Title: Berserker (Beast in Black)
Genre: Power metal
Running length: 51 min 3 sec
Release: Nov 3, 2017
FROM A TENTATIVE step into heavy metal’s shallows in 2009, I found myself surfing symphonic tidal waves, skirting the addictive riffs of the abyss, and finally, drowning in bag pipes, flutes and hurdy-gurdy whirlpools. But Beast in Black‘s rollercoaster debut blasts a hole straight through to the centre of the Earth, where scalding hot magma carries some gorgeous melodies and unforgettable lines.
Former Battle Beast guitar slayer and lyrical maestro Anton Kabanen unleashes a monster of a concept album with new band, Beast in Black. Based upon Zodd the Immortal (Nosferatu Zodd) from dark fantasy 1990s manga Berserk, its pop-tinged choruses, frosty howls, and tortured, fantastical lyricism conspire to form an unholy union. Each song is layered with an icy film that instantly separates itself from the warmth of Dragonforce or Avantasia, and fittingly, adopts minor keys to evoke dormant romance, retribution, and fiery doom.
Beast in Black‘s eponymous title track is a hell-raising 175 bpm punisher that rises out of the sludge for bloody vengeance. A thunderous drum overture shatters like glass upon the first scream of ‘Berserker’, and defiance drips from every subsequent cry, which Yiannis Papadopoulos realises in crispy clean methodical verses that sound tenor to my untrained ears. Sami Hänninen‘s faultless percussive display is like a beautiful glissando, cementing the inexhaustible tempo and binding the angry growls with a bulletproof shield.
Musically, Blind and Frozen is the most powerful track, showcasing Papadopoulos‘ fearless falsetto and a genius hook that is one hundred percent eargasm. A welcome respite from the tangible fury of Beast in Black, Blind and Frozen tells the story of tormented love and regret through rhyming poetic verse. Its irresistible chorus is flanked by softer stanzas and three bellows, which split the electrifying desolation into a beginning, middle, and end.
Blood of a Lion feels like it was stitched from generic cloth, with a less compelling chorus and conventional symbolism, while Born Again raises the bar once more, expressing wistful agony as it vaults between quiet lament and burning, wounded shrieks, mourning the fragility of a love that presently exists as untouchable dream. Kabanen simultaneously portrays love as a pauper in paradise and a cold-blooded murderer, carefully examining it like a multi-faceted diamond:
“Love is the killer that never dies
Murdering its victim with delight
A long forgotten and sacrificed
Beggar in a barren paradise”
Born Again emerges as one of the most lyrically impressive tracks on the album, with tear-jerking power ballad Ghost in the Rain swiping the second slot. Melancholic, romantic, and utterly exposed, it slows to a sigh, communicating in 50 bpm strums and exquisite declarations:
“Like a ghost in the rain, I call your name”
In stark contrast, Zodd the Immortal is a blistering powerhouse of violent shredding and fierce oaths. Mate Molnar, Kasperi Heikkinen and Kabanen deliver a crushing medley of bass and guitar that blows the mind and fulfils its contractual obligation to Berserk in one stroke. The Fifth Angel keeps the momentum going like a bubbling cauldron of insanity, diving headfirst into darker, more obscene territory, whilst remaining criminally catchy.
Eternal Fire unlocks The Final Countdown‘s eighties glam glory, yet doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself as an individual entity, something which Crazy, Mad, Insane does much more effectively; both inject a synthrock twist that hinges on poppy eurotrash (a guilty pleasure) but never reaches the inoffensive metalcore of Amaranthe (also a guilty pleasure). The rhythm is rediscovered in Hell for All Eternity, which grants a brief but pleasant key change, and Go to Hell abruptly switches the album’s focus from retribution to banishment of all things wicked—a theme that comes to the surface fully in the following track.
As the penultimate song, End of the World warns of a future in ruin in the form of a thrashing, apocalyptic, punch to the gut anthem. It’s an absolute ripper that sits right up there with Battle Beast‘s unstoppable Let it Roar.
Berserker demonstrates power metal in its finest form. Kabanen continues his legacy of musical magic in a brand new beast that is simply glorious with Heikkinen, Hänninen, Papadopoulos and Molnar as co-members. I fully concur with Nightwish‘s Tuomas Holopainen when he says, “You have to be mentally insane to not love this album”.
Verdict: Gold. Berserker is pure freaking alchemy.
REplay value: ★★★★☆
Rating system Wood: 0-5, Bonze: 6-9, Silver: 10-14, Gold: 15-19, Platinum: 20-24, Diamond: 25