Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Album Review: Amon Amarth - Jomsviking

Amon Amarth is to death metal what AC/DC is to hard rock, and what Motorhead was to... well, whatever genre it is you want to lump them into. The point being that Amon Amarth is one of those bands that delivers the same thing time after time, never deviating more than a shade from their established formula. For many people, that's a devastating statement to make, because it speaks to a hollowness at the core of what it means to be an artist. I don't buy that for a second. If you're good at what you do, and you continue writing quality songs, there's nothing wrong with giving the people exactly what they've already grown to love. We rhapsodize about it, but there's no more nobility in taking detours than there is in driving the point straight home.

"Jomsviking" is slightly different than any other Amon Amarth album, however. This time, the stage for their tales of Viking lore is bigger than ever, using the canvas of a concept album to tell one larger story.

"First Kill" draws the curtain with a slow intro sitting under Johan Hegg's growled spoken words. Honestly, growls can be hard enough to swallow in the midst of metal anyway, but they sound utterly ridiculous when taken out of that context. That intro is horrid, but it is mercifully short. The song itself does what you would expect, cycling through pounding drumming, melodic guitar leads, and Hegg's anthemic roar. It's at the beginning of the second track, "Wanderer", that I discover the difficulty in reviewing an Amon Amarth album. Since they adhere so strictly to their sound, there isn't much to say from track to track to give any impression of what the album is about.

I can say that "Wanderer" is a very good track, one that packs exactly the punch it should, but it also sounds exactly like Amon Amarth. That's not a bad thing, and it certainly will please their fans, but it doesn't leave much room for discussion. "On A Sea Of Blood" has a chorus that has a slightly more sung feeling to it, but that's not exactly a huge difference to point out. Nor is the slightly slower tempo and heavier feel of "Raise Your Horns".

Amon Amarth has mastered the art of making death metal that doesn't necessarily feel like death metal. They write songs that would stand up even if they took away the heaviest elements. Dial back the amps, clean up Hegg's voice, and they would still have solid songs that would stand out. That is what makes Amon Amarth, even if you don't like their dedication to a particular approach, so impressive. Writing death metal that can appeal to people who aren't devotees of the genre is incredibly difficult, and that's what they can do. I am by no means a fan of death metal 95% of the time, but "Jomsviking" does it in a way that even I enjoy. I often say that my problem with death metal isn't the death metal, it's the laziness. Amon Amarth is exactly what I'm talking about. They have all the hallmarks of death metal, but I like them, because they don't skimp out on trying to write memorable songs. Hegg doesn't use his vocal approach as an excuse for not doing anything interesting with his lines. I appreciate that.

Amon Amarth isn't going to win over any new fans with "Jomsviking". If you like what they do, this album is a heck of a good one. If you don't like them, you already knew what to expect. Myself, as someone who came in ambivalent, I'll say that I like "Jomsviking" as much as I could be expected to like a death metal record. While it probably won't stand a chance of enduring as one of my favorites from the year, it's a damn fine death metal album.

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