Courtesy: Metal Blade Records
The wait for Amon Amarth’s new album is finally over. A little more than three years after the band released its most recent album Jomsviking, the band returned Friday, with its 11th full-length studio recording, Berserker. The veteran Swedish metal outfit’s latest offering, which once again has come through Metal Blade Records, is familiar territory for the band at least in terms of its lyrical content from start to finish. Its musical content however, is another story. Front man Johann Hegg said in a recent interview about the sound on the band’s new album Beserker that it is an exhibition of the band’s evolution as a unit. “I think what we’ve done here is give ourselves the space to explore other parts of our musicality and who we are as a band,” Hegg said of the sound on this record. That growth is a welcome change from the band this time out, as it shows the band’s ability to reach a more mainstream audience instead of just its core audience base. One of the songs featured in this record, that serves to illustrate that ability comes early on in the form of ‘Mjolner, Hammer of Thor.’ It will be discussed shortly. The album’s finale, ‘Into The Dark’ is another way in which that growth and change is clearly evidenced. It is also another positive addition to the album. ‘Fafner’s Gold,’ which opens the album, is yet another way in which the noted growth is exemplified in this record. When all three songs are considered together with the record of the album, the whole of Beserker presents itself as a record that while maybe rather familiar for most listeners, is still a welcome new offering from the band that is yet another candidate for any metal critic’s list of the year’s top new metal and hard rock albums.
Amon Amarth’s 11th full-length studio recording Berserker is a welcome new offering from the veteran metal outfit that critics and listeners alike will agree is deserving of its own spot on any list of the year’s top new hard rock and metal albums. That is despite (and because) of the familiarity of the record’s lyrical themes. It is also because of the growth exhibited by the band’s members in the record’s musical arrangements. ‘Mjolner, Hammer of Thor’ is one of the songs featured in this record that exhibits the growth in the band’s musical side. The song’s musical arrangement boasts a very sharp similarity to the arrangement at the center of Judas Priest’s timeless hit ‘Breaking The Law.’ The two arrangements are not mirror images of one another. However, the similarity is close enough that there is no denying the connection. Whether Amon Amarth’s guitarists – Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Soderberg – set out to make something so closely akin to ‘Breaking The Law’ is anyone’s guess. That aside, the bigger picture is that the arrangement is far more accessible, musically, than almost anything that the band has previously crafted. To that end, it is a surprise that it was not chosen as Berserker’s lead single. The song’s decidedly radio ready arrangement is, as important as it is, is just one part of what makes the song a solid addition to the record. The song’s familiar lyrical content adds its own share of interest to the song.
The song’s lyrical content focuses on the norse myth of how Thor’s famed hammer Mjolner was created. He sings in the song’s lead verse, “In the realm of Svartalvheim/Where master forgers reign/Loke met with Eitri and Brokk/With malice and deceit/he got them to agree/to create nine magic gifts for the Asa Gods/Brokkr had a sense of foul play in the air/So he made a wager for Loke’s head/Treasures will be forged for the Asagods/A spear and a ring for the Asgard King/But finest of them all/the Crusher it is called/Mjolner, Hammer of Thor/Loke’s treachery knows no boundaries/he his himself in the blacksmith’s caveBut as work progressed, he feared he’d lose his bet/He knew his situation was now grave/Working the bellows/Heating the forge/Striking the anvil/Striking with force/Then as they worked/On the last gift/A mighty hammer of war/Loke disrupted the work of the blacksmiths/The handle came out short.” From here, Hegg tells the rest of the ancient Norse tale with Loke meeting not a fatal fate, but a not-so-happy fate, nonetheless. It is a powerful tale that will entertain and engage any listener, regardless of his or her familiarity with the story of how Mjolner was created – or any Norse mythology. When it is coupled with the song’s accessible arrangement, the whole exhibits itself as one of the most notable additions to this latest offering from Amon Amarth. It is just one of the songs that stands out in this offering. The album’s finale, ‘Into The Dark’ is another way in which that growth and change is clearly evidenced.
‘Into The Dark’ presents what is perhaps one of the biggest shifts that Amon Amarth has ever taken in its now 25 year-plus life. Whereas so many of its songs are straight-forward, driving metal works, this opus starts and ends with a gentle piano line. That line is complimented with the addition of a group of string musicians to help set the song’s mood. As the song opens, that pairing eventually fades away, making room for the band’s own elements. What is interesting in this case is that the guitar-driven arrangement boasts a certain old school metal sound at times alongside the more modern sound that audiences have come to expect from the band. The whole of these elements makes the arrangement in whole, one more of the album’s most intriguing additions. It is yet more proof of the change and growth in the band’s sound. It is just one way in which the song exhibits that growth and change. The song’s lyrical content, believe it or not, actually shows a certain amount of growth and change, too.
The song’s lyrical content shows a certain level of change in that the only Norse element comes late in one of the verses in which Hegg sings, “I am who I am/I am Loke to you.” The rest of the song comes across more as one of those familiar showings of introspection; thoughts of overcoming personal adversity. That is obvious right from the song’s outset as Hegg sings, “There is a darkness in my soul/A darkness that can’t be tamed/A deep void of emptiness/A gaping wound/A vile, corrupted entity/That has no name/From the dark into the light/I make this journey on my own/From the dark into the light/I make this journey on my own/From the dark into the light/I must fight this darkness all alone.” He goes on in the song’s second verse to sing, “I try to do what is right/And still my twisted mind is full of spite/Each day a struggle/With this side of me/A losing battle/I can’t break free/No!/I can’t break free…” From here he goes on to sing of the “demons” dragging the subject back into despair. There are even brief Norse notes in this discussion, about “Dagas my guide/But Thurisas bides.” So yes, the familiar Viking content is there, but in the bigger picture, this song seems lyrically, to be something of a change for the band. Yes, the content is familiar in its discussion about dealing with inner emotional turmoil, but it is still a discussion that will resonate easily with listeners. On top of all of that, the very fact that the band would go to the length of limiting the Norse content in favor of seemingly something more standard shows, again, that growth and change from the band. All of that change considered, this song is one of Berserker’s most notable compositions, showing where the band very well could be headed. It shows in its own way that whether the band is performing familiar songs centered on Viking lore or working on something more mainstream, it succeeds. It is just one more of the songs featured in this record that stands out. ‘Fafner’s Gold,’ which opens the album, is another standout addition to the album.
‘Fafner’s Gold’ opens with an element that while familiar to many metal bands today, is another element that is unfamiliar to Amon Amarth – an acoustic guitar introduction. Arch Enemy and so many other similar metal acts have used such an approach to their songs throughout their catalogues, but Amon Amarth has rarely if ever taken that approach. That intro leads very quickly, into the band’s familiar shredding and machine-gun-fast time keeping in a whole that longtime Amon Amarth fans will recognize and appreciate. The composition in whole is certain to keep listeners engaged and entertained, and is just one part of what will entertain and engage listeners. The song’s lyrical content does just as much to maintain that interest.
The song’s lyrical content tells the myth of…well…Fafner’s gold. In doing research on the song, it is found that Fafner is one of the giants who built Valhalla, the Norse afterlife realm. Fafner was turned into a dragon, according to the myth, after killing his own brother Fasolt after the pair takes the treasure of the dwarf Alberich. Fafner was ultimately killed by Siegfried. The Icelandic version of the tale, which the band seems to be following here, actually presents Fafner (Fafnir in this case) as a dwarf instead of a giant. In this version, Regin sent his foster son Sigurd to kill Fafnir in his dragon form. The whole story can be read here. What is so interesting to learn in researching the song is the variants thereof. There is the noted Icelandic version and a Germanic version as well as one other take on the tale. The variants within each telling are minor, but are there. This version however, involves the familiar Norse mythology, including the mention of Loke and other Norse figures. It sticks to everything that the band has done throughout its life. It also serves to illustrate Hegg’s comment about the band’s approach to the album in whole. “The previous album was a concept album, but we didn’t want to get into a situation where every album has to be a concept record, so this is different. We wanted to step away from that and look at being a little bit more diverse with the lyrics and everything else.” When this latest bit of Norse mythology is coupled with its equally familiar musical styling, the whole proves to be yet another positive addition to Berserker. When it is considered along with the other songs noted here and the nine remaining songs not directly discussed, the whole of the album becomes a work that Amon Amarth’s longtime fans will appreciate just as much as those who might not be so familiar with the band’s work.
Amon Amarth’s new album Berserker is everything that audiences have come to expect from the band. It is also a slight display of growth and development from the band, as evidenced in the songs noted here. Those songs, when considered along with the rest of the album’s works, make Berserker another successful offering from the “Kings” of Viking metal and one more of the year’s top new hard rock and metal albums. The album is available now. The band is now touring in support of the album, too. The band’s tour includes a performance in Charlotte, NC on Oct. 15. The band’s current tour schedule is available online now along with all of the band’s news and more at:
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