Album Review: Amon Amarth – Berserker
There are few metal bands as reliable as Amon Amarth. For more than two decades the Swedish maulers have been throwing out high-quality records, and were they not so humble, they could justifiably make the lofty claim of having never once put a foot wrong. Like Iron Maiden, their Viking themes have given fans an entire world in which to immerse themselves. And, really, what’s more metal than a Viking?
Returning here with their 11th album, the quintet have once more hit the mark, hard. In fact, it’s stronger overall than its predecessor, 2016’s Jomsviking, their first foray into concept album territory. The acoustic intro to opener Fafner’s Gold recalls Metallica’s Battery, pregnant with portent, and once it explodes to life it is an unstoppable beast. You’re unlikely to hear a better full-on metal banger in 2019 than Raven’s Flight, which has everything you could want packed into five-and-a-half thrilling minutes, counterpointed by the slow-burning rumble of The Berserker At Stamford Bridge and the triumphant thrashings of Skoll And Hati.
There are notably a couple of tracks that could be considered more rock than outright bearded heavy metal mania, and that is no bad thing. Mjölner, Hammer Of Thor is the first of these, a massively catchy anthem with its twin-guitar attack that even brings Thin Lizzy to mind in places, while the jaunty When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails also boasts a gorgeous swirling guitar break straight from the ‘70s.
Rather than follow the concept course a second time, vocalist Johan Hegg here draws inspiration from numerous sources, most of them as usual steeped in mythology. Unsurprisingly, given their previous output and the record’s title, war is the most recurrent theme. This is perhaps most notable on the fantastically titled The Berserker At Stamford Bridge, which documents a lone Viking’s stand against 15,000 Saxons, but Shield Wall and Crack The Sky defiantly deliver too. Ironside and brooding closer Into The Dark, meanwhile, walk their own lyrical paths and conjure up vivid imagery in the process.
Already used to having their name mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Slayer, Mastodon and Lamb Of God as genuine metal giants, hopefully Berserker will be the record that sees Amon Amarth ascend to even greater heights and start headlining the arenas their titanic sound could so easily fill. It’s maybe not the finest release of their storied career, but then trying to decide which one deserves that title is a fool’s errand. Judged solely on its own merits, it stands out as a solid record deserving, and occasionally whipping out a sword and demanding, the attention of metal fans from here to Valhalla.
Dismiss Johan Hegg as a Viking-obsessed metalhead caricature at your peril. There’s a lot more to the Amon Amarth vocalist than meets the eye. And the gentle giant has a message of urgency for us all – if we’re to retain any hopes for our survival as a species…
Fans won’t get to hear The Pretty Reckless’ Death By Rock And Roll in full until next year…