Sound — 6
Swedish metal veterans Amon Amarth return once more from the snowy wastes to give us their 10th album, something of a landmark these days for long running bands. Even Metallica don't have ten albums yet, what gives?
Anyway, renowned for their approachable and instantly recognisable melodic death metal style, Amon Amarth have kept to a consistency that kind of covers all the best bases for a respectable, popular metal band: memorable riffs, songs that translate well live and in the studio, not so straight-forward as to be generic but with a few defining traits that make them stick out (for example, signature production sound, trem picked melodic sections, etc).
"Jomsviking" sees the group attempting something ever so slightly different from their previous release "Deceiver of the Gods." Rather than simply have "an album with viking themes," "Jomsviking" goes for a somewhat conceptual approach. It tells the story of a man who murders in an act of revenge, then gets driven from his home. Although it was touted as a "concept album" before release, that isn't really the case. Often a concept album tends to become a somewhat grandiose and experimental affair whereas Amon Amarth aren't really of the volition to do something as left-field.
Instead, the album is basically the same sort of thing we've been hearing since "With Oden on Our Side" except a little bit worse. A little bit worse in the sense that with every recent album, there's been a slew of varied tracks in each one. On "Jomsviking," the main problem is that the majority of these songs are mid-tempo, thudding and meandering typecastings of the most middling of Amon Amarth songs.
Some do attempt to bring some of that "Twilight of the Thunder God" energy in, such as the first and last track, but many of these are the kind of after-show drinking songs like "Varyags of Miklagaard" that don't do much else. One could hope for another "Destroyer of the Universe" or "Where Is Your God?" but one is left with a sad face.
There isn't a whole lot to say on the sound of a new Amon Amarth album. They've established a brilliantly simple concoction of elements together to sound unique, almost untouchable. It's often a surprise to hear anything out of the ordinary for the band (for instance, Apocalyptica on "Live From the Kill") and those moments are minimal and somewhat forgetful on "Jomsviking." Considering the somewhat darker and more explosive sound of "Surtur Rising," their current musical direction hasn't been as invigorating. It's not that this album is bad, it's that it's not to the same standard that the last four have been.
Lyrics — 8
Johann Hegg is Johan Hegg. One of the most iconic death metal vocalists of the last ten years is certainly no small claim but it's a true one. He has the kind of soul rending, wolf-like snarl that actually gives their overall thematic direction (vikings doing viking-ish viking stuff) a sense of tangible reality, as if they really are going on a raid to plunder some women and rape treasures.
One of the few stand-out moments on this album is the track "A Dream That Cannot Be" which features the legendary Doro Pesch as a complex counter-character to Heggs hero of the story. The song itself isn't especially interesting but the vocal play between the two is a good addition.
Lyrically, the afore-mentioned concept/story is a bit standard but it gets told fairly well. Listening to the album from start to finish does feel like a story was told convincingly, it's just that on their own, the songs bend too much to the lyrical concept to be individually interesting. The spoken word moments kind of make it a bit too tied together and there's not much else aside those moments that really jumps out.
Overall Impression — 6
It is only really possible to compare Amon Amarth to themselves, unique sounding as they are. When doing so, their older work is far more varied, energetic, even relatively progressive for the band (for instance, ballad "Doom Over Dead Man") while this concept album presents the least interesting facets of Amon Amarth's sound in a competent but uncompelling manner.
Songs to look out for: "At Dawns First Light," "First Kill," "Back on the Northern Shores."