Much like their Metal Blade labelmates in Cannibal Corpse and The Black Dahlia Murder, Sweden’s Amon Amarth have become one the most stable commodities in extreme music today. It’s pretty safe to say that all three of these bands found their niche about two or three albums into their respective discographies and have been honing in on this one particular style ever since. While this tunnel-vision approach to their art hasn’t led to many unexpected changes, all of these groups are bigger than they’ve ever been and Amon Amarth have become by far the most successful metal band to ever sing about Vikings and Norse mythology. There probably won’t be a single fan in their legions of followers that will say they’re outright surprised by the material on Jomsviking, but then again, that’s never been Amon Amarth’s objective. The band is still delivering some of the most consistent and fist-pumping melodeath out there, and they’ve also written some of their most instantly-accessible material in years. This is certainly an impressive feat when considering that this is the band’s tenth full-length album and the first fully-conceptual album they’ve ever put out.
While Amon Amarth’s past two LPs have had plenty of insanely great riffs and songwriting successes, the band wasn’t exactly cranking out tunes immediately built for a live set like “Death in Fire” or “The Pursuit of Vikings.” Jomsviking feels much more focused on making each of the album’s ten tracks completely war-ready, heavily relying on either an earworm riff or one of the band’s expectedly-epic choruses. “First Kill” and “On a Sea of Blood” are some of the best uptempo cuts on the album, sporting massive and speed metal-influenced riffs that will inevitably lead to some of the band’s best circle pits they’ve had at shows in ages. The riffs still owe as much to Iron Maiden as they do to At the Gates, but what more could a Viking metal fan even ask for?! Those looking for a clinic on how to still write effective tremolo-picked harmony riffs in 2016 can stop their search right here. It’s never self-indulgent and it’s almost always easy to pick up on; a definite plus for the band’s more thematic approach to this particular album.
Though the record’s more blistering tracks are certainly a blast, Amon Amarth sound like they are at their most comfortable when they keep things at more moderate tempos, forsaking berserker-like savagery for a tight groove or an atmospheric hook. “Raise Your Horns” is without a doubt the most blatant example of this, which sports some unabashed folk-metal and one of the band’s cheesiest-yet-most-triumphant choruses of all time. If you don’t think the band is going to get an amazing reaction at every show they perform this at for years to come, you’re sorely mistaken! Jomsviking’s two best songs, “The Way of Vikings” and “One Thousand Burning Arrows,” both follow suit with a mid-tempo assault that feels way more cinematic in their approach. “One Thousand Burning Arrows” is one of the most instrumentally interesting Amon Amarth tunes out there now, sporting almost six minutes of uncharacteristically-dense instrumentation and an incredibly well composed outro. These types of tracks feel like the most natural pace for vocalist Johan Hegg to deliver his signature snarl which then helps create an even tighter interlock between the band. Hegg’s pronunciation on Jomsviking is arguably at its best yet too despite navigating through dynamic screams and spoken word sections. But hey, when you’ve got a timbre as insanely bass-heavy as Hegg, it’s not even an issue!
Sure, Jomsviking is essentially business as usual for Amon Amarth, but it does feel a bit more focused than Deceiver of the Gods. Hegg’s concept theme to the album, a revenge tale, really does a good job in helping the listener understand the band’s musical choices. In short, the concept is that of one of the Jomsvikings must return to his village he has been exiled from and take back his lost love who has been married off to another man. It’s a bit clichéd, but it does help justify why the band asked Doro Pesch to do guest vocals on “A Dream That Cannot Be.” While this feature is one of the only examples of experimentation the band has offered us this time around, it’s also unfortunately one of the only parts of the album that simply doesn’t feel natural for the band. That being said, it’s great to see that Amon Amarth are still trying to one-up themselves with each album and sound like they’re more inspired than ever before. This band is primed for making concept records each time they create something new, and Jomsviking could even be the beginning of a new era for the band.