Album Review – Amon Amarth / Berserker (2019)

Raise the shield wall, hold your hammers high, and unleash the berserker that lives inside you together with the Swedish Vikings of Heavy Metal.

My fellow Vikings, it’s time to grab your swords, axes, spears and shields and head into the battlefield once again to the sound of Berserker, the eleventh studio album by Swedish Melodic Death Metal horde Amon Amarth and a huge step forward in terms of energy and creativity if compared to their previous album Jomsviking, released in 2016. Not only that, Berserker is also the band’s first album to feature Jocke Wallgren on drums, who joined the band in 2016, bringing thunder to the compositions by frontman Johan Hegg and his loyal henchmen Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg on the guitars and Ted Lundström on bass.

Featuring another epic artwork by American artist Brent Elliott White, Berserker brings to our ears pure, straightforward Amon Amarth with no artificial elements, sounding very dense, cohesive and, above all, extremely entertaining from start to finish. Furthermore, while saying that Berserker is not a concept album, Johan Hegg also stated that “it’s also about sticking together in the face of adversity. Then there’s more introverted stuff, as well – songs that relate to my private life, and I got the ideas for those songs from my wife.” In the end, all song work really well, sounding connected albeit each one on its own when you listen to the album in full, therefore providing you a smooth and powerful experience only hardworking bands like Amon Amarth can offer.

The acoustic guitar by guest Javier Reyes (from Animals as Leaders) ignite the heavy and vibrant Fafner’s Gold, with Jocke showing why he became a permanent member of the band. In a nutshell, it’s classic Amon Amarth with an extra kick coming from the flammable riffs by Olavi and Johan Söderberg, while in Crack the Sky it’s time to bang our heads together with the band while Johan Hegg leads the horde with his raspy roars in a mid-tempo extravaganza tailored for enjoying a cold pint of mead. Then slashing guitar sounds kick off another hard-hitting tune named Mjölner, Hammer of Thor, which can’t get any more Viking than what it already is with its pounding beats, crisp guitar solos and Johan’s deep growls, turning it into a must-listen for all fans of the genre; followed by Shield Wall, a true battle hymn spearheaded by the band’s most fearful Viking, Mr. Johan Hegg, vociferating the song’s catchy and inspiring chorus powerfully (“War / Here to conquer, battle ready, no retreat / Vikings / Raise the shield wall / Hold the front line / Fight till death”). Needless to say, this can easily become a fan-favorite during their live concerts.

Let’s keep the fires of Viking Metal burning bright in Valkyria, showcasing a beautiful job done by the band’s guitar duo while Jocke nicely dictates the rhythm with his potent beats, ending with melancholic piano notes, whereas Raven’s Flight contains all elements we love in their music, those being of course heavy and electrifying riffs, nonstop beats and enraged roars. Not only that, it’s at the same time fast and neck-breaking just the way classic Melodic Death Metal demands, while Ted’s bass keeps rumbling in the background majestically. In Ironside we’re treated to accelerated beats intertwined with headbanging moments, exhaling epicness and power in a crushing display of Swedish Melodic Death Metal, setting the tone for The Berserker at Stamford Bridge, bringing forward a pensive and dark aura while the instrumental pieces represent all the obscurity that’s embracing the main character to perfection. Moreover, get ready for battle to the sound of Olavi’s and Johan Söderberg’s guitars, who shred their strings with a lot of passion and feeling.

When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails is another one of those creations by Johan Hegg and his crew overflowing epicness where all instruments are in perfect sync, therefore enhancing the song’s taste and impact (especially Jocke with his rhythmic and groovy beats); and putting the pedal to the metal Amon Amarth smash our heads in Skoll and Hati, a song about the two wolves from Norse mythology (“From the iron moors of Jotunheim / Arose two beasts of wrath innate / Skoll and Hati were their names / Born of Fenris, born of hate”), represented by the speed and fury flowing from drums and guitars, which are all Johan Hegg needs to deliver a beyond powerful vocal performance. There’s no sign of slowing down as Wings of Eagles is just as frantic and vibrant as its predecessor, sounding perfect for heading into the battlefield (also known as the circle pit) to the crushing beats by Jocke and the thunderous bass lines by Ted. And last but not least, Into the Dark is another good song by the band which, albeit sounding as epic as expected, goes on for a little too long (maybe it would have worked better with a few extra variations). Johan Hegg’s deep guttural vocals are amazing, though, as well as the song’s final moments.

Are your spears and swords sharp enough to join the most beloved and dauntless Vikings of Melodic Death Metal in their quest for metal music? Well, I bet after listening to Berserker, available in full on YouTube and on Spotify, and on sale HERE (or HERE if you fancy some exclusive, ass-kicking bundles), you’ll be more than ready to head into the battlefield and give your life and blood together with Amon Amarth. Put differently, simply raise the shield wall, hold your hammers high, and unleash the berserker that lives inside you in the name of Heavy Metal.

Best moments of the album: Mjölner, Hammer of Thor, Shield Wall, Raven’s Flight and Skoll and Hati.

Worst moments of the album: Into the Dark.

Released in 2019 Metal Blade Records

Track listing
1. Fafner’s Gold 5:00
2. Crack the Sky 3:49
3. Mjölner, Hammer of Thor 4:42
4. Shield Wall 3:46
5. Valkyria 4:43
6. Raven’s Flight 5:20
7. Ironside 4:30
8. The Berserker at Stamford Bridge 5:13
9. When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails 4:24
10. Skoll and Hati 4:27
11. Wings of Eagles 4:03
12. Into the Dark 6:48

Band members
Johan Hegg – vocals
Olavi Mikkonen – guitar
Johan Söderberg – guitar
Ted Lundström – bass guitar
Jocke Wallgren – drums

Guest musician
Javier Reyes – acoustic guitars on “Fafner’s Gold”

Album Review – Amon Amarth / Jomsviking (2016)

Despite its interesting concept and excellent production, Jomsviking never truly takes off, offering the same old, same old fighting chants we’ve seen countless times before.

Rating6

amon amarth_jomsviking“The Jomsvikings and their world is the background for the story of a young man that is in love with a girl but unfortunately she’s being married off. He accidentally kills a man when this happens and he has to flee — but he swears to have revenge and win her back. He can’t let go of the past. He feels that he’s been wronged and his life has been destroyed. The way the story evolves is not a happy story.”, said frontman Johan Hegg in an interview to Blabbermouth about Jomsviking, the tenth studio album by Swedish Melodic Death Metal band Amon Amarth, and also the first concept album in their solid career. However, despite being quite an innovative idea, it didn’t thrill me at any single moment during the entire album, a huge letdown taken into account the high expectations I had when I first heard our talented Viking warriors were recording a concept album.

The Jomsvikings might have been a semi-legendary order of Viking brigands of the 10th and 11th centuries, but all we get in the album is the same old Amon Amarth with some slight changes in their musicality and nothing truly remarkable about those infamous mercenaries. For instance, their excellent 2011 release Surtur Rising tells a lot more about the mythical giant Surtr than Jomsviking tells about the Jomsvikings, and it’s not even close to being a concept album. At least the artwork, once again designed by Tom Thiel, keeps up with their previous releases, but musically speaking Jomsviking doesn’t bring anything fresh to the listener. It doesn’t harm the band’s career either, but it leaves that annoying sensation you feel when it’s more than obvious that a band like Amon Amarth can do a lot better than that.

Johan’s voice sounds really odd in the first few lines in First Kill, but fortunately that doesn’t last long and he gets back to his regular “Viking mode” after a few seconds. Although the song itself sounds traditional Amon Amarth at first, you can feel it’s a bit more melodic than usual, mainly due to the great job done by guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg. And can the intro in the exciting Wanderer be considered “Viking Heavy Metal/Hard Rock”? Anyway, I like what I hear even the song not being played at full speed like many of their classics. It’s groovy and dark Melodic Death Metal made in Scandinavia with a beautiful melody in the background, a powerful chorus and tons of melancholy, turning it into one of the best songs of the album. On a Sea of Blood, which brings forward some welcome elements of Power and Heavy Metal, was born to be an Amon Amarth classic, with session drummer Tobias Gustafsson doing an excellent job in keeping the energy flowing smoothly during the entire song. While listening to this tune, all you’ll think of is grabbing your sword and shield and heading to the battlefield, no doubt about that.

One Against All keeps the violence at a high level, being extremely melodic at all times thanks to the guitar lines by both Olavi and Johan Söderberg, and despite offering nothing new musically speaking I guess not a single fan of the band will complain about it. And who doesn’t enjoy a song about drinking beer? That’s what you get in Raise Your Horns and its cliché but fun lyrics (“So pour the beer for thirsty men / A drink that they have earned / And pour a beer for those who fell / For those who did not return”). The music itself is quite lame, but again this is Amon Amarth, not a Progressive Metal band, which means fans will enjoy singing it along with Johan during the band’s live concerts. One might ask why I said bad things about the album in the beginning of this review, but so far I’ve made many positive comments about the songs presented until this part of the album. Well, that’s the main issue with Jomsviking: I’m not really sure how all songs are connected to the album concept, as they all sound regular songs to me with the word “Jomsviking” randomly added here and there. This is also the case in The Way of Vikings, sounding the same song Amon Amarth have recorded a billion times already, a below average chant with a strong “been there, done that” feeling.

amon amarthAfter a boring intro, At Dawn’s First Light gets to a decent melodic ambience that albeit generic ends up working well with the lyrics, but again don’t expect to find anything fresh in its musicality (except for the blood of your enemies, of course); followed by One Thousand Burning Arrows, by far the most boring track of all. I’m not kidding, after less than two minutes my attention turned to something else deu to the lack of anything interesting in it, a song filled with uninspired beats, riffs and vocals with absolutely nothing special, failing miserably in the end. At least Vengeance Is My Name puts the band back on track, translating the bloodshed of a battle into words (“The next man over reaches / And so he winds up dead / One cut is all that’s needed / I removed his head”), with the music also following the same level of violence.

Then we have the good A Dream That Cannot Be, featuring one of the greatest metal divas of all time, the unstoppable German amazon Doro Pesch. She kicks some serious ass together with Amon Amarth, bringing a breath of fresh air to their sometimes tiring music. Maybe they should have more female guests in their future releases, who knows? Anyhow, closing Jomsviking we have Back on Northern Shores, and I honestly don’t understand why Amon Amarth insist with long “epic” songs to conclude their albums as it never works as expected. Its riffs and rhythm are somewhat decent but way too repetitive for seven minutes, and again I turned my thoughts to something else after a short while. Next time they craft a lengthy chant, I hope they at least add some breaks, variations and additional layers to the sounding, otherwise I won’t even bother listening to it until the end.

To sum up, I’m sure a considerable part of the longtime fans of Amon Amarth all around the world will enjoy Jomsviking, saying it’s a great album and many other positive things about it, but as I said before it lacks a lot of power if compared to its predecessors and, a lot worse than that, it doesn’t say anything truly remarkable or worth about the Jomsvikings. Although the album has its moments and can entertain you for a few spins, I’m more than sure you’ll get really tired of it after a few weeks even with the new elements added to the music. And if they ever decide to write a concept album again in their career, may that be a true concept album and not just a bunch of same old, same old generic fighting chants they have done so many times before.

Best moments of the album: Wanderer, On a Sea of Blood and A Dream That Cannot Be.

Worst moments of the album: The Way of Vikings, One Thousand Burning Arrows and Back on Northern Shores.

Released in 2016 Metal Blade

Track listing
1. First Kill 4:21
2. Wanderer 4:42
3. On a Sea of Blood 4:04
4. One Against All 3:37
5. Raise Your Horns 4:23
6. The Way of Vikings 5:11
7. At Dawn’s First Light 3:50
8. One Thousand Burning Arrows 5:49
9. Vengeance Is My Name 4:41
10. A Dream That Cannot Be (feat. Doro Pesch) 4:22
11. Back on Northern Shores 7:08

Band members
Johan Hegg – vocals
Olavi Mikkonen – guitar
Johan Söderberg – guitar
Ted Lundström – bass guitar
Jocke Wallgren – drums (live)

Guest musicians
Tobias Gustafsson – drums (studo recording)
Doro Pesch – guest vocals on “A Dream That Cannot Be”