Amon Amarth: Horns Up
Get your drinking horns ready – none-more-metal Swedes Amon Amarth are unleashing a (what else?) Viking-themed concept record. Man-mountain frontman Johan Hegg compares beards with Brendan Crabb.
Although remarkably consistent on wax, creatively Amon Amarth aren’t exactly renowned for subverting fan or critical expectation. That said, now on their tenth album, the Swedish melodic death metal outfit felt compelled to stretch well-established boundaries, even if such intentions may not always be readily detectable during initial spins, or apparent to casual listeners. New LP Jomsviking is a concept piece inspired by the elite Viking mercenaries of its title, conceived and written by vocalist Johan Hegg.
“I think it was the challenge really,” he ponders. “We felt like, ‘What can we do now? How can we do something new and fresh for ourselves?’ I think the idea of the concept album was not necessarily the first idea we had, but I think when the idea came up it felt like it was obvious that was what we were going to do.”
Jomsviking is rooted in a simple “young man is in love with a girl, but unfortunately she’s being married off” tale. Only the protagonist accidentally kills a man when this occurs and has to flee. It’s an Amon Amarth record, after all.
“The way the story evolves is not a happy story… it’s a tragedy, I guess,” the vocalist ponders. “But I like sad endings, because they’re the ones that affect you the most. I think all the songs are very strong. I think the lyrical concept worked out really well. I started writing the story, went into it wholeheartedly and once you start going down that path there’s really no turning back. You can definitely tell it’s Amon Amarth, but I think there’s a bunch of new elements and new ideas and angles to the music that hopefully people will really appreciate and enjoy.”
“I actually wrote it kind of like a movie script, so it is this big, massive story.”
The blood-stained, revenge-fuelled narrative is brought to life in vivid musical fashion. The Andy Sneap-manned recording features the “creative input and positive energy” of Vomitory drummer Tobias Gustafsson, filling the vacancy left by long-time tub-thumper Fredrik Andersson (note – Hegg reveals the band are currently seeking a permanent replacement). The effect is further enhanced by metal queen Doro Pesch’s presence, who duets on “A Dream That Cannot Be”.
“The character is a very independent woman, with strong charisma and character, so we needed someone to portray that,” Hegg gushes. “But we also wanted to have a voice that fits the music well and the only person we could really think about was Doro Pesch.”
There’s a palpably cinematic quality throughout Jomsviking, too. “That’s actually funny that you should say that, because the story that I wrote, I actually wrote it kind of like a movie script, so it is this big, massive story really,” Hegg says. “I did actually send it to a buyer in the movie business, but it’s a fair way from writing a script to having it become a movie. But if you don’t send it out, it’s never going to be a movie, so we’ll see.”
Now there’s just the minor matter of acquiring a multi-million dollar budget to make a film version of the band’s new opus a reality. The growler has already dabbled in acting via the full-length Northmen: A Viking Saga, so said potential production could afford a future role.
“It is something that I would like to do again, definitely,” the vocalist says of being in front of the camera. “But there is no plans yet. For me, the album and the band keeps me busy anyway, but we’ll see what happens. If the right project comes along and I feel like I can do it, I’ll definitely consider it. But it’s not really anything that I’m thinking about right now. It’s not a career I’m actively pursuing.”
How he’d find sufficient time to do so seems problematic anyway. Since 2008’s Twilight Of The Thunder God proved a breakthrough release – particularly in lucrative markets such as the US – Amon Amarth have enjoyed seemingly perpetual momentum.
“We often take into consideration how the songs will work out when we play them live. But at the same time we always try to write songs that appeal to us more than anyone else.”
The importance of Twilight… to the quintet’s career cannot be understated; an album practically bursting with undeniable songs. What does Hegg attribute its widespread acclaim to?
“Tricky question. It’s the second album for us that we worked with a proper producer in the first place. We worked with producers before, but we never worked with producers in the right way I think. That was the first album where we worked with a producer and giving them free range to work with our sound and our songs to make them better.
“Otherwise we always produced ourselves and we had basically what was studio engineers. I think on the second album we felt more comfortable about doing it, and the producer at the time was Jens Bogren, [who] felt more comfortable working with us as well. He thought that he could be much more straightforward with us on stuff… There’s a bunch of factors, but why that became such a big hit was a lot thanks to our collaboration with Jens Bogren as the producer. Maybe if you ask some of the other guys they’ll give you a different answer, but that’s why for me.”
As revered as the band is in territories such as North America and Australia though (Hegg remains hopeful of a return visit Down Under in 2017), on the performance front their spiritual home is the European open air festival circuit. BLUNT can attest first-hand to how stirringly their visceral delivery and anthemic hooks resonate within that environment. “We often take into consideration how the songs will work out when we play them live obviously. But at the same time we always try to write songs that appeal to us more than anyone else really.”
Jomsviking is out now through Metal Blade/Sony.