Northern Berserker – Rotten Flag
Northern Berserker is the new album from Swedish four-piece Rotten Flag. This is the third full-length album from the band, following 2022’s We are… and an EP from last year.
Lets get the situation with the artwork out of the way first. I don’t why Rotten Flag chose to have artwork and an album title that screams white supremacy this much. This sure will scare off some people new to the band (my wife wondered what the hell I was about to listen to). It might be with a big dose of irony, but I think that is lost on a lot of people. The fact that the first track is viking themed lyrically does by no means ease this first impression. Thankfully those moments are very few and far between on the album.
Rotten Flag plays punk’n’roll with a big dose of Oi!. Some would perhaps say that it’s the other way around on this album, Oi! with a dose of rock’n’roll. Influences from Cock Sparrer can be heard throughout, along with some early Dropkick Murphys, The Business and even some Springsteen at a place. Opener The Boar definitively’s got some Do or Die Dropkick Murphys feeling to it, while on tracks like I still believe, Disorchestrated and The new kingmakers stretches the Oi!-muscles. Rotten Flag got two vocalists splitting the vocal-duties, one of them having that nice gravely voice, kind of like Al Barr and Mike McColgan, while the other has a more rock’n’roll-friendly deliverance. They mostly split the tracks between each other but on Wolf’s Bane and The new kingmakers we get some back and forth vocals, which I always think is nice, it gives a nice dynamic energy to the songs.
I like Rotten Flag most when they go into Oi! and more straightforward punkrock, such as in I still believe, Wolf’s bane, Disorchestrated and The new kingmakers. The Springsteen-esque closer Nuclear Winter is also a standout, closing the album in a mid-tempo fashion.
Lyrically it’s split between working class themes common in Oi! and some social commentary, as well as the rock’n’roll themes of drinking and doing drugs. It’s a nice mix, although I’m not to impressed with the whole viking/northern berserker thing, but luckily that’s only opening in the openers of the A- and B-side of the record. On the production side of things it’s got a nice dirty sound, without becoming too low-fi. I’ve listened to the vinyl version, which the band said has a slight different master, going for that 70/80’s sound. Having listened to the digital version there is a slight difference to be heard, but it’s not a night and day difference.
Artwork and the aforementioned theme aside, I like what Rotten Flag are doing on Northern Berserker. It’s got lots of energy, a nice dirty sound and mostly well-written tracks. I’ve read that they felt the need to explain their lyrics to reviewers on earlier albums, so I take some things with a bit of salt, there might be references, irony and jokes that go above my head here. An excellent album to kick of the year.
The album is released on the 4th of February through Galgbacken Records, available both on vinyl and on streaming platforms.