Amon Amarth could well be the most consistent band in metal today, with a career spanning nearly 20 years and a catalogue of quality death metal since delivered. Before their upcoming tenth release, ‘Jomsviking’, is released, vocalist Johan Hegg took the time to discuss the new record and the story behind the material.
What have you been up to today?
I just woke up. I overslept a bit, so I just ran downstairs for some breakfast. I’m currently in Berlin on a promo tour. So we have been through London and Paris and now we are in Berlin. It’s been great. Everybody is really excited about the new album.
Have any of the songs been performed yet?
We are saving that until [the album] comes out. We haven’t had any shows where we have played the new stuff yet.
You guys have been doing the death metal, Viking inspired stuff for 20 years now. Is it getting tiring?
This is the music that we love. It always has been. In my opinion, we have managed to evolve within what we do. We have had to make it interesting for ourselves and hopefully for the fans as well. I think we have always been a band to take small steps, like small changes from album to album musically, but without losing the foundation of who we are and what we want our music to be. We are just trying to have a new take on it all from album to album.
On that point, what is different about Jomsviking musically?
Because it’s a concept album, it is far more melodic and epic. We kind of wrote it as film music almost, so it had to emphasise the emotion that goes into that all. Also on this album we have a different drummer and that really opened up the production. There is more air in the production to allow melodies from the guitars to be more present, which I really like.
Was it strange doing a record with a new drummer after so long with the same line-up?
No, not really. It felt good. The guy who we asked to help us write the album and to record the album is an old friend. We have known him for a long time, and he has lots of creativity. It felt very natural to work with him on this album.
That was Tobias Gustafsson from Vomitory. Is he going to become a permanent member of the band?
That wasn’t really the plan, but right now we are trying out some other drummers so I don’t think Tobias will [be the replacement]. We’ve been auditioning some other guys and there is one in particular whom we will try out next week. If we decide on him then he is going to be the drummer in the beginning of the touring season, because it’s important for us to find a guy who works well with the group as well as being able to play. It’s also about personality. So, we will do a bit of touring and see if we are happy with him and if he is happy with us, and go from there.
With the new record, because it’s the first time you have done a concept album, did you write it in concept order, or did you realise midway through that there would be some similar themes?
I wrote a whole story, like a movie script deal. We took parts out of that to make into lyrics, and wrote music to those lyrics. It was a different way of working for us, but I think we have pulled through and come out with a really good album in the end.
What motivated you to go down that route?
To write a story is an idea I have had for a while. I didn’t write it to become anything. It was more of a kind of project for myself. Then, when we were discussing what to do for the next record, I said that I had a story ready to go, so I sent it to the guys and they thought it was cool. So we decided to do a concept album, which we had never done before, and it presented us with a cool new challenge.
With writing the story, what was the inspiration for it? Norse mythology?
The story I had was something that was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to write the Jomsviking thing, because, although it’s interesting, I wanted to have something more straightforward as the main story, with Jomsviking as the backdrop.
Because the lyrics are so inspired by mythology, how much do you guys read that kind of literature?
For me, Norse mythology has been a big part of my life since I was very young. I’ve read a lot about it in both historical and fictional books, and it’s such a big part of who I am today that I don’t even notice it anymore. It’s just kind of there. Even though the other guys might not have read up as much on Viking history as I have, they are also really into it.
When did it become such a key part of your life?
I think the interest started when I was about 10, which is when I started reading about it. But then it just evolved. I wouldn’t say there was a pivotal moment of, “Oh, this is a big part of my life now.” It just happens, you know?
What do you think Vikings would have thought of your sound?
Oh, it’s hard to say, man. I bet some would have liked it, but some not so much.
Going back to the record, is it something you are going to play from start to finish in a live setting?
I think that on occasion we will play the entire record if the timing is right, but it was important for us to write the songs so that they could all stand on their own musically and lyrically. That way we can put them into a live setting without it feeling like there is something missing to a song that would normally be part of a concept. If you think about it, people have a different way of consuming music these days. They don’t really care about which order they hear it in. However, with a concept record, I do hope more people will sit down and listen to the record from start to finish whilst reading the lyrics and stuff.
Is that how you like to listen to music nowadays?
I always listen to the full album. In the beginning I like to follow the lyrics and read the lyrics. That’s what I did when I was a kid.
So what are some albums you have been listening to recently?
Well, obviously the new Iron Maiden and Slayer albums. But I’ve been going back and listening to some older records like Empire Falls and all that kind of stuff.
Any Australian Plans coming up?
There are plans. Whether or not they come through is a different story, but we do want to go back to Australia. It’s become a little bit trickier now because Soundwave is out of the picture, but we are working on going back. That will probably not be this year, but you never know what’s going to happen.
‘Jomsviking’ is due out March 25 via Sony Music Australia. You can pre-order the album via iTunes.