Imbued with Godlike moxxy, Amon Amarth are set to take to the battlefield with yet another full-length album release. They’re always on the tip of the tongue of those who discuss Viking Metal, combining brutality with brilliance, and to no surprise the skalds of Valhalla have created yet another masterpiece – ‘Berserker’ – which, unexpectedly, sounds different to what we’ve seen from them in the past. Some might think the title of the album suggests they’re about to completely turn up the heaviness, and to that fact, you may find yourselves a bit disappointed. But, with that being said, don’t discredit this album just yet, as it definitely possesses enough strength to push through on its own.
Aboard the Metal langskip are Johan Hegg (vocals), Olavi Mikkonen (lead guitar), Ted Lundström (bass guitar), Johan Söderberg (secondary guitar) and Jocke Wallgren (drums).
The album kicks off with Fafner’s Gold, opening with somewhat of a classical acoustic arrangement (something that’s almost unheard of when it comes to Amon Amarth’s history), which is an immediate indication that we’re about to experience something completely outside of their realm. With that being said, the fast-paced track is definitely one that listeners are going to find themselves constantly revisiting, and is well placed to open the album.
Crack the Sky boasts the trademarks that Amon Amarth have created over the years, whilst providing enough of a lighter tone to create somewhat of an unheard experience, especially for those who would be picking up this album expecting non-stop whirlwind-headbanging riffs squeezed into every track. The anvil drops with Mjolner, Hammer of Thor, which draws similarities to a superpowered anthem synonymous to the likes of Iron Maiden. Packed with Hegg’s growls and duelling melodies, it makes for one of the stronger performances throughout the album.
Showcasing what is quite possibly the best opening riff on the entire album, Shield Wall combines fast-paced brutality with some hooks that are going to sink deep beneath your skin (I’ve found myself listening to this track on repeat a few times). It also possesses a softer, musical break allowing Hegg’s growls to incite the masses – again, not something we see all the time from these guys, but definitely something I feel should be welcomed more often! The most notable fact to come out of this track is Amon Amarth have unknowingly created a chant that will become a staple for live shows for years to come – tell me you don’t want to get out of your seats and join in the, “VIKINGS! RAISE THE SHIELD WALL, HOLD THE FRONT LINE, FIGHT TILL DEATH!” chants! Valkyria opens with yet another boisterous riff, but then seems to drop off a little bit, with the rest of the track being played in a softer vein. It’s still definitely a track worthy of attention, but is something that Amon Amarth fans might have an internal struggle with.
Raven’s Flight, in my opinion, is the highlight of the album. Whilst so far we’ve seen Amon Amarth begin to stray from the beaten path, this is as close to ‘classic Amon Amarth’ as we’re going to get throughout the album. The chugging riffs are heavier, and you can definitely identify familiar tones from the past, whilst Hegg’s growls return to the more monstrous side of his range – THIS is what the fans have been longing for!
The acoustic arrangements continue with the opening of Ironside, before quickly turning the dial to 11 and going into an absolute blitz of maniacal riffs – not sure if the juxtaposition of the two sounds work together, but I’m definitely a fan of the heavier side of this track than that of the alternative. Tones of Iron Maiden shine through again with The Berserker of Stamford Bridge, which combines a softer, cleaner instrumental performance backed with Hegg’s vocals. Whilst it’s not at a blistering speed, this performance overall is one of the best on the album. Change is sometimes welcomed, and whilst the more hardcore fans might turn their heads, I personally think hearing something like this adds a string to their bow.
When Once Again We Set Our Sails continues the new trend that the album has seen with the combination of not-so-heavy instrumental but oh-so-heavy growls from Hegg; don’t get me wrong here, some of these tracks that have presented this pairing have actually been surprisingly well received (from myself) but I don’t speak for all Amon Amarth fans. Some might sit there thinking ‘What the f*** am I listening to,’ whilst others will be as pleased as I am. It’s your decision to make – but I thoroughly enjoyed this particular performance.
If you were beginning to lose faith, don’t! Skoll and Hati is another shining example that a more familiar Amon Amarth is still present within this album. Faster paced riffs drenched in heavier tones compliment Hegg’s vocals superbly throughout this performance, and do enough justice to redeem some of the flaws of the album that we’ve noticed up until this point. Wings of Eagles continues in similar fashion, however some of the heaviness from the track prior seems to have dropped off throughout the transition – that being said, the chorus-line of this particular track definitely presents itself as one of the standouts of the album.
‘Berserker’ rounds out with Into the Dark, which finishes the album on somewhat of a… different note. The symphonic opening paired with violins, and shredding guitar riff, presents itself as somewhat of a battle cry – whether or not it’s good enough to deliver us to the Promised Land is up for debate. Whilst the softer side of Amon Amarth can be considered a welcomed sound, I firmly believe the placement of this track would have been better suited to fight amongst the middle of the album, because it definitely doesn’t pack enough of a punch to round the album out. With that being said, this track can’t go without some merit, because instrumentally this is brilliant. It’s somewhat bittersweet, I’m just trying to figure out what flavour profile this sways to more so than the other.
Hegg has gone on record saying, “For me, this is Amon Amarth 2.0. I think what we’ve done here is give ourselves the space to explore other parts of our musicality and who we are as a band. If you’re content with where you’re at, what’s the point of continuing? We always want to come up with new ideas and find new ways of doing things, and to create bigger and better shows – really try to improve every aspect of what the band is.” He’s hit the nail on the head – if you’ve come into this with expectations of it being an amped-up headbanging experience that we’ve seen Amon Amarth present for years, you’re rudely mistaken. However, I urge you to not let that fact turn you off of this album; change is inevitable when it comes to the music industry, possibly more so now than it ever has been. Whilst this is definitely different, they haven’t lost their sense of identity, and some of these performances are actually quite brilliant.
Is this the best Amon Amarth performance? Personally, I think it’s far from it. However, I firmly believe that this album presents opportunity for many outcomes – let’s only hope it’s something that propels the band moving forward, instead of a sour footnote in their history.
‘Berserker’ enters the fray on May 3, get your pre-orders over at Metal Blade HERE!