Ten albums out and Sweden’s Amon Amarth won’t be accused of going the easy route. Instead, the Swedish outfit has returned with a concept record of epic proportions. The story itself touches on two eternal and universal themes, love and revenge. When a young man sees that the woman he loves has married another, he’s so distraught that he accidentally kills another man and must flee, finding a new home with Jomsvikings, an order of mercenary Vikings. Convinced that he’s been wrong and that his life is crumbling around him, he can’t let go of the past or slake his thirst for revenge. In case you’re wondering, there is no happy ending.
But that doesn’t mean the journey isn’t worth taking. The melodic guitar lines from Johan Söderberg and Olavi Mikkonen alone provide the listener with plenty of ear candy to return for. Witness the way they create a quietly disquieting ending for “Wanderer” and then slam into the Thor’s hammer riffing of “On a Sea of Blood”. That track, which tells of our hero’s exile seems guaranteed to be a favorite of the band’s live shows for some time to come. Although it’d be a dis to say that vocalist Johan Hegg has done some predictable, the truth is that he gives a predictably great performance there, finding different voices to fit the moods conveyed during the journey.
This being a concept record and Amon Amarth being the top purveyors of Viking metal we’ve come expect something grand and even progressive from the Swedish unit. “The Way of Vikings” doesn’t disappoint in this regard: it’s cinematic and powerful and wise in the tale it tells. The same might be said of “One Thousand Burning Arrows”, which once more relies on the Söderberg and Mikkonen guitar attack to lay the foundation of a mighty track that encapsulates the best of what the band does in a narrow five minutes.
Metal goddess Doro Pesch joins in the story via “A Dream That Cannot Be”. Unsurprisingly, she delivers a powerful wallop of performance, one that makes her presence more than worth the price of admission and might even leave you wonder what might have happened had she and her Viking pals committed to a more thorough collaboration. It’s a welcome spring of color on a record that could occasionally use more balance.
As remarkable as Hegg can be in delivering voices for multiple characters there’s still something about having a “clean” voice in the mix that adds a better tension and counterpoint than we what we hear throughout. Still, Amon Amarth didn’t get this far by compromising its vision and so there’s little reason to think the band will really start to do that now. The best parts of the record remain firmly in tact: The story is remarkable easy to follow and doesn’t suffer from gaps in logic or unnecessary turns toward the convoluted and you never get the sense that the band does anything but believe in the story itself. Really, what else could we ask for?