“The first man I killed was the earl’s right-hand man / When he came to take her away / I ran his own sword straight through his throat / And then I stood there, watching him fall!” Amon Amarth‘s Jomsviking wastes no time reminding you to whom you are listening. Of the Swedish metal scene of the 1990s—a scene so legendary and influential that it became almost cliché after incessant imitation—Amon Amarth is one of the very few who has continued strong. While not every record has been a Lindesfarne, their discography is like a series of profitable raids that have raised their profile so high that Jomsviking isn’t being released on Metal Blade in Europe. Amon Amarth is officially a major label band now, having signed to Sony in the three years since Deceiver of the Gods was released.
There is something fitting about the story of Jomsviking being about a band of Viking mercenaries. The Jomsvikings were legendarily mercantile, stolidly pagan warriors who were willing to fight alongside the highest bidders—be they pagans or not. This mercenary theme becomes clear on songs like “The Way of Vikings,” where two jomsvikings—close friends—fight each other on the battlefield and one of them has to die; “it’s the way of the jomsvikings!” bellows Hegg with his trademark growl. An astute listener might wonder whether or not this is an analogy for the band’s own journey. During the promotional period for Deceiver of the Gods, Hegg said that the previous album had been too clean.1 They had moved on from Jens Bogren to work with Andy Sneap—a union maintained on Jomsviking, as well. But rather than differentiating itself from earlier records through its aggression, Jonsviking differentiates itself by being extremely slick.
Rather than being “just another Amon Amarth” album, Jomsviking delivers some of the band’s most catchy material to date. “Raise Your Horns” features a literal sing-along chorus—Johan’s growls in perfect timing with a lead guitar melody—while “A Dream That Cannot Be” features Doro singing a chorus that fans all over world will bellow. “On a Sea of Blood” rips out a thrashy riff and classic Amon Amarth chug, but also features a chorus built to stick, while “One against All” features an awesome bridge and the kind of riffing that simply requires guitarists Mikkonen and Söderberg to break out synchronized guitar swings at live shows.
At first I didn’t like Jomsviking. Hegg’s vocals are really high in the mix and Andy Sneap’s production job—while similar in tone to DotG and mastered slightly less loudly (DR 6/7 as opposed to 5/6)—is trademark Sneap; clear, balanced, professional, and loud. The guitars have great crunch, and Sneap manages to make Lundström’s bass sound really good despite the kind of master which tends to push bass into the background. Particularly impressive is how good the drums sound—the toms especially have a surprisingly live bounce to them—and ex-Vomitory drummer Tobias Gustafsson nails an elite performance. But clinical performances and catchy songs are a weird thing to be celebrating when talking about one of Sweden’s premiere death metal bands! Amon Amarth are supposed to be brutal and aggressive; built for the pit, not for the Top of the Pops.
But the key to an Amon Amarth record is whether or not the songs are there, and for me Jomsvikings has the songs. All of the aforementioned tracks—especially “First Kill” and “The Way of Vikings”—are great. “Raise Your Horns” might be a bit too catchy for your average fan, but simply grew on me. “Vengeance Is My Name” might start with a cheesy spoken word part, but you’ll have trouble denying the song’s groove. “Wanderer” might start off like a lost Iron Maiden intro, but it merges into a mid-paced groove that will likely work well live. The album rounds out with “Back on Northern Shores” which will make an absolutely devastating closer live and isn’t half bad on disc, either, knocking out mid-paced riffs that make the listener nod almost compulsively. The downside to the album is that the album feels more mid-paced and less aggressive than the band’s discography. There are times when the sheen and polish make Amon Amarth sound like a German power metal band with a growler than Sweden’s premiere melodic death metal band.
When all is said and done, though, Jomsviking really grew on me. The record is super slick, and I suspect that will rub some fans the wrong way, but Amon Amarth is one of metal’s best bands for a reason; they’ve always composed great songs, they’ve always had a feel for what will work live, and they always deliver. Be they mercenary or not, Amon Amarth is one of the best in the business and they’ve got an album with eleven new songs to prove that to you. It’s the way of the Jomsvikings!
- Actually, if anyone can find this interview that would be awesome. I read it at the time and it’s stuck in my head over the years, but I cannot for the life of me find the damn thing! I’m pretty sure he said that it was a bit too “clean” and that Deceiver of the Gods was meant to be a heavier and more aggressive record. ↩