Swedish viking metal lords Amon Amarth are set to unleash their 11th full-length album Berserker on the 3rd of May. It has been three years since the band released Jomsviking (reviewed by James and Mel) which I for one enjoyed, and have been looking forward to the new material. As with Jomsviking before it, Berserker features the trademark Amon Amarth sound – groovy melodies, Johan Hegg’s unmistakable vocals and lyrics about historical battles and Norse legends. The band describe their latest album as “the result of a huge surge of creativity and a collective desire to keep moving forward without compromise”.
The first taste of the band’s new music came at the end of March with the release of the video for “Raven’s Flight” which was part one of a tale which sees the band playing a live show, cut with scenes of a bloody battle featuring a Berserker (complete with bear pelt) and a female warrior. Part two of the story followed on the 17th of April in the form of the video for “Crack The Sky” in which an evil woman seems intent on destroying the band, but the Berserker comes to their rescue and slays her minions (who stand out not only because of their demonic faces but the fact that they are wearing white tshirts to a metal show).
Now for the album. I won’t do a track-by-track analysis as I think it is nice to explore a new album for yourself and form your own opinions on it, so here are a few words about the tracks that stand out the most to me.
Opening track “Fafner’s Gold” begins with soft guitars before opening out into a tasty riff-tastic rhythm. With this first track, the story begins, as the band take us on a sonic journey to revisit Norse legends, including that of the berserkers (which you can learn more about here).
“Crack The Sky” has a sing-along riff that I think will go down very well live. I personally would have titled this song “Crack The Blackened Skies” to separate it a little from “Crack the Skye” by Mastodon (which popped into my head when I first read the song title). The heavy bass and drums make this track deliciously brutal.
To me Johan Hegg’s vocals seem deeper on this album, and on “Shield Wall” in particular in which he sounds like a fearsome viking warrior and story-teller. The commanding repeating chant of “Vikings! Raise the shield wall, hold the front line, fight ’til death”, I can certainly see being chanted by a room / field full of fans. This track will go down very well live.
I like the little “take one” snippet at the beginning of “Valkyria” which, for a brief moment, takes you away from the viking battle you are in the midst of and reminds you that this music was created and recorded by real people in the twenty-first century. A valkyrie was a supernatural female figure in Norse mythology, so I could easily see a video for this track being the next one in the current series.
“Raven’s Flight” is full-throttle from the very start. It is furious and yet sludgy, with trademark groovy Amon Amarth guitars and thundering vocals by Hegg – I can see why they chose this track as the first to be released from the album. I challenge you not to bang your head along to this one, and again there is great sing-along potential for this one when performed live: “Come what may we hold our heads up to the sky / and know that we will never die / as long as Odin is on our side”. It is an anthemic song that evokes a strong sense of brotherhood / sisterhood in battle, making it a great track to motivate you to battle your way to work in rush-hour… Or is it just me who listens to epic battle songs to give them the required inner fortitude to make it into the office?!
“Skoll And Hati” is fast and furious from the very start and tells the tale of Sköll and Hati – wolves that chase the sun and the moon across the sky. There is a very tasty guitar bridge in this one – very tasty indeed!
Closing track “Into The Dark” starts with piano and strings before soaring guitars kick in, followed by the slow head-bangable beat of the drums. As the vocals kick in, Hegg sings “There is a darkness in my soul / a darkness I can’t contain / a deep void of emptiness”. This track, for me, is more about a personal battle with darkness / depression than viking battles, although it still sits very well with the rest of the album. The track ends as it begins – with strings and piano, providing a great end to the record, though also leaving you wanting more.
Berserker is a great Amon Amarth album. It isn’t wildly different from their previous work (epic songs about vikings and tales from Norse mythology), though far fewer sing-a-long anthems than Jomsviking (such as “Raise Your Horns”), which will hopefully please fans of the band’s older material. I recommend listening to it loud on some good-quality speakers / headphones from start to finish to really immerse yourself in the stories being told.
Berserker is available to pre-order in various forms, and in a number of physical formats and bundles (including one with a shield!) from their official store. Amon Amarth are heading out on the road with Slayer, Lamb of God, and Cannibal Corpse in North America from 2nd May (what a line-up!), and will return to the UK in June to play Download Festival, performing on the main stage on Sunday. FIngers-crossed a UK tour in support of Berserker will be announced soon.
- Fafner’s Gold
- Crack The Sky
- Mjölner, Hammer Of Thor
- Shield Wall
- Raven’s Flight
- The Berserker At Stamford Bridge
- When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails
- Skoll And Hati
- Wings Of Eagles
- Into The Dark