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Fresh blood on a decades old ax. - 86%

hells_unicorn, March 17th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, 7" vinyl, Metal Hammer

When a band has been around as long as Amon Amarth has been, toting a very stylized and consistent sound, the risk of degenerating into an overly repetitious orthodoxy becomes quite high. In a sense they've been content to tinker around the edges following the release of 2006's With Oden On Our Side, and perhaps with good reason given how powerful of an album it was and how many possibilities it opened up in keeping up the epic side of things without losing their accessibility. In fact, one wouldn't be too far off base in comparing the contents of their previous four LPs to a modernization of the old school heavy metal ideal, where streamlined songwriting had yet to give way to Iron Maiden's towering seven minutes plus epics and progressive tendencies. While the jury is still out as far as what the upcoming Jomsviking release will do differently, if their promotional single First Kill is a strong indicator, it will see a comparably significant shift in approach while still holding to the basic tenants of their past.

At its inception, the A-side of this single is quite intent on treading a path that's a bit closer to the mid-90s Gothenburg sound, where layering of harmonic material was a more common practice, shifts in feel were a bit more rapid, and atmosphere had a greater degree of influence on the sound relative to sheer impact. To be clear, these songs don't come up short in the impact department either, but there is definitely more of a nimble character to the guitar work, along with a greater degree of interplay with the rhythm section. "First Kill" actually takes a rare occasional allow bassist Ted Lundström to do more than play his usual support role, resulting in a greater degree of density to the overall song amid an already greater degree of guitar layering. Even Johan Hegg's vocals, which have tended towards a one-dimensional barking character, tends to switch things up a bit more and giving a greater degree of depth to the berserker vocal persona he's been going for these past 24 years.

There is always a danger in being presumptuous when trying to predict the outcome of a soon to be released LP based on one or two songs being dropped in advance. Nevertheless, it's a pretty safe assumption that Jomsviking will have all the obligatory elements to make the typical Amon Amarth fan throw the horns in the air, but this may prove to be among their better albums in recent years given the greater degree of intricacy at play in the songwriting. For being generally standard length songs, there is a fair degree of differing elements mixed in, and while not have any outright crazy shred moments in line with a typical Arch Enemy or Children Of Bodom song, they are on the upper echelon of what passes for technically ambitious by Amon Amarth standards. If nothing else, it shows that the passage of time need not be an excuse for sheathing your sword and going along to get along, the antithesis of the Viking way.

Good Taste of Things to Come - 90%

timothybarnes, March 16th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, 7" vinyl, Metal Hammer

The first we've heard from Amon Amarth since 2013's Deceiver of the Gods is this single which comes ahead of their upcoming album Jomsviking. Its two tracks are both cuts from the full-length, and they offer an exciting sneak peek at the new record.

My first impression is that these songs feature very impressive songwriting. On older releases, it wasn't uncommon for Amon Amarth to rely more on intensity than creativity. Some consider their discography to suffer from monotony. The band has a distinctive sound, and at times they have fallen into repetitiveness.

"First Kill" and "At Dawn's First Light" are both complex, intricate songs with many moving parts. The title track is a headbanger in the vein of "Valhall Awaits Me" and "Runes To My Memory," while the second song is a fast-paced piece with excellent guitar passages and a terrific sense of cohesion. Both of them, while still falling squarely in the accessible realm of high production value melodic death metal, contain progressive elements that are a breath of fresh air for the band.

Johan Hegg's vocals sound a little thin at times, and his death growl is less recognizable than his higher-pitched shouts. The lyrics come across at times as campy and rote, but this isn't the Prose Edda we're talking about. The vocals/lyrics are functional and acceptable, even though I feel that they are on the weaker side of this release's qualities.

This single makes me excited for the album, which a good single should. These songs are a strong showing for this band, now well into their third decade, and suggest that Amon Amarth are not slowing down.