|Label:||Metal Blade Records|
|Translation:||Crypt Of Fear|
Once upon a time there was a group of vikings thirsty with christian blood, ready to wield the arms and charge the hated enemy, heedless to the dangers since protected by Odin. Now their destiny has reserved radical changes for those wild beasts who prefers to enjoy the comforts and the conveniences of a life far from the battlefields, sipping pints of beers and reigning in territories and on wider and wider crowds of subjects (listeners).
"Jomsviking" signs Amon Amarth's return to the scenes, along with all that load of doubts that accompanies them from 2011, the beginning of a clear descendant (artistic) parable. The new eleven tracks unquestionably comfirms the recent turn taken by the quartet — now orphaned by the historic drummer Fredrik Andersson, replaced by Tobias Gustaffson — it's definitive: goodbye then to the ancient death metal assaults and to the rocky and epic tunes, in favor of a heavy metal (in a broad sense) sound, robust on the rhythmic side and melodic on the guitar one, but always accompanied by Johan Hegg's roars. The majority of the long time fans probably will have to put their heart at rest and probably stop reading…
At a stylistic level we find ourselves on the exact same path as found in "Deceveir Of The Gods", a popular metal context, suitable for a mass audience, but this time it offers more fluid and incisive songs, bringing to completion all the ideas proposed, maybe with the exception of the insistent and repetitive "Rise Your Horns". Even the artwork and the general graphics mirrors this improvement, with their pleasant comic tone much more spot on that than the horrible image devoid of soul from the previous work.
Melody dominates the tracklist, alternated with more powerful moments, all in the name of direct and catchy solutions, sublimated in simple refrains that fasten themselves in the head. If the rhythmic patterns may vary between faster passages ("First Kill" and "On A Sea Of Blood") and others more compact and solid ("Wanderer" and "Raise Your Horns") or mixing the solutions ("At Dawn's First Light"), the guitars instead remain almost always marked by immediacy and never sound massive; except in "Vegeance Is My Name" and in some moments from the same "On A Sea Of Blood". The most epic passage is represented by "The Way Of Vikings", where the solemn initial atmosphere becomes more pugnacious, while "One Thousend Burning Arrows" it's the classic Amon Amarth tune with a melancholic and fatalistic taste placed in the second half of the album, that perhaps dissolves a little too much tension in his nearly six minutes. With "A Dream That Cannot Be" we find the collaboration with a guest: after "Hel" starring Messiah Marcolin, here's the icon Doro Pesch playing a duet with Johan Hegg, to give voice to the protagonists of the story told in the concept, in a scratchy way even if not memorable.
As just mentioned, Amon Amarth's tenth album is also their first conceptual one. Johan Hegg narrates (almost always) in first person the story of a nameless young hero, forced to flee after having murdered the thug who tried to take away his beloved woman. Disowned by his family and chased like a prey during a hunt, starts a long and dangerous lonely journey driven by his thirst for revenge. A mysterious wanderer (Odin?) rescues the hero from certain death twice, when the cold and hardships imposed by the Scandinavian winter seem to overwhelm him; then he must defeat a dragon's fiery roar appearing on the horizon of the placid sea. Survived the fury of the elements and animal ferocity, the hero arrives at Hanö bay, where a warship and a new battle await him. It's precisely here where he meets the group of warriors called Jomsviking, who he joins to survive. Won the battle, the hero can celebrate raising the horns and toasting the glory of the survivors and their fallen comrades. These brutal warriors don't spare themselves in training, even when two friends come face to face, however they must come with their revered king's death. The protagonist seems indomitable and even vanquishes three enemies in quick succession, finally he came face to face with his beloved, but after so many years she doesn't return his love, invoking her own freedom. Nothing remains for him if not going back home, to the shores of the North, battling with the typical Scandinavian fatalism his destiny in a final tragic duel.
On one hand the presence of a concept offers a new way to approach Amon Amarth's new album and it forced the band to invest more efforts in the lyrics, with a degree of thickness sometimes in line with the mythological inspired tracks of the previous album, therefore discreet or otherwise above the average of their career. On the other side it has many weaknesses: first the insight into the plot is really lacking, the characters of the story for example don't have a name, the Jomsviking aren't described in any detail, and then they could have been replaced with any other order; second, the lyrical and musical gap among the songs is too much, a neat cut, a change of scene without any transition. Long story short, you can hear the disc and even read the lyrics without realizing that you are dealing with a concept.
In conclusion, despite having bought "Jomsviking" (in the digipak version, always well done for this band) and finding it an easy listen, nice and smooth, I'm not going to recommend it sight unseen, since the craft and compromise have replaced the genuine artistic inspiration and spontaneity, altering the essence of the Swedish. That said, personally I will never be able to hate Amon Amarth, for what they have given in the past and for the natural sympathy I feel for them.
Valhallha awaits the nordic warriors, but the Fate has apparently imposed a strong slowdown to their victorious march. May Odin never abandon them completely…