
Amon Amarth have long shown their potential with albums like 2013’s ‘Deceiver of the gods’, but this is the first time that the band feel like they’ve drawn together all of the threads of their influences to create an album that is cohesive from start to finish. Everything about ‘Jomsviking’ is sweeping in scope and this can, arguably, be pinned down to Johan’s engaging concept. The band have more than risen to the challenge of the material and the result is an album that will cement Amon Amarth amongst the pantheon of metal greats. As referenced earlier, there’s an indefinable quality to ‘Jomsviking’ that raises the album above the mere ordinary and elevates it to the status of a metal classic, and the album is frequently breathtaking. From the blistering songs to the impressive production, everything has fallen into place on ‘Jomsviking’ and it is hard not to feel that the album is a turning point in an already impressive career.