Amon Amarth is a band that needs no introduction at this point, as they’ve been pillaging the entire world with Viking-themed melodic death metal for close to 30 years, and have been damn successful at it. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time on their history or what these guys are about. If you clicked on this article, you should already know. Their sound never changes too drastically, and they are consistent as hell.
Amon Amarth isn’t a band that I keep up with on every album, even though I consider myself a fan. The last full album I heard from them was 2011’s “Surtur Rising”. It’s an odd thing, because when I do listen to them, I think to myself “I should listen to more Amon Amarth.” But then I go and completely overlook the next two albums, 2013’s “Deceiver of the Gods”, and 2016’s “Jomsviking”. Perhaps it’s that legendary consistency that keeps me coming back only sporadically, as if subconsciously I think “If you’ve heard one Amon Amarth album, you’ve heard them all, am-I-rite?!” Over the course of writing this review, I went back and listened to the two previous albums, and discovered, lo and behold, the band has been widening the scope of their ambitions since “Surtur Rising”. “Berserker” continues this evolution, as the band toys with a few new tricks this time around, with varying degrees of success.
Opening track “Fafner’s Gold” starts out with acoustic chords and harmonized guitars that are eerily similar to Metallica’s “Battery”. Even when the cymbals and distortion come crashing in, it’s reminiscent of when the 1986 Thrash Metal classic does the same. I’m not saying it’s a direct rip-off, but to my ears it veers dangerously close to that territory. Thankfully the comparisons end once the main riff and vocals kick in with Amon Amarth’s signature style. It has everything you’ve come to expect from an Amon Amarth song: killer riffs, catchy melodies, energizing tempos, sharp as an axe production, and anthemic lyrics and vocals; until the band makes their first of three attempts at spoken narration by singer Johan Hegg before the final chorus. The results, unfortunately, fall a little flat. So there’s a few gripes I have with this song, but they are relatively minor complaints about an otherwise excellent album opener.
Amon Amarth successfully tried their hand at spoken narration on the “Jomsviking” track “Wanderer”, an experiment that worked very well within that song. The band must have felt emboldened by reactions to the song, because this album features 3 songs with some form of narration. “Crack the Sky” is the 2nd track to include a spoken narration, this time Johan adds a little more passion and intensity in his delivery, which turns out to be much more effective! The song is a triumphant ode to the God of Thunder himself, the mighty Thor! Seriously, somebody please put this song in the next MCU movie that Thor appears in! Seeing Chris Hemsworth mowing down bad guys with Stormbreaker to this song would be one of the greatest scenes ever filmed! Yes, I know Stormbreaker is an Axe, and the song specifically references Thor’s Hammer, Mjölner; I don’t care, make it happen, Marvel! I know Chris is a metalhead. Does he know about Amon Amarth? If not, he needs to!
The next song stays on the subject of Thor and his beloved hammer. “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor” is one of the best songs on the album. Is Amon Amarth trying to get their hands on some of that sweet, sweet Disney money? I hope it works! SPOILER ALERT!!! Thor has joined the (As)Guardians of the Galaxy. They like music! Perfect opportunity to include some metal in their 3rd movie! Get on it, Marvel!! Star-Lord has tortured us enough with his lame music. I think Drax will approve, probably teenage Groot too.
“Shield Wall” is possibly the best song on the album. It is so well written and so…Amon Amarth. This is a good song to play for people unfamiliar with the band, or with Viking Metal in general, because it encompasses everything that makes Amon Amarth the quintessential Viking Metal band. It is so good, that even though I have not heard every song in the band’s catalog, I am almost certain it is one of their best of all time. “Ironside” is another one that could be pretty high on that list; were it not for an ill-advised attempt at narration again. This time he tries singing it. With clean vocals. I’ll say it again for emphasis. He’s actually fucking SINGING a commentary as the titular Ironside. The song kicks all forms of ass, but the clean singing, sorry to say, sounds fucking dreadful. That’s just my opinion, but I’m sticking to it. “Berserker” is 1 for 3 on the narrations. The band has previously utilized guest vocalists for clean vocals. Messiah Marcolin of Candlemass made an appearance on “Hel” from DOTG, and Doro Pesch on the Jomsviking track “A Dream That Cannot Be”. Perhaps another guest vocalist would have produced a better outcome. Johan has shown that he is more than capable of performing these spoken passages when he puts his mind to it, but in the future he needs to remain conscious of his limitations.
Some light piano playing is employed at the end of “Valkyria” which adds some depth to the crushing heaviness of the track. Piano appears again in the album closer “Into the Dark”, bolstered by an orchestral string arrangement. This track, along with “The Berserker at Stamford Bridge”, shows the more epic side of their songwriting that they have been developing in recent years. Yet other tracks dial back the grandiose inclination, and go for the band’s classic, tried-and-true melodic death metal blueprint. “Raven’s Flight” begins with an almost In Flames-esque guitar line, but with none of the insipid pop-metal of that band’s recent output. Later in the song they employ a chugging riff that grooves like Pantera, which mixes very well with their usual style of playing. “Skoll & Hati” and “Wings of Eagles” don’t break any new ground for the band, but will still fit nicely into the band’s catalog.
Despite a couple of missteps here and there, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Amon Amarth has delivered another highly enjoyable album. “Berserker” shows that Amon Amarth aren’t content to just write the same album over and over, and I applaud them for taking some chances, even if it doesn’t always work out. One thing I know for sure, is that I won’t miss out on whatever they do next, and neither should you.
Rating: 4 out of 5