Writing this review without mentioning the name of…er a certain Swedish Viking metal band is going to test all my finely-honed skills as a reviewer. Because the similarities between Asenblut and Am…. ahhh….er… that band with the ex-lorry driver as a frontman – Windmill Beard, as I like to think of him – is going to be tricky. The parallels are undeniable. But with Windmill Beard and crew launching the same Viking burial ship from their Swedish homeland shores every two or three years with – let’s be honest – ever diminishing returns, it might not be a bad thing if a few young pretenders came along and ruffled a few bear skins.
Because while Windy et al are still the undisputed masters of their own art – I mean, you’re always going to get some killer tracks on every album – there’s a distinct sense that some of the song writing is simply just going through the paces. So what would a band sound like if it was hungry and determined to make its name as “The Best Band That Sounds A Bit Like That Band From Sweden That Sings About Norse Mythology”. But isn’t actually them. In German. If that’s what you’re after then Asenblut is that band.
Berserker is strong in every department. The vocals are gruff and pleasingly free of vocal effects, the tracks are thunderingly melodic and they do not rely too much on the kind of overly formulaic hooks that, hmmm, some other bands fall back on and drop in like a box full of battle axes at every turn. Yes, the hooks are there, obviously. Tracks like Drachenborn, lean heavily on the type of semi-black metal, soaring, single picked riff that still works so well. And while they’ve got the basics down to a tee, Asenblut still come across as exciting because their use of those basic ingredients is sharp. Tracks like Berserkerzorn, Helden Des Ewigen Sturms and Des Alchemisten Elixier embrace subtlety as well as outright power and will still have any fan of heavily melodic Viking-themed death metal salivating into their mead-horns. And, dare I say it, a bunch of these tracks are every bit as good as much of the material produced by the masters themselves.
And in case you’re wondering whether the band, now on its third album, is self-aware enough to admit who their influences are? Well of course, the marketing puff gives reference to the band being on its ‘glorious march’ and references Amon Amarth (there, I’ve said it!) as well as bands like Behemoth and Iron Maiden (and yes, I suppose those soaring riffs are very Maiden).
But to be honest, if you bought this expecting to hear Behemoth in those galloping tales and revolving melodies – you perhaps won’t be surprised by this point in the review to hear that you’d be disappointed. Try listening to the opening bars of Bittere Wacht, for example, and not instantly flashing back to Hermod’s Ride To Hell. So, despite my (admittedly rather pathetic) efforts to move the conversation around Asenblut away from the obvious, why bother?
But I’ve always said, as a reviewer, you want to hear bands doing something different but if you’re going to do them same shit as someone else – make sure you do it well. Asenblut absolutely does the latter. Over twelve tracks (13 if you count the bonus Berserker Rage, sung in English), Berserker goes on a rampage that doesn’t leave a single village free of the torch.
When all is said and done, it isn’t hard to pigeon hole Asenblut – in fact it’s impossible not to. If Amon Amarth went up in a puff of smoke tomorrow, or were all inexplicably, simultaneously and terminally involved in a mysterious mead-horn accident, the world need not worry. We officially have a ‘Plan B’. If you like Amon Amarth and fancy hearing what they might have sounded like singing in German, you are in for a real treat here: because Asenblut are doing a bloody good job of it.
(7.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)