Viking warriors, Amon Amarth released their 11th studio album, called Berserker on the 3rd of May via Metal Blade Records.
The Swedish melodic death metallers formed way back in 1992 though their first release, Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds, didn’t come out until 1996. They stayed pretty much under the radar for their first few releases. When they hit the early 2000s they really became a huge name off the back of their Viking metal style and a collection of impressive releases. Between 2004 and 2008 they released Fate of Norns, With Odin at Our Side and Twilight of the Thunder God. A trio of excellence in such a short space of time that propelled them forward.
Fast forward a decade and they are 11 albums strong now, have recently headlined Bloodstock Festival and are pretty much a household name. Their last release prior to Berserker was Jomsviking. A strong album but also one that heralded a new chapter for Amon Amarth as they leaned more heavily towards the melodic side. I guess that raised a little bit of a question to what direction Berserker would take. Based on the singles released so far though it seems they have channelled some of that early heaviness. Both Raven’s Flight and Crack the Sky are dark and heavy songs and you can read more on them by following the links.
Amon Amarth are fronted by the powerful Johan Hegg on vocals. Olavi Mikkonen is on lead guitar while Ted Lundström is on the bass. All three members were founding members from back in 1992. Joining shortly after, in 1998, on rhythm guitar is Johan Söderberg while the newest member is Jocke Wallgren who joined in 2016. That makes Berserker his first album as he replaces long time member Fredrik Andersson.
Berserker is quite a long album with 12 tracks on it and a run time of just a few minutes short of an hour. We have already checked out two of the songs from the album in Raven’s Flight and Crack the Sky. Both songs were solid but I was more interested in how dark they were in tone. Sounding a bit like Amon Amarth from a decade ago but with modern production. Something I was really pleased about and hoped to hear more of across Berserker. Thankfully that nod to yesteryear continues throughout.
Fafner’s Gold starts deceptively with gentle acoustic melody before it switches to electric with a crash of drums. We jump in with a catchy as hell riff that has your head moving right from the off. Heavy vocals over a rumbling riff and blasting drums with little moments of flair added by the lead guitar. It’s very typical of Amon but very good. The chorus is great, the drums sound supercharged and the lead riff is wicked. It’s a strong start to the album. That strong start continues with the excellent Thor based Crack the Sky. It’s introduction sounding like The Pursuit of Vikings is a big plus but it is just a damn fine song all round. The third track is again focused on Thor, or at least his hammer.
Mjolner, Hammer of Thor starts with the sounds of a hammer hitting an anvil before a blazing power metal like lead takes over. There is a cracking pace to this one, chock full of groove laden riffs and nicely paced drums. The vocals are as expected but hit a nice darker and deeper section leading into the catchy chorus. This is one of the best on Berserker.
Shield Wall comes next and speeds the drums up further heading further towards the death side of melodeath. Johan’s vocals are dark and full of menace and the riff that hits in the chorus is excellent. The hard hitting verse and chorus is separated from the next section by a gentle melody that works in lulling you into a false sense of security before the heavy riffs slam into you again. Valkyria is jam packed full of riffs and melody. Slamming groove in the intro into speedier melodic leads in the chorus, it just moves from fiery riff to fiery lead, damaging necks on the way. As a song about a fallen warrior, the end to clear ringing piano melody is a nice touch.
The second single, Raven’s Flight comes next before we head into one of my favourites. Ironside. A song about Bjorn Ironside, son of Ragnar Lothbrok as featured on the amazing TV show, Vikings. It starts clean and melodic but switches into fast riffs and drums with a dark tone as lyrics deal with Ironside’s legacy and dealing with the overhanging shadow of his family name. The Berserker at Stamford Bridge is nothing to do with Chelsea Football Club thankfully. Instead dealing with The Battle of Stamford Bridge which occurred just 3 weeks before the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and saw an English army obliterate a huge Viking force and saw over 11000 dead on both sides. A grim story and the song follows suit with a dark and morose tone on the guitars and the best solo on the album.
Once Again We Can Set Our Sails has an amazing riff in the intro and a good chorus. The solo is decent too though it isn’t the most exciting of tracks, instead sitting comfortably as just a decent But typical Amon Amarth song. Skoll and Hati speeds things up again with seriously impressive drum patterns and a fast picked riff. A good song turns to great in a sudden switch half way through from this frenetic heaviness into a blazing melodic lead line that leads into a brilliant solo. As the solo ends it switches back to the pit worthy heaviness. The penultimate track is Wings of Eagles. It’s a nice heavy one with plenty of pace and lashings of deep groove and bass.
Berserker comes to an end with Into the Dark and sees Amon Amarth get expansive. At just under 7 minutes long it is their “epic” and sees them throw some creativity in. The symphonic start is interesting and leads nicely into a melodic lead guitar line. The riff comes in with a slow and steady rhythm to it. The vocals are dark and sinister and the higher lead guitar offsets then perfectly. The chorus is powerful and anthemic. It leads into a nice little solo before dragging us into a faster section with blistering drum blasts and a quick riff. It all fades out eventually into the same symphonic tones of the songs beginning.
Berserker is a really strong album with some of the bands best work on it. It feels a little like they found their modern sound, somewhere in between Jomsviking and their older material. Thus allowing them to take and use the best of both worlds. Their modern production and loads of melody but also nods to the darker heaviness of days gone by. Don’t get me wrong, this is all very Amon Amarth still. We aren’t talking about a dramatic change. It is more subtle. You could still play 5 seconds of any song on here to any metal fan and they will instantly recognise the band. Not necessarily a bad thing, after all that is their sound and style.
The only real negative is that, on an album this long, a few parts soon become predictable and a few songs become filler. It’s a very good album altogether though. Berserker can sit proudly as being almost up there with the bands best releases in their career.
Berserker is out now on all the usual streaming platforms. You can also grab a copy from Amon Amarth, here. Find out more on Berserker and Amon Amarth at their website, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Berserker by Amon Amarth (Metal Blade)
The Final Score - 8.5/10