Amon Amarth: Warriors Of The North
Johan Hegg looks like he would be right at home on a ninth century battlefield, swinging an axe through the skulls of his enemies. He’s not an aggressive person, in fact he’s quietly spoken, but the six-foot plus frontman just happens to look like a legitimate Viking. Of course, there’s more to Amon Amarth than tales of Viking mythology, like their ninth studio album and a supposedly tasty beer; two things that no self respecting metalhead should be without. With 21 years and nine studio albums under their belts, Hegg brought us up to speed with everything that’s happening on the Amon Amarth longship.
As well as your ninth studio release, Deceiver Of The Gods, last year also saw you notch up a whopping 21 years under the Amon Amarth name. Do you feel like it’s been that long?
Woah, that’s crazy [laughs]! We feel great of course, it’s fantastic that we’ve been able to make it this far and we’re still constantly growing as a band, it’s just amazing. I don’t know if I really thought that was possible when I started the band but you had your hopes of course. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s been 21 years but in another way, when I start thinking back, it’s like, “Woah, shit, that’s a long time” [laughs].
Do you feel as though you’ve achieved a lot of what you wanted to achieve with Amon Amarth?
We had to build slowly really, so we always had certain goals and when we reached them we put up new goals, but we never really tried to look too far ahead. I think that we’ve managed to accomplish a lot as a band, most of our goals have been fulfilled.
What would you say was the most memorable goal you reached over the last two decades?
I think it was back after Fate Of Norns (2004) when we decided to go full-time and the fact that we’ve succeeded at that.
For 14 of those years you’ve had the same line-up, which is no mean feat. Have you done anything in particular to maintain a positive relationship over such a long time?
That’s impossible for me to answer because I’ve never been in any other band really. I think the key elements are that from the beginning we were really good friends and that we share everything equally in the band no matter who writes what, you know? That’s always been important.
So the band has a democratic process where everyone shares equal duties?
Yeah most definitely, we try to share everything, even responsibilities that we think we should share. Everybody has a say, you know, if they feel they have something to contribute to a discussion, so it’s very much a democratic process, for good or bad. Sometimes it means everything works really, really slowly [laughs], sometimes it would be much easier if one guy just said, “Nope, this is the way we’re going and this is the way we’re going” but I don’t think, in the long run, it would be better to have it that way. I think it’s better to have everyone actually involved in the development of the band, I think that’s really helpful. At least for us.
It’s been out for a little while now, but let’s talk about Deceiver Of The Gods. Can you run us through the writing and recording process for it?
Well we never write on the road, we’ve never really done that. I think when the guys write most of the music they come up with the ideas and riffs on the road, then they work on their ideas at home and bring them to the rehearsal place where they put the songs together. For this album the recording was pretty smooth actually, we had all the songs written – lyrically and musically – going into the studio and we were well rehearsed. So we recorded them as much as possible in long takes to get that good live vibe and live feeling. I think it worked out great.
You also switched from producer Jens Bogren, who you’d worked with on the three previous albums, to Andy Sneap. How did you end up working with Andy and why did you choose to switch to him?
There’s two reasons why we chose to switch producers. First of all we recorded three albums with Jens, but we felt we had changed so we started looking for another producer. But we also started to go in a slightly different direction production-wise than we’ve been moving in the past couple of albums. It was very good, clean production but we wanted a more dirty, gritty aggressive production. So we looked up a couple of producers who we knew were really good, and we contacted Andy Sneap to see if he was interested. He came out to meet us at a festival in England and we sat down, had a talk and it all felt really good. That’s how we decided to work with Andy and it turned out to be a great choice. We had a great time in his studio and everything worked really well. We got along really well with him, it was a lot of fun.
As well as the grittiness, what else did he bring to the recording experience that was different from Jens, if anything?
For me, I guess I can only really answer for myself personally, but I think that he got a vibe that let us really relax when we were recording. He didn’t let you pressure yourself or strain yourself, it was a really relaxed way of recording which I really enjoy. But a studio’s a studio so there’s some things that weren’t different, but there was a different vibe or feeling. Apart from the fact, as I said before, we tried to record in longer takes to get a better live feeling on the album.
In terms of the compositions, I noticed that this album has more of a classic metal feel that I haven’t really heard on an Amon Amarth album before. Why did you pursue this sound?
The simple answer is that those things have always been there, it’s just that they haven’t been really prominent in our music because we kind of wanted to keep it on the low key and not make it obvious where our influences came from. But on this album I think we felt more comfortable letting those elements shine through than we’ve been in the past, we didn’t want to censor ourselves anymore. We just felt like we needed to explore new grounds to let those things shine through, and it really made it a big difference to the album, it elevated it to a new level and I personally love it. It’s really cool when you can take parts of bands you like and turn it into your own sound, but still have it show that this is the band we grew up listening to that inspired us through the years.
And whose idea was it to put the sound of someone being stabbed at the start of “Blood Eagle”?
[Laughs] I don’t actually remember who came up with the idea. I think it was one of those things where we were sitting in the studio drinking one night, just tossing silly ideas around and that one popped up. It was a pretty cool idea and the way they put it together as well was brilliant. We laughed really hard when we heard it the first time [laughs].
Regarding the lyrics, you regularly deal with history and mythology in your music. Is it based on real stories and myths and is there a strong research element to the lyric writing?
Three simple answers really: yes, no, and no [laughs]. Parts of the music are inspired by historical and mythological stories, other parts are not, but we don’t have any academic study. It’s just something that I enjoy reading about and I’ve read a lot about over the years, and I go back and re-read a lot of stories when I’m looking for inspiration. I enjoy reading mythology, history and the legends.
What are your other personal interests outside of history and mythology?
I think I’m interested in history in general, but otherwise I try to keep up with what’s happening in the world, news, I think that’s interesting. But I enjoy a lot of stuff like sports and I’m really into whiskey and beer, they’re some of the hobbies I have as well.
Did you say beer is a hobby?
Yeah kind of, I get different whiskeys and beers and try them, I enjoy different stuff. I even got a home brewery for my 40th birthday so I’m going to start brewing beer here in the fall, that’s the plan.
Didn’t Amon Amarth release their own beer?
We put out a beer together with Three Floyds Brewing from Illinois here in the States, it’s a really awesome beer that we brewed together. Possibly we’re going to do another range of beers together with a couple of guys in Sweden this year. It’s definitely something I personally enjoy doing.
Sometimes people jokingly refer to you as a legitimate Viking but your on-stage presence is very much like that. How much of a theatrical element goes into the Amon Amarth live show and why is it so important?
There are theatrical elements, especially when we bring the big production. We have Viking ships and we’ve had Vikings fighting on stage, stuff like that, but we ourselves never dress up as Vikings on-stage and very rarely for photo shoots. I think it’s because, well the way I see it, I don’t want the band to be defined by its lyrics, I think that’s kind of a weird way of looking at things. I think the best way to define a band is through the music, so, when you call us a Viking metal band, all of a sudden it becomes all about the lyrics and nothing about the music. I’m always kind of opposed to it in that aspect but overall, it doesn’t really matter. I just think it’s a little bit weird, but I won’t get pissed off or anything, it just kind of doesn’t really sit well with me. But if you want to call it that it’s fine.
So let’s set the record straight: what would you prefer people call your music?
That’s the tricky part. The problem with the Viking metal label is that so many bands that play different music get the label and then it’s hard to really distinguish the bands when you focus on the lyrics. We are a band with firm roots in heavy metal, but we have a lot of thrash metal and death metal influences as well so it is definitely difficult to describe our music, I’ll give you that.
Catch Amon Amarth when they’re here later this month for Soundwave!
Soundwave Festival 2014 Dates
Saturday 22nd February – RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
Sunday 23rd February – Olympic Park, Sydney
Friday 28th February – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Saturday 1st March – Bonython Park, Adelaide
Monday 3rd March – Claremont Showgrounds, Perth