Saturday, February 26, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1542: Amon Amarth

At the risk of losing credibility on the whole Viking obsession thing, this next review represents the fourth album in the last five that is obsessed with Vikings. Once again I must refer you to the full range of music represented on this blog to confirm this is not all I listen to – it just seems to be all I listen to lately. Such are the vicissitudes of random selection.

Disc 1542 is…. Jomsviking

Artist: Amon Amarth

Year of Release: 2016

What’s up with the Cover? A burly looking Viking hefts a bloody axe as he prepares to finish off a not so burly looking Viking. Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn soar contentedly over the slaughter, ready to report back on how many more places to set at the feast table in Valhalla. Judging by that melee going on in the background they should alert the kitchen staff to get at least one more pig on the barbecue.

The guy in the water is definitely on the guest list. I’d say that he shoulda kept his helmet on but really, was that going to make a difference?

How I Came To Know It: I just told this story back at Disc 1538 but to recap it was originally through my friend Greg, and this record was me digging through their back catalogue as I became obsessed with them. OK, so there is a bit of obsession here.

How It Stacks Up: I have five Amon Amarth albums but judging from how much I’ve been enjoying them lately I might add to that total. For now, I’ll put “Jomsviking” in at #4, but since I am still exploring, that may change.

Ratings: 3 stars

I just gave an overview of Amon Amarth’s music, but assuming you aren’t diligently reading every entry on this blog (unconscionable, but possible) here’s a recap. They’re a melodic death metal band from Sweden that like to write songs about Vikings. A lot.

In the eight years between “Twilight of the Thunder God” and “Jomsviking” Amon Amarth have lightened up a bit. The songs here are a bit more melodic than death metally, lead singer Johan Hegg’s growls are a fair bit easier to understand, and the double-bass of the drums is marginally less front and centre.

The drummer is also new, with longstanding band member Fredrik Andersson gone from the band and replaced by Tobias Gustafsson. Gustafsson would only stick for the recording of this one record. I think he is solid, although as previously noted the drums are a bit less furious here. I do not put this on Gustafsson though; this is the way the songs are structured. Drum is a big deal in this style of metal, and when called on, he hits hard and fast. No complaints.

I am more into anthemic power metal sound than death metal, so the band’s shift in that direction was a welcome one. The songs still assault the ears but being able to follow along with the storyline was awesome.

It was particularly valuable here, as “Jomsviking” is a concept album, based around a brotherhood of Vikings of the same name who lived as a martial brotherhood with a strict moral code sometime in the 10th and 11th centuries. Amon Amarth sets the story of one man going from his first kill, through joining the Jomsvikings as he pursues his one true love. It isn’t a particularly innovative storyline but I’m a sucker for a love story and throwing some swordfights and mayhem in the mix is definitely welcome.

There are standouts throughout the record, starting with “Wanderer” which has a nice power metal crunch just the way I like it, and the much more violent assault of the double-bass in “One Against All” which teeters on the edge of falling over from its own fury, but never quite does. The chorus of one man standing against all is suitably heroic for epic stuff of this nature.

Raise Your Horns” is the obvious showpiece of the record, with elements of both approaches. Furious double base, soaring guitar riffs and a very sing-along chorus of

“Raise your horns, raise them up to the sky
We will drink to glory tonight
Raise your horns for brave fallen friends
We will meet where the beer never ends.”

Of course, Vikings used hollowed horns for drinking glasses, but modern audiences can raise the metal “devil horns” if you want to participate and don’t have a drink on hand. There’s a great video for the song that shows fans doing a bit of both.

Raise Your Horns” is clearly the crowd pleaser of the record, but my favourite is the more tragic “One Thousand Burning Ships” that describes the Viking funeral rite of setting a king in his ship and setting it adrift, lit by fire arrows to honour his way into Valhalla. Some of the lyrics on on “Jomsviking” fall short of the emotional resonance they intend, but on “One Thousand Burning Ships” Amon Amarth gets it all right. I was feeling a bit verklempt for the loss, while also musing what an awesome funeral this would be if only I could get the necessary permits…

I was a little surprised at myself that I put the heavier “Twilight of the Thunder God” ahead of this record, but the truth is they are both great, just different. If you are new to this sort of thing and want to dip your toe into melodic Viking metal “Jomsviking” is a more accessible Amon Amarth record than some of their previous, and worth a listen. If you like it and are ready to get even heavier (while still getting 100% as much Viking action) then you can dig into their back catalogue from here.

Best tracks: Wanderer, One Against All, Raise Your Horns, One Thousand Burning Arrows

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