For metal fans, the subject of Vikings is nothing new. From wondering why no-one seems to like ‘Invaders’ by Iron Maiden, or suddenly bursting into a frighteningly loud rendition of Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Immigrant Song’ at the merest mention of Thor: Ragnarok, those hairy little pillagers have been part and parcel of our music scene for decades.
Bathory wrote about Valhalla and rode to Asa Bay, much of the black metal scene seemed to wish it was still the 10th century, while Wardruna still genuinely seem to think it is, and even to this day, there’s very little Manowar like doing more than singing about swords, shields and mighty warriors with shiny helmets (all while playing on ten, of course).
In 1992, with death metal keeping itself largely to songs about gore, horror, Satan, and more contemporary themes, a little band from Tumba, Sweden decided the genre needed an injection of traditional Scandinavian murder and mayhem, and Amon Amarth was born. Now, nearly three decades later, the band are bigger than ever and set to unleash Berserker (Metal Blade), their eleventh full-length studio album.
Opening with a traditional acoustic melody (the first time the band has begun a record in this manner) ‘Fafner’s Gold’ builds in drama before bursting into a classic, unmistakably Amon Amarth riff complete with yet another surefire sing-along chorus. ‘Crack the Sky’ is fittingly equipped with a riff destructive enough to do exactly that, while the uptempo ‘Mjölner – Hammer of Thor’ begins with the sound of a hammer and an anvil and ends with you wishing Marvel could have used it in one of their recent superhero movies.
A term familiar to any regular viewer of TV show Vikings, ‘Shield Wall’, with its bloody riffs and relentless rhythm section, is more than befitting of a muddy, corpse-strewn Viking battlefield, whereas ‘Valkyria’ takes its time in grabbing you by the throat. ‘Raven’s Flight’ is a fast-paced track with a stomping riff and a chorus so irresistible, you’re sure to be singing (roaring) along to it almost immediately, while ‘Ironside’ pummels and punishes, and even features a brief clean vocal from frontman Johan Hegg.
‘The Battle of Stamford Bridge’ is an apocalyptically heavy track describing the momentous battle which saw Harald Hardrada defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson (shortly before he, himself would fall to a Norman arrow at the Battle of Hastings). A turning point in history traditionally represented as the end of the Viking age.
With a riff that could have been written by Rainbow, ‘When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails’ is Amon Amarth getting their seventies on. ‘Skoll and Hati’ is all teeth and fury, the ferocious but melodic ‘Wings of Eagles’ features one of the best choruses on the album, and with its darkly cinematic intro and outro, ‘Into the Dark’ ends the album on a gravely aggressive note.
Covering all the usual subjects of dragons, battles, axes, ships, hammers, and fire, and with guitar solos featuring plenty of unadulterated Maiden worship, Berserker includes no real surprises but is simply the sound of a band at the top of their game doing what they do best. Smashing their enemies to pieces and leaving the bodies sinking slowly into the muddy earth.
8 / 10