Album Review – Amon Amarth / Jomsviking (2016)

Despite its interesting concept and excellent production, Jomsviking never truly takes off, offering the same old, same old fighting chants we’ve seen countless times before.

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amon amarth_jomsviking“The Jomsvikings and their world is the background for the story of a young man that is in love with a girl but unfortunately she’s being married off. He accidentally kills a man when this happens and he has to flee — but he swears to have revenge and win her back. He can’t let go of the past. He feels that he’s been wronged and his life has been destroyed. The way the story evolves is not a happy story.”, said frontman Johan Hegg in an interview to Blabbermouth about Jomsviking, the tenth studio album by Swedish Melodic Death Metal band Amon Amarth, and also the first concept album in their solid career. However, despite being quite an innovative idea, it didn’t thrill me at any single moment during the entire album, a huge letdown taken into account the high expectations I had when I first heard our talented Viking warriors were recording a concept album.

The Jomsvikings might have been a semi-legendary order of Viking brigands of the 10th and 11th centuries, but all we get in the album is the same old Amon Amarth with some slight changes in their musicality and nothing truly remarkable about those infamous mercenaries. For instance, their excellent 2011 release Surtur Rising tells a lot more about the mythical giant Surtr than Jomsviking tells about the Jomsvikings, and it’s not even close to being a concept album. At least the artwork, once again designed by Tom Thiel, keeps up with their previous releases, but musically speaking Jomsviking doesn’t bring anything fresh to the listener. It doesn’t harm the band’s career either, but it leaves that annoying sensation you feel when it’s more than obvious that a band like Amon Amarth can do a lot better than that.

Johan’s voice sounds really odd in the first few lines in First Kill, but fortunately that doesn’t last long and he gets back to his regular “Viking mode” after a few seconds. Although the song itself sounds traditional Amon Amarth at first, you can feel it’s a bit more melodic than usual, mainly due to the great job done by guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg. And can the intro in the exciting Wanderer be considered “Viking Heavy Metal/Hard Rock”? Anyway, I like what I hear even the song not being played at full speed like many of their classics. It’s groovy and dark Melodic Death Metal made in Scandinavia with a beautiful melody in the background, a powerful chorus and tons of melancholy, turning it into one of the best songs of the album. On a Sea of Blood, which brings forward some welcome elements of Power and Heavy Metal, was born to be an Amon Amarth classic, with session drummer Tobias Gustafsson doing an excellent job in keeping the energy flowing smoothly during the entire song. While listening to this tune, all you’ll think of is grabbing your sword and shield and heading to the battlefield, no doubt about that.

One Against All keeps the violence at a high level, being extremely melodic at all times thanks to the guitar lines by both Olavi and Johan Söderberg, and despite offering nothing new musically speaking I guess not a single fan of the band will complain about it. And who doesn’t enjoy a song about drinking beer? That’s what you get in Raise Your Horns and its cliché but fun lyrics (“So pour the beer for thirsty men / A drink that they have earned / And pour a beer for those who fell / For those who did not return”). The music itself is quite lame, but again this is Amon Amarth, not a Progressive Metal band, which means fans will enjoy singing it along with Johan during the band’s live concerts. One might ask why I said bad things about the album in the beginning of this review, but so far I’ve made many positive comments about the songs presented until this part of the album. Well, that’s the main issue with Jomsviking: I’m not really sure how all songs are connected to the album concept, as they all sound regular songs to me with the word “Jomsviking” randomly added here and there. This is also the case in The Way of Vikings, sounding the same song Amon Amarth have recorded a billion times already, a below average chant with a strong “been there, done that” feeling.

amon amarthAfter a boring intro, At Dawn’s First Light gets to a decent melodic ambience that albeit generic ends up working well with the lyrics, but again don’t expect to find anything fresh in its musicality (except for the blood of your enemies, of course); followed by One Thousand Burning Arrows, by far the most boring track of all. I’m not kidding, after less than two minutes my attention turned to something else deu to the lack of anything interesting in it, a song filled with uninspired beats, riffs and vocals with absolutely nothing special, failing miserably in the end. At least Vengeance Is My Name puts the band back on track, translating the bloodshed of a battle into words (“The next man over reaches / And so he winds up dead / One cut is all that’s needed / I removed his head”), with the music also following the same level of violence.

Then we have the good A Dream That Cannot Be, featuring one of the greatest metal divas of all time, the unstoppable German amazon Doro Pesch. She kicks some serious ass together with Amon Amarth, bringing a breath of fresh air to their sometimes tiring music. Maybe they should have more female guests in their future releases, who knows? Anyhow, closing Jomsviking we have Back on Northern Shores, and I honestly don’t understand why Amon Amarth insist with long “epic” songs to conclude their albums as it never works as expected. Its riffs and rhythm are somewhat decent but way too repetitive for seven minutes, and again I turned my thoughts to something else after a short while. Next time they craft a lengthy chant, I hope they at least add some breaks, variations and additional layers to the sounding, otherwise I won’t even bother listening to it until the end.

To sum up, I’m sure a considerable part of the longtime fans of Amon Amarth all around the world will enjoy Jomsviking, saying it’s a great album and many other positive things about it, but as I said before it lacks a lot of power if compared to its predecessors and, a lot worse than that, it doesn’t say anything truly remarkable or worth about the Jomsvikings. Although the album has its moments and can entertain you for a few spins, I’m more than sure you’ll get really tired of it after a few weeks even with the new elements added to the music. And if they ever decide to write a concept album again in their career, may that be a true concept album and not just a bunch of same old, same old generic fighting chants they have done so many times before.

Best moments of the album: Wanderer, On a Sea of Blood and A Dream That Cannot Be.

Worst moments of the album: The Way of Vikings, One Thousand Burning Arrows and Back on Northern Shores.

Released in 2016 Metal Blade

Track listing
1. First Kill 4:21
2. Wanderer 4:42
3. On a Sea of Blood 4:04
4. One Against All 3:37
5. Raise Your Horns 4:23
6. The Way of Vikings 5:11
7. At Dawn’s First Light 3:50
8. One Thousand Burning Arrows 5:49
9. Vengeance Is My Name 4:41
10. A Dream That Cannot Be (feat. Doro Pesch) 4:22
11. Back on Northern Shores 7:08

Band members
Johan Hegg – vocals
Olavi Mikkonen – guitar
Johan Söderberg – guitar
Ted Lundström – bass guitar
Jocke Wallgren – drums (live)

Guest musicians
Tobias Gustafsson – drums (studo recording)
Doro Pesch – guest vocals on “A Dream That Cannot Be”

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Concert Review – Amon Amarth (Sound Academy, Toronto, ON, 10/10/2014)

The most powerful Swedish Viking horde in the world attacks Toronto once again, setting the city on fire on a chilly night.

OPENING ACTS: Skeletonwitch and Sabaton

Amon-Amarth-PosterAs the fans of Game Of Thrones like to say, “Winter is coming” pretty soon, which means it’s getting colder and colder here in Toronto and, of course, in the entire Canada. So why not turning up the heat with some brutality, Viking music and good beer on a Friday night at the Sound Academy? The bands chosen to make our lives a lot warmer were American Thrash/Death Metal band Skeletonwitch, Swedish Power Metal band Sabaton and the main attraction of the night, Swedish Melodic Death Metal icons Amon Amarth.

Opening the night with the same energy of a stampede of raging bulls and still promoting their latest album, the insane Serpents Unleashed, the ‘Witch were absolutely awesome from start to finish, even with very limited time to deliver all their havoc. Chance Garnette’s unique devilish vocals and Dustin Boltjes killing everything on drums were the highlights of their wicked performance, with songs like I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived), Serpents Unleashed and Within My Blood being so brutal I’m pretty sure most of the people who were already at the venue during Skeletonwitch might have an “interesting” pain in their necks and bodies until today. Chance said they’re returning to Toronto in the Spring, so I guess we have enough time to recover until we break our fuckin’ necks once again with more of their demonic metal.

Setlist
1. More Cruel Than Weak
2. I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)
3. From a Cloudless Sky
4. Burned from Bone
5. Beyond the Permafrost
6. Unending, Everliving
7. Stand Fight and Die
8. Serpents Unleashed
9. Within My Blood

Band members
Chance Garnette – lead vocals
Nate “N8 Feet Under” Garnette – guitars
Scott “Scunty D.” Hedrick – guitars
Evan “Loosh” Linger – bass
Dustin Boltjes – drums

IMG_2975Having recently released their seventh studio album, entitled Heroes, Sabaton had the tough mission of entertaining a crowd extremely avid for Amon Amarth. Well, although I myself consider their music somewhat generic, they did a pretty good job and got a great reaction from the audience, especially during songs such as 40:1, Swedish Pagans and Metal Crüe. Frontman Joakim Brodén has a very limited vocal range if compared to many other Power Metal singers, but his interaction with the fans, in special his jokes about Canada always beating Sweden in ice hockey, were sufficient to avoid any negativity from the crowd and to keep everyone awake and pumped up for the main attraction. The only problem is, as aforementioned, their generic lyrics and musicality: how many other bands, and you can limit your analysis only to Sweden if you prefer, have songs with the words “pagan”, “warrior”, “fight” or “metal” in their names, and those more-than-generic galloping riffs? If they fix that, they can go a lot further in their career.

Setlist
1. Intro (The March To War)
2. Ghost Division
3. To Hell and Back
4. Carolus Rex
5. 40:1
6. Swedish Pagans
7. Resist and Bite
8. The Art of War
9. Primo Victoria
10. Metal Crüe
11. Outro (Dead Soldiers Waltz)

Band members
Joakim Brodén – vocals, keyboards
Pär Sundström – bass, backing vocals
Chris Rörland – guitar, backing vocals
Thobbe Englund – guitar, backing vocals
Hannes van Dahl – drums

AMON AMARTH

IMG_2983Perhaps one of the most stable band formations in the history of heavy music, with the same band members being together since 1998 (and three out of five since their beginnings in 1992), Swedish Viking horde Amon Amarth delivered almost everything their fans were asking for, except for their Viking ship and fireworks, which couldn’t be part of their performance due to venue limitations.

However, the absence of fireworks and other theatrical items was completely forgiven and forgotten when the band started playing their unique epic metal. It was pure brutal headbanging, fists and horns in the air, beer drinking and lots of singing throughout their whole concert, with everything getting even heavier and more fun during classics like Death in FireGuardians of Asgaard, Cry of the Black Birds, and of course the highly anticipated Viking hymns Twilight of the Thunder God (where frontman Johan Hegg entered wearing a Viking helmet and holding the Hammer of the Gods as usual) and The Pursuit of Vikings, with all fans screaming as loud as possible its famous epic chorus nonstop, for the band’s total delight. The sincere smile on Johan’s face was priceless.

IMG_2984In addition, their newer songs from their latest albums, Surtur Rising (2011) and Deceiver of the Gods (2013), also worked really well, with highlights to For Victory or Death, Father of the Wolf, Destroyer of the Universe and War of the Gods. I love metal music when it’s played as fast as the band is capable of, which was the case for all those songs. I just thought there were very few mosh pits, maybe because it was getting really late and all fans were exhausted after a long day at school or work, and after so many hours of energetic heavy music. Being a headbanger demands a lot of our bodies, especially when you have such electrifying bands like Skeletonwitch and Amon Amarth playing live in front of you, don’t you agree?

Anyway, during one of his many fun interactions with the crowd (while drinking beer from his horn), Johan Hegg also spoke about ice hockey and the NHL, which makes me wonder if this is the biggest connection between Canada and Sweden, or if Heavy Metal is indeed what makes these two cold but totally amazing countries be so close to each other. Based on the happiness and level of energy spread among all fans that attended the concert at the Sound Academy, and as a true heavy music lover, I have to go with the second option without a shadow of a doubt. And now, all that’s left for us fans is the never-ending wait for another Viking invasion of Canada.

Setlist
1. Deceiver of the Gods
2. Runes to My Memory
3. Death in Fire
4. Free Will Sacrifice
5. As Loke Falls
6. We Shall Destroy
7. For Victory or Death
8. Varyags of Miklagaard
9. The Fate of Norns
10. Father of the Wolf
11. Guardians of Asgaard
12. Warriors of the North
13. Destroyer of the Universe
14. Cry of the Black Birds
15. War of the Gods

Encore:
16. Twilight of the Thunder God
17. The Pursuit of Vikings 

Band members
Johan Hegg – lead vocals
Olavi Mikkonen – guitar
Ted Lundström – bass
Johan Söderberg – guitar
Fredrik Andersson – drums

Concert Review – Nova Rock Festival 2014 (Pannonia Fields II, Nickelsdorf, Austria, 06/14/2014)

A flawless festival at one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

novarock2014

INTRODUCTION: The City of Nickelsdorf and 10 Years of Nova Rock

The town of Nickelsdorf is located in the district of Neusiedl am See in the Austrian state of Burgenland, it belonged to Hungary until 1920 (like the whole province of Burgenland) and it has a population of less than 2,000 people. Those details alone wouldn’t encourage anyone to visit this little town in the middle of nowhere in Austria, don’t you agree? However, over the past 10 years there are three very special days between the second and third weeks of June when its population increases almost 100 times and Nickelsdorf becomes the world capital of heavy music: that’s what happens when the awesome Nova Rock Festival hits the town.

It was from June 9 to June 12, 2005 when the first edition of Nova Rock brought to town names such as System of a Down, Marylin Manson, Nightwish, Audioslave and Green Day, with over 30,000 fans per day. The following year, with huge bands like Metallica, Motörhead and Guns N’ Roses, the festival received over 150,000 visitors, becoming the largest ever rock festival in Austria. Since then, names like Volbeat, The Prodigy, Rage Against the Machine, Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Rammstein, Kreator, Testament, In Flames and many other heavy music icons have helped put Nickelsdorf in the route (and in the hearts) of metalheads from all over the world during the always incredible European summer.

This year the lineup was once again more than amazing, starting on Friday, June 13 with the power of Volbeat, Slayer, Steel Panther and Sepultura; kicking fuckin’ ass on Saturday, June 14 with Epica, Trivium, Anthrax, Amon Amarth and Iron Maiden (and believe me, American actor David Hasselhoff); and topping it off with Rob Zombie, The Offspring, Bad Religion, Arch Enemy and Black Sabbath. You can take a look at the full lineup per day by clicking HERE.

As I was travelling around Austria and Eastern Europe I couldn’t attend all three days of the festival due to time and money restrictions, so this review is solely in regards to Day 2, with focus on the performances by Trivium, Anthrax, Amon Amarth and Iron Maiden. Unfortunately (or not), I couldn’t stay later to see “The Hoff” singing the hit song Du or doing whatever he was going to do there.

NOVA ROCK FESTIVAL: Where to Stay, How to Get There and Overall Organization

If you’re planning on attending Nova Rock next year for only one or two of the three days of the festival, or if you’re not a huge fan of camping sites, the two best options available are staying in the capital Vienna (about 70km from Nickelsdorf) and driving for about one hour or taking the train to the festival, or staying in the very pleasant city of Bratislava, in Slovakia, which is only 40km from Nickelsdorf (or a quick 40-minute drive). We chose to stay in Bratislava, mainly because it was our first time in Slovakia and our chance to know that amazing city, and we do not regret that at all: it’s a lot cheaper than Vienna, the food and drinks are amazing, and it is full of breathtaking views like the one of the entire city from the top of the Bratislava Castle during the sunset.

The festival itself was very well-organized, with a huge free parking lot, good camping space, lots of different options to eat, good toilets, decent prices for the merchandise available, and more important than all that, both the blue and the red stages were set up in a way you could see and listen to everything no matter where you were. There were also lots of different activities going on, keeping the fans entertained before their favorite bands hit the stages, including a huge party zone. The only issue this year was the unbearable dust that impregnated the entire festival due to the dry and sunny weather in Nickelsdorf, which was responsible for lots of people wearing bandanas to cover their faces like if they were some kind of outlaws. Anyway, it was better than a heavy storm, especially because driving back to Bratislava all covered in mud wouldn’t have been a nice experience.

TRIVIUM

IMG_1976Because I had some sightseeing to do in the morning and part of the afternoon, I was able to get to Nova Rock only at 4pm, which means I unfortunately missed Epica (and fortunately missed Ghost). However, I was there just in time for one of the best bands of the past 10 years: American Heavy Metal band Trivium started their powerful and fun concert at around 4:30pm setting the crowd on fire, especially the ones in the front row/section. The band’s sonority was better than the last time I saw them, partially thanks to drummer Mat Madiro: he seems to be an excellent replacement for Nick Augusto, helping the band sound more cohesive with him on drums.

A constant presence in previous editions of Nova Rock, the band seemed pretty happy to be back in Austria and, with heavy and technical songs such as Strife, Black, Through Blood and Dirt and Bone and Down from the Sky, Matt Heafy and his crew delivered what in my opinion was the second best show of the day, only behind Iron Maiden. Matt said numerous times the fans were kickin’ ass at Nova Rock, which is an absolute truth, leaving the doors open for more Trivium at future editions of the festivals, maybe one day as the main attraction (and they indeed deserve that opportunity).

Band members
Matt Heafy – lead vocals, guitars
Corey Beaulieu – guitars, backing vocals
Paolo Gregoletto – bass guitar, backing vocals
Mat Madiro – drums

ANTHRAX

IMG_1996After a short break, American Thrash Metal icons Anthrax started their energetic show at around 6pm, showing why they have their spot in the famous “Big Four”. What an amazing performance! Mixing some old mighty classics like Caught in a Mosh, Got the Time, Indians and Antisocial with songs from their latest album from 2011, Worship Music (with highlights to the fun zombie-anthem Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t), Anthrax kept a very positive energy flowing among the fans and got the recognition they deserved from everyone in the end.

Two things should be said about their performance: first of all, in regards to the band members, Joey Belladonna proved one more time why, just like Ozzy, he’s a horrible singer but an incredible frontman. The man doesn’t stop running around the stage, cheering up the fans and making the whole experience of watching Anthrax live really awesome! And Scott Ian might not be the best guitar player in the world, but he is a true Heavy Metal hero, banging his head and delivering lots of awesome heavy riffs during all songs.

And last but not least, the tribute the whole band payed to Dio (R.I.P.) and Dimebag Darrell (R.I.P.) with the banners and the song In the End, and the other tribute to Australian masters AC/DC in the form of a beautiful cover version of T.N.T., just proved how humble all members of Anthrax are and how much they love heavy music. Anthrax were not only an excellent warm-up for Iron Maiden, but a superb lesson in Thrash Metal for everybody at Nova Rock.

Band members
Joey Belladonna – lead vocals
Scott Ian – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Charlie Benante – drums, percussion
Frank Bello – bass guitar, backing vocals
Jonathan Donais – lead guitar 

AMON AMARTH

IMG_1997Then came one of the most anticipated attractions of the day for me, as I love most of their albums and it was the first time I was able to see them live, but sadly it was not as powerful as I was expecting: Swedish Melodic Death Metal warriors Amon Amarth had a very competent performance, playing some great tunes such as Father of the Wolf, Guardians of Asgaard and The Pursuit of Vikings, and Johan Hegg is becoming one of the top frontman in heavy music. However, probably due to the fatigue everyone was feeling after so many electrifying attractions that day, their concert sounded a bit tiring after a while.

I don’t know if most of the fans there were not that much into their Viking theme, but I saw lots of people simply static and some even yawning during the entire show. I would say that huge festivals are not the best place for a band like Amon Amarth, because let’s face it: singing about Vikings is not considered cool by a huge part of the society, so I’ll wait until they come to Toronto this fall during their own tour to better analyze them live. I’m pretty sure it will be a lot better than their performance at Nova Rock.

Band members
Johan Hegg – lead vocals
Olavi Mikkonen – guitar
Johan Söderberg – guitar
Ted Lundström – bass
Fredrik Andersson – drums 

IRON MAIDEN

IMG_2010And at around 9pm, guess what happened? My sixth “Maiden England” concert, which was also my second one in less than a week (and of course the second of this Maiden England Tour 2014), was once again totally awesome. Because it was a festival, which means you’ll find all types of people there and not only true Maidenmaniacs, I just felt the audience wasn’t as great as in Brno, but that doesn’t mean people didn’t go crazy with classics like Aces High, Run to the Hills, The Prisoner and The Trooper. Revelations was again one of the top moments in my opinion, and the energy people put into singing Fear of the Dark always reminds us why they keep it in the setlist even if lots of diehard fans want them to change it for something else.

I’m not sure if the band was running out of time or if they just wanted to end the show earlier to watch the World Cup match between England and Italy, but without any further explanation they simply removed Wrathchild from that night’s setlist. I bet it was because of the match, as Bruce was wearing a weird English white jumpsuit during Aces High and said a couple of times that we all had to get back to our tents to see England beat Italy 10-0. Well, I guess Mick Jagger is not the only jinx around.

Apart from that minor upset (I’m talking about Wrathchild, not about England losing to Italy, of course), all fans were able to witness another memorable performance from the most influential Heavy Metal band of all time, which was corroborated by everybody happily singing Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life when the concert was over. Now I really hope “Maiden England” is over (after three years) and they come back with a new album, because although I’m 100% passionate about all those classics, I also love when Bruce, Steve & Co. provide us some fresh compositions. Let’s hope they deliver us something as good as The Final Frontier, and that they keep on rockin’ all over the world with their unique and marvelous tours.

Band members
Bruce Dickinson – lead vocals
Steve Harris – bass, backing vocals
Dave Murray – guitars
Adrian Smith – guitars, backing vocals
Janick Gers – guitars
Nicko McBrain – drums

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