It’s a testament to a band’s ability when even after 20 years and eight studio albums, they are still converting new fans with every new release. Amon Amarth’s last two albums have been some of the most important metal releases in the last decade, powerful, melodic and insanely aggressive, continually exploring the theme of Norse mythology and Vikings in lyrics and imagery. Now, with just-released Surtur Rising, they have bettered themselves again and have received unanimous praise from fans and critics alike. Vocalist and long-time member Johan Hegg sat down with us to tell us all about it.
Hey Johan, this is Jake from Killyourstereo. How’s things?
Yes quite good. It’s a snowy day here in Sweden, although it’s Spring.
Cool, well we’ve finally seen the release 8th studio album ‘Surtur Rising’, excited to see it on shelves?
Of course, whenever you work for a long time on something like an album, it’s always great to see the finished product. Now we just want to see what our fans think of it.
For sure, the reviews have been very positive…
Yeah we’re happy, they’ve been excellent. Metal Hammer in Germany actually gave us album of the month which is nice. Hopefully the fans love it as much as the media.
Congrats on that mate. For those who haven’t had a chance to listen yet, how would you say it differs musically from Twilight of the Thunder God?
There haven’t been any major changes in style or anything, but we have added some new elements and ideas to try and spice up our sound. It’s more aggressive and the guitars have more edge to them. It’s a heavier sounding album, and also more diverse – there are some really fast songs and also some big epic songs. It’s a good mixture of brutality and epic melodies.
Awesome, and lyrically?
Well we’ve continued to keep the theme of the band intact, obviously drawing a lot of inspiration from Norse mythology. With the lyrics there is also some more contemporary stuff you can read more into if you have the time. So yeah there are some contemporary elements, but the general theme is still rooted in Norse mythology.
While we’re on that subject, with your lyrics dealing with North mythology, you’re music is often branded as ‘Viking metal.’ With quite a few bands of completely different styles getting grouped under the common lyrical ground of Vikings, do you think it’s misleading label to be given?
The problem that I see personally, and I know that not everyone in the band agrees with me, is that it can become more about the lyrics than the music. To me, music comes first, then the lyrics. I don’t like the term ‘Viking metal’, because it could be any sort of metal, calling it Viking metal doesn’t tell you anything about the music. The first band I ever hear to use the term ‘Viking Metal’ was Enslaved, and at the time they had a black metal approach to their music while we were more death metal.
On Surtur Rising you again worked with legendary producer Jens Bogren, what’s he like to work with?
He’s a great producer, he has very good ideas for how to spice up songs and knows if they need new elements. He’s good at rearranging songs to make them flow better. He’s very dedicated and thorough, which is sometimes hard on us because he’ll only settle for perfection [Laughs]. Sometimes we have to do 8 or 9 takes on one tiny part.
The classic covers on the deluxe edition are sweet, what made you decide to cover Accept, System and Kiss?
Well the original idea was to release bonus tracks for our different markets, one for Europe, one for the US and one for Asia and Australia. That didn’t work out for different reasons and we put them on the deluxe edition, but when we decided to bonus tracks, we didn’t have any leftover material because we write stuff that we don’t release. We decided to do some covers, and we chose those bands for two reasons. One, because we thought we could do something good with them and secondly they are bands that we have always loved. Kiss is one of the first hard rock bands I ever listened to and so were Accept.
Sweet, Accept was actually my introduction to metal as well. Dad scared the shit out of me with Fast As A Shark when I was four or five.
Awesome. I bought Balls To The Wall on cassette and I think I played it til the tape broke [Laughs].
Nice! Well you guys were last here in Australia back in 2009, do you think we can look forward to a new tour soon?
I hope so, unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to be this year though. We definitely want to come back, so hopefully we make it next year. We’re looking into it, fingers crossed.
What were the highlights last time around?
All the shows were great, Melbourne and Sydney had a lot of people. Perth was a smaller show but was still a lot of fun, especially since we lost our luggage on the way and we had to just play in what we were wearing. Fortunately our instruments got there, but we had to just play in our casual clothes [laughs]. Australia’s a cool country because people are so mellow and laid back, but when it comes to a metal show they are wilder than most people.
You’ve now got a pretty huge back-catalogue of music, I’d imagine that would make picking songs quite hard?
It’s getting trickier and trickier. People seem to know the newer stuff a lot better to our older albums so we do usually include mostly newer stuff, but also throw in a few older ones for our long-time fans. It is difficult, we have eight albums and it’s not always that we have an hour or more to play.
What are a few of your personal favourite tracks?
The song “Amon Amarth” off the first album remains one of my favourites, along with "Victorious March". From later albums I’d say "Valhall Awaits Me" is definitely a favourite, "Runes To My Memory" is another. Off the new album…all of them [laughs].
If you were to form some sort of supergroup of musicians, alive or dead, who would you choose?
Do I have to be in it?
Up to you.
That’s difficult. Jeff Hanneman from Slayer on guitar. Probably Gene Hoglan from Death on drums. Lemmy on bass, that’d be interesting [laughs]. Now just because I’m curious, I’m going to put Olavi from Amon Amarth in, because I know Jeff Hanneman is his favourite guitarist but they have a very different playing style so I’ love to see what they come up with. Let’s go with me on vocals to make things easy, to think of someone else I would have to go through my record collection.
Nice! Well thanks a lot for the interview Johan, anything you’d like to say before we run out of time?
Just that I desperately hope we can get to Australia soon, and go and buy the new album because it’s a killer.