A lot has been made of the fact that Amon Amarth have made it to their tenth album milestone; Who would have thought! certainly I doubt the few listeners aboard the AA Dragonship way back in 1998 when the band’s first album, Once Sent From the Golden Hall, was unleashed upon a largely uncaring world could have thought that nearly twenty years later the band would be on a major label, filming lavishly staged video clips and recording concept albums…
But they are, and we as a metal community should be celebrating this success story where no compromise is the order of the day, sticking to your guns is roundly rewarded and, as a result, the music has never sounded better. Jomsviking is a concept record, the band’s first (although some might say that the band’s Viking metal raison d’étre has meant that their entire career is based on a concept to some extent), but gratifyingly each and every track stands on its own merits irrespective of its place in the tale.
Opening with the storming First Kill, with its foreboding, grim-faced narration and soaring, mid-period Maiden guitar attack, Amon Amarth are on the front foot from the get-go, and offer no respite until the last strains of glorious closer, the anthemic Back on Northern Shores, have died away.
We don’t want any respite of course, not when the likes of Wanderer are battering us senseless thanks to some marvellous drumming from new man Tobias Gustafsson and some exquisite harmony work from guitarists Johan Soderberg and Olavi Mikkonen. Vocalist Johan Hegg isn’t backwards in joining the party either. His vocals, despite being resolutely of the deathly style (when he isn’t doing the spoken word bits) are strangely accessible, every syllable being decipherable despite the intensity of the delivery. It’s a rare talent Hegg possesses, and he deploys it inmasterful style throughout.
To be honest, I rarely take any notice of what’s going on in concept albums, so I’ve no idea where On a Sea of Blood fits or how it contributes to plot development; I’m more interested in the in-the-red levels of chugging guitar and the oh-so-melodic lead work that’s again a highlight on this track. In his interview with Sentinel Daily’s very own Albert Petersen last week, guitarist Soderberg hinted at a slight shift towards a more Maiden-meets-Accept feel to the guitar work. The first part of that equation is certainly in evidence on this track.
The album sounds absolutely huge, thanks in part to an excellent production job by Andy Sneap. Despite having been at the top of his chosen tree now for nearly a decade, Sneap never turns in an identikit production; you never leave a record feeling he’s stamped his mark too heavily on proceedings, and here he certainly allows what’s great about Amon Amarth to shine through.
The Accept part of that equation I mentioned early hits you right between the ears in the shape of the quite excellent Raise Your Horns, a song which, Hegg’s roaring and bellowing notwithstanding could probably have appeared on any of Wolf Hoffmann and company’s Andy Sneap-produced comeback albums… A coincidence? I’m not sure, but the song’s a winner whatever so who cares?
The supremely melodic The Way of Vikings mixes Amorphis and Manowar in unlikely harmony; I guess that’s really what viking metal is all about though, the synthesis of ancient and crushingly modern, and here the two mesh seemlessly to produce a driving, anthemic piece of pure heavy metal thunder.
Metal queen Doro Pesch also makes an appearance, adding her tattered growl to Hegg’s wounded bull roar on A Dream That Cannot Be, a marriage if not made in heaven then certainly on Bifröst, the rainbow bridge that leads there…
All up then a fine, fine record, and certainly worthy of the legacy this band continues to create. Here’s to the next ten! Horns up!
Jomsviking is out on Metal Blade/Sony on March 25th