The story of Jomsviking begins in the home village of our protagonist, a young headstrong viking warrior who has fallen in love with a girl. His love is left unrequited when the girl is married off. In his rage, the protagonist commits a murder and is exiled, though he vows revenge on those who have a taken his love away. Through the lens of a troubled character, Amon Amarth’s first concept album is a folk-style narrative of the life and times of the vikings — and the veteran death metal band’s most inspired and realized album in years.
Amon Amarth have sprung from the fertile Swedish death metal scene of the ’90s, outlasting many of their scene-mates. While the landscape of metal has evolved over the decades, Amon Amarth have been a steady force, always turning in serviceable-or-better albums and fantastic live shows (which is where they earn their bread and butter). The band found a working formula right from the beginning and have not veered from it. And why should they? Vikings and metal belong together; ever since Robert Plant’s opening wails on “Immigrant Song”, Nordic imagery and rock were forever intertwined. Amon Amarth are arguably the best Viking metal band — and definitely the most visible on the scene. They shouldn’t need to sound like, look like, or be anything different.
Jomsviking is better than 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods and 2011’s Surtur Rising because it approaches the vikings less via appropriation and more from historical reverence. Frontman and songwriter Johan Hegg took on his most ambitious project, penning songs that tell stories full of vivid life. “First Kill” opens with the plight of our protagonist — a doomed lover in a doomed age. “I’m an outcast/ I’m a nomad without a home,” Hegg bellows. The band provides a ripping soundtrack of ’80s-flavored power metal riffs and the deathly chugs that have become their calling card. Instead of just shouting cool viking words, Hegg colors his lyrics with far more imagery. Amon Amarth’s newfound cinematic grandeur comes through on highlights “Raise Your Horns” and the ascending chord progression madness of “The Way of Vikings”.
Guitarist Olavi Mikkonen discussed the challenges of making a record like Jomsviking in the album’s accompanying press release, arguing that they’re “basically making music for a movie.” Moods and atmospheres are more important to the overall flow of the record. The band was forced to open their sonic palette, resulting in a more diverse and entertaining album. The pretty arpeggios and melodies of “Wanderer” contrast against the thrashy Kreator-esque “On a Sea of Blood”. In fact, pick any two tracks on Jomsviking and you’ll get two different sounds. This hasn’t always been the case with Amon Amarth, as past albums have sometimes fallen into ruts where the record sounds like 12 variations on the same galloping battlecry.
Hegg’s vision carries Jomsviking. It’s a tragic tale — driven by his unconditional love and vow of vengeance, our protagonist meets his maker by album’s end (“A Dream That Cannot Be”). Hegg blames the tragedy on his preference for sad endings: “They’re the ones that affect you the most.” There’s more substance here thanks to a tighter focus on the songwriting, production, and lyrics. Of Amon Amarth’s 10 studio albums, this is the most enjoyable front-to-back listen and the truest celebration of the band’s Nordic obsessions.
Essential Tracks: “Wanderer”, “The Way of Vikings”