Review Summary: Complacency loud as Heimdall's horn.
There is something to be said for artists that stick to their guns and release consistently good albums, for whom the pursuit of genre defying masterworks takes a backseat to fist pumping anthems and tried and true songwriting. With their last several releases, Amon Amarth have settled comfortably into this niche, pushing out solid yet inoffensive material at a steady pace to a grateful and passionate fanbase. Despite some moments of glory, the Swede’s penultimate release “Jomsviking” began to reveal the cracks in this formula. With “Berserker,” Amon Amarth finally tips the scales from reliability to complacency.
From beginning to end, “Berserker” blearily chugs along on momentum alone as the band deems it fit to copy past successes and spin their wheels. Cannibalized Iron Maiden leads tirelessly ring out over listless tremolo riffing only to be syncopated by predictably “heavy” palm muted chugs and breakdowns. Occasional acoustic guitars, piano keys, and spoken word sections serve as filler to tracks already stretched painfully thin through ceaseless verse-chorus patterns. Moments of brilliance are few and far between and are often marred by hamstringing frustrations. “Shield Wall” wastes the potential of its menacing climax by rolling into another recycled verse. The brief drum interlude of “Raven’s Flight” sounds painfully synthetic. “Ironside” starts with promise but then ruins it with a jarringly awkward chorus. Amon Amarth is great at fashioning epic album closers, but “Into the Dark” comes off as an uninspired re-tread of “Doom Over Dead Man.” The record’s few strengths, such as a smattering of headbanging riffs and the one of a kind vocals of Johan Hegg do little to counter this fatal realization, there is nothing on “Berserker” that Amon Amarth hasn’t done (and done better) before.
Production wise things aren’t much better, most of the album functioning as a vocal-centric and compressed wall of sound. Rhythm guitars sound dull and lethargic, the leads paper thin and out of place. As is depressingly common in metal, the bass rarely steps out from behind the guitars. “Berserker” marks the band’s first full length recording with drummer Jocke Wallgren. His contributions are serviceable but do little to stand out from the herd and fail to leave the shadow cast by ex-member Fredrik Andersson.
In a market dominated by major labels and contractual obligations, it’s all too easy for bands to simply churn out another bunch of songs and then get back to touring. With their eleventh record, Amon Amarth falls victim to this cycle, recycling their own back catalog to the point that their longest record to date slides by in a blur. But all the same, the machine churns on. Shows need booking. Horns need filling. Shirts need selling. For Amon Amarth, “Berserker” is just another day on the job.
[Review was originally written for my personal blog at "Heathenhearted.net"]