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Having formed back in 1992 and written pretty much exclusively about Vikings on every release, it actually comes as a surprise to realise that Amon Amarth haven’t written a concept album before now. But that is indeed what they’ve done with latest release Jomsviking, their first album since 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods. The album’s eleven tracks revolve around one Viking’s tragic journey: the story, written by vocalist Johan Hegg, tells of a young man who is forced to flee his village when when he accidentally kills the “earl’s right hand man” when he comes for the protagonist’s lady. Alone and facing certain death from the elements, he is rescued by a marauding band of men called the Jomsvikings and begins a new life with them, with thoughts of his love – and revenge – never far from his thoughts.

The album opens with ‘First Kill’ which sets the story up succinctly. The music itself is classic Amon Amarth, instantly recognisable not the least of which due to Hegg’s distinctive accented vocal style. ‘Wanderer’ continues the story in a simple yet effective way (even a read through of the song titles give the outline of the story) with its classic metal feel and timeless riffs providing an excellent backbone to the concept.

‘On a Sea of Blood’ tells of his harsh and rather mercenary new life: in fact, the next half a dozen or so songs do the same. His anger and desire for revenge drive him ever onwards into battle and, ultimately, victory, despite the lack of humanity. ‘Raise Your Horns’ is a drinking song dedicated to lost comrades and their journey to Valhalla, whilst ‘One Against All’ speaks of the men’s solidarity and skill in battle with a death metal style groove as deep as Hegg’s voice.

The tone changes slightly by ‘One Thousand Burning Arrows’ as their leader is killed and is sent to “Odin’s Great Hall” on his long ship funeral pyre. It’s a song laced with sadness but also pride, with a mournful solo and an almost power metal feel to the intro and outro.

Track nine ‘Vengeance Is My Name’ tells of our hero landing back in the village he was shunned from to take his revenge; its arse kicking beat and shredding riffs match the savagely victorious lyrics perfectly. Sadly his euphoria is short lived, as his lady love – the reason he has kept going all this time – angrily rejects him (“My life is mine, not yours, so leave me be”) and threatens him when he tries to take her away (“Leave and never come back or I’ll cut you ear to ear!”). The female part is sang by metal goddess Doro Pesch, whose feisty, clear vocals juxtapose terrifically with Hegg’s devastated growls. This is a genuinely heartbreaking moment, making the song one of the album’s highlights.

Final number ‘Back on Northern Shores’ is the true epic of the album, clocking in at a little over seven minutes. Our protagonist is now back home, alone and forlorn. What will he do now? Horrifyingly, he is betrayed by and attacked by the villagers, led by his former love. The ballad of sorts (as close as Amon Amarth get to one, anyway) ends with his death following a valiant battle, and he dies in the cold dark water before journeying to Valhalla. It’s a tragic and yet perversely uplifting way to wrap up the entire story and album.

Jomsviking is exactly what fans have come to expect from an Amon Amarth album. It’s packed tightly with heavy grooves, deep riffs, soaring solos and forceful drumming, along with Hegg’s expansive and powerful vocals. The addition of a concept, perhaps unsurprisingly, adds a depth and emotional richness that rounds out the album beautifully, while guest vocalist Doro provides a suitably strong vocal performance which also adds to the story’s tragic twist. In all, Jomsviking is a stellar album; exactly what you probably expected but with a little bit more, in the best way.

Review by Melanie Black

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