Exhausted Vikings Make Camp
If you’ve listened to Amon Amarth before, you know the deal. Epic-scale warrior vocals and commensurately muscular riffs that bounce back and forth between melodic death metal chugging and expansive tremolo. And of course, those lusty narratives about Vikings and Norse religion. Amon Amarth have not tinkered with the formula much over the years, and latest full-length Jomsviking follows the old trade routes. However, this time the ship never arrives – the wind has gone out from the band’s sails, and the crack has fled from their oars! It would seem that Oden is no longer on their side.
The old success was based on crushing metal accompanied by gruff, semi-intelligible Viking tales of vengeance and new frontiers. The new failure is based on cheesy, refurbished 1980s NWOBHM riffs and naked, suddenly goofy-sounding vocals about the same stale battles and demigods.
You see, heavy metal seriousness is an actual consideration here. There are exceptions and grey areas, but generally speaking, no matter the topic, from marijuana to rape-murder to straight-up Save the Whales environmentalism (see Cannabis Corpse, Cannibal Corpse and Gojira), one must sound serious about their craft. There must be speed and power, and even the silliest or most non-metal subjects must be grafted to a musical tone that is somehow sinister, fast, loud, or ominous. Subtext, subtext, subtext. The true attitudes of heavy metal artists are very often a sublevel transmission, passed below standard hearing to those who care enough to do the research or read the subtleties. For example: a normal person would hear the same violent abrasion in Strapping Young Lad and Pig Destroyer as they would hear in Slayer or Dissection – and miss the delightful humor contained in the music of the former examples.
Jomsviking gives the game away. The riffs are so corny and soft-hitting and the lyrics so exposed that the album enters the realm of camp. CAMP. Like a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. To suspend judgments concerning quality and artistic ideals – to simply come together and celebrate a thing whose apparent flaws one has already forgiven. This would be fine if Amon Amarth didn’t make most of their fans by delivering album after album of real fucking metal. At this late stage, their apparent lowering of their own standards is truly disappointing.
“On a Sea of Blood” has a few moments resembling heavy metal. The same goes for “At Dawn’s First Light,” whose introduction promises something heavy and thundering. These are only fleeting land-mirages in an ocean of creamed corn. Otherwise Jomsviking is the sound of a band regressing, undoing their reputation one stale chord progression at a time. If you want to hear the sound of a venerable and once-respectable band diluting their brand… check out St. Anger by Metallica. At least that particular trainwreck was interesting.