Vikings. Swords. Blood. War. Beer. These are the themes that have kept Swedish death metal act Amon Amarth near the top of the metal scrap heap for nine consecutive albums. Now, you can make that ten as the band has released Jomsviking, their tenth studio album Mar. 25 on Metal Blade Records.
While vocalist Johan Hegg and company don’t stray too far from Amon Amarth’s tried and true formula on Jomsviking, there are just enough changes to make long time fans take notice, and possibly to bring a new legion of fans to the group. The first major change is that Jomsviking is Amon Amarth’s first concept album. That may come as a surprise to some casual fans as their previous output has been tightly themed enough to lead to easy assumption of a concept, but with Jomsviking that tight theme becomes an album-long story concept, rendered start to finish in Amon Amarth’s 11 song span.
The concept of Jomsviking is actually a story within a story. Overall, it is the tale of a man who killed to free the woman he loved from an arranged marriage, and the tales of his wandering and attempts to return to her once again. Surrounding that personal narrative is a bigger one, as the protagonist becomes affiliated with the Jomsvikings of Norse legend. These Viking mercenaries of the 10th and 11th centuries would sell their considerable talents to any lord who wished to bolster his troops with some of the greatest fighting men in the land. Despite being sellswords, the Jomsvikings reputedly had a strict code of honor when it came to fighting for or defending his brethren. It is within these rules and warriors’ codes that the story of Jomsviking is allowed to unfold.
Another difference fans will notice about Jomsviking is the play with different vocal styles. Johan Hegg is one of metal’s great growlers and he certainly doesn’t abandon that here, as is evidenced on the album’s first track, the brutally in your face “First Kill.” But long time fans might be a bit more shocked to hear spoken word interludes peppered throughout the album. Rather than Hegg’s deep growl, you get a rumbling sentence or two to introduce songs throughout. It’s a tactic that works very well in the context of Amon Amarth’s first true concept album, giving it the cohesive feel of a warrior’s tale being told around a campfire rather than just a collection of songs with an overall theme.
More impressive is the controversial to some fans presence of clean vocals on one track, “A Dream That Cannot Be.” But in the context of the concept, you can hardly have a final meet with the protagonist’s love without having said love speak for herself. Here that “speaking” comes in the form of verses from metal goddess Doro Pesch. It was a wise choice for Amon Amarth not to follow the lead of many of their contemporaries and stick and operatic female vocalist in the clean slot. This is a woman Johan Hegg just spent the previous nine songs killing people to avenge. The kind of ethereal opera of a Tarja Turunen would have been so out of place as to remove the listener from the story. Pesch, on the other hand, brings the same kind of aggression and fury she has throughout her career with Warlock and as a solo artist. She comes off sounding like the kind of ass kicking Norselady that would make a perfect love interest for an Amon Amarth album.
While Jomsviking isn’t likely going to turn a lot of Amon Amarth haters into fans, it should be a welcome gift to the faithful and Doro’s vocal turn might bring in a few people already inclined toward this style of music to stick around. Either way, Jomsviking is another stellar entry into the Amon Amarth catalog and that alone is reason to raise your horns and drink your fill.