To say that Amon Amarth has coasted into a career as a veteran live act is a bit of an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that their studio material has taken a very distant backseat to their touring, and has largely suffered in the process. Both 2011’s Surtur Rising and 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods suffered from a severe lack of both highlights and energy, and pretty easily came in as the worst two albums for the veteran Viking melodeathers. It was a shame, really, because both With Oden on Our Side and Twilight of the Thunder God showed that “catchy” Amon Amarth could be quite a thing. Still, recent history had revealed the band to be comfortable in their mediocre skin.
So for many, particularly longtime fans, expectations for Jomsviking (the band’s tenth album, if you can believe it) were pretty low. Well, it is my pleasure to report that those expectations have been greatly surpassed, but that does not mean that this is a great album by any stretch, merely that it easily tops the two albums it follows. With a bit more energy and a few more highlights, Jomsviking at least gives listeners reasons to return, even if it falls well short of the band’s greatest material.
If the band did one thing really right on Jomsviking, it was in choosing the album opener. “First Kill” is an instant Amon Amarth classic, and will likely find its way into the setlist among other great album openers as “Death in Fire” and “Twilight of the Thunder God.” A pummeling momentum meets plenty of harmonies and Johan Hegg’s unmistakable charisma before the song delivers an instantly memorable chorus. Some tremolo harmonies later help to create a feeling of heightened intensity, with Hegg carrying the moment. It’s the best Amon Amarth track in eight years, and a welcome sound to these ears, for sure.
While the album never quite regains this level of greatness, there are several other moments of strength. The thrashy “On a Sea of Blood” has plenty of energy, while the lyrically cheesy (even for Amon Amarth) “The Way of Vikings” is humongous, and contains another killer chorus loaded with hooky melodeath leads and some of Hegg’s most impassioned vocals on the album. Also huge is album closer “Back on Northern Shores,” the kind of multi-sectioned, constantly building epic track for which the band used to be known.
But it’s not all good, or even decent. There remain some questionable decisions, and a couple tracks that approach being clunkers. For example, “Wanderer” and “A Dream That Cannot Be” both suffer from the lack of oomph that plagued both Surtur and Deceiver, and the decision to add the vocals of Doro Pesch to the latter can only be described as curious; quite out of place, she sounds. Perhaps worst of all is “Raise Your Horns.” When taken on its own, it’s a decent little drinking song, but when taken in the context of crowd participation, it seems really try-hard. A very established band on their tenth album should not be writing songs purely for fan sing-alongs; it’s honestly rather embarrassing. (I also have a deep suspicion that it is a setup for a merchandising effort… “Raise Your Horns,” or “We have merch in the back.”)
When taken all together, Jomsviking is a pretty average Amon Amarth record. It’s pretty far from the band’s peaks (Oden, Versus the World, and Once Sent from the Golden Hall, obviously), but it at least gives real reasons to come back. Yes, there are several riffs that you’ve likely heard before (many times), and vocal passages that see Hegg using the same cadences he has employed before (many times), but come on, if you’re still buying Amon Amarth albums, you already knew that. And if you’re still buying Amon Amarth albums, Jomsviking will be a better purchase than the last two. No shame in this level of quality from a veteran touring act clearly in coast mode, and better than expected.