Friday 3 May 2019

Amon Amarth - Berserker (2019)

Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 May 2019
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Amon Amarth have been a force to be reckoned with pretty much since they got together way back in 1992 and especially since their Twilight of the Thunder God album broke them globally in 2008. This eleventh album demonstrates what they do well across a dozen tracks and ably highlights why they're support on Slayer's farewell tour right now. Many people are calling it their best work in years.

So why is it leaving me mostly dry? Well, I'm not entirely sure.

Certainly some of it is that the majority of the album feels comfortable and safe and that's not something I expect from my death metal. Even a melodic death metal album is supposed to have some level of evil to it, something that's abrasive and heavy and in your face. Raven's Flight does that here and I can absolutely see the pit exploding a couple of minutes in. There's also a heavy section in Mjolner, Hammer of Thor that meets that need.

But the rest feels far too comfortable. I listened to the new Possessed EP earlier today and it feels evil and passionate and energetic. By comparison, Johan Hegg's voice is getting warm and cuddly, as if he's singing songs like Shield Wall to his grandchildren around a log fire. There's an emphasis beat in Skoll and Hati that ought to be calamitous but it's underwhelming. Maybe that's a production issue but I doubt it because this sounds smooth and well mixed throughout.

In fact, maybe that smoothness is the problem because it highlights just how effortless this is becoming for Amon Amarth. They're so good at what they do that even the more intricate sections are seamless, to the degree that the band members appear to be hardly even trying. Songs like The Berserker at Stamford Bridge or Wings of Eagles are Amon Amarth telling stories by the numbers. I won't call this material easy to play but they make it seem like it's as easy as the alphabet song.

Now, I really shouldn't complain if any musician is just so damn good that he can play fast songs like Skoll and Hati or Wings of Eagles without even breaking a sweat, but I feel as if folk that good should keep challenging themselves. One reason why Metallica's ...And Justice for All was so great is because the band really weren't that good; they simply gave it their all and played their socks off, which elevated their skills to another level.

Fafner's Gold is a fantastic start to the album, because it's a varied and intricate piece, with highs and lows and all sorts of interesting moments. The problem is that it suggests that the rest of the album will follow suit and it just doesn't. Valkyria comes close, with a glorious breakdown using bass and drum that should never seem that effortless, and Into the Dark gets interesting at points. The rest of the songs are more like When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails, which just finds a pace and follows it for four and a half minutes until the next song kicks on and that's about it.

I feel like I'm being emphatically negative here and I really don't aim to be. This isn't a bad album and there are plenty of highlights. It's going to sell well and help bolster Amon Amarth's reputation as a major force in the modern metal landscape. But it's bouncy and comfortable and accessible and easy to listen to and death metal should never be that way.

Maybe it's time for Johan Hegg to finally bite the bullet and own up to his band playing Viking metal rather than melodic death. This would go down far better with a big drinking horn full of mead in an oaken hall with brothers and sisters in metal around vast benches. Perhaps that's all that's bugging me. It's just that I haven't felt that way about an Amon Amarth album until this one.

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