If you’ve not yet heard of Scandinavian Death Metalers Amon Amarth, then you are truly missing out on some damn good shit. In a day and age when music, no matter what genre, sort of begins to meld together, this “huge” quintet (these guys are literally big) is tearing up the world of “loud music” with their standalone Viking and Norse Mythology infused brand of Death Metal. In an effort to further spread this truly astounding music, the guys recently managed to jump aboard a huge North American (and Canadian) tour with Trivium and headliners Children of Bodom. Fortunately for me (and more importantly for all of you crazy fans out there) I manage to catch up with frontman Johan Hegg just after he finished singing his lungs out in Toronto; the second last show of the tour. Here’s what the “big friendly giant” (who I have unofficially dubbed Conan) had to say about the origins of the band and their unique content, the art of self-energizing on stage, and the band’s future plans.
Your latest offering, Fate of Norns no doubt boasts some differences from your previous work. Overall the songs sound stronger and the song-writing itself seems more complex. To what do you owe these positive and progressive changes?
Johan: I think you’re right. I mean this album definitely is more complex. The songs might not be as diverse as on Versus The World, which had lots of tempo differences and stuff like that, but it’s more like a melodic thing… like the way we put the songs together. All together, combined with the lyrics and all that stuff, it is more complex… the way all things come together. We also put a lot effort into the sound… to have the right sound for the type of songs that we were having on the album. That’s also one of the reasons why we made two mixes because… we made a mix and then we weren’t really happy with it, so we went back and made a new mix.
When you were writing this album where did you found your motivations? And what were some of the reasons why you got more complex in your song writing?
Johan: I think a lot stuff that was going on during Versus The World was really… we had a lot stuff going on through our heads and we just felt that you know… fuck everything! And it sort of emptied us you know? We put so much of our emotions into that album, it sort of emptied us. We were touring with that album and all that stuff and when we came back from that, we were sort of just feeling low. I don’t know why because Versus The World was really… I think it was like such a how do you say… it drained us. It was such a roller coaster. I mean it was going up, up, up, all the way. And then when it finally stopped going up, like when we stopped and said, “Alright let’s make a new album,” it went boom… down. We felt the pressure of making another good album and all that stuff. So a lot of the stuff that was going through our minds; Where do we go from here? What should we do? What’s in our future? What’s happening next? That’s also I guess, one of the reasons why the theme of the album is fate… I mean as the title suggests; Fate of Norns. A lot of stuff happened in our lives, both as musicians and as people which really changed a lot of things. And that’s one of the reasons why this album became darker, more melancholy, perhaps more melodies and stuff like that.
Do you draw any of your musical influences from other Scandinavian bands in your area?
Johan: Not really. I mean the thing is what happens is a lot of times you go on tour, you play with bands such as Children of Bodom or like even Trivium which… I mean they’re good kids. I mean I don’t really like their brand of music, but they’re good kids and all that. But even if you don’t like the music, you still pick stuff up you know what I’m saying? And that’s how we always did it. You know, you hear stuff on the road. That’s because you work so closely with others. So every time we get off the road we have good ideas, new ideas, different ways to do stuff, and that’s one of the main inspirations for us to keep working.
So what about initial inspirations prior to the bands’ formation?
Johan: Well, it’s difficult to say. I mean if you compare the inspiration now, I mean that’s different from album to album pretty much. What really inspired us to form the band well… in a sense that’s probably better a question for Oli our guitar player. Because in a sense this band he started back in ’88 pretty much by himself. I mean not by himself, but with friends of his. And me and Ted joined in ’92 and then we changed some other members so Oli is the only original member left really. I know that musically he counts bands such as Mercyful Fate, Slayer, Motorhead, and DRI even as big influences. But also I know that just the other day he said in an interview that we did, that the reason he picked up the guitar and started playing the guitar was [Paul] “Ace” Frehley, so even KISS was in there.
Although there exist a ton of other Death Metal acts, you guys posses a unique quality which sets you apart from the pack; your music is filled with themes of Vikings and Norse Mythology. How exactly did you come to include these concepts in your music?
Johan: Actually it wasn’t really that we sat down and said we should do this. The reason why we went into this is like… I mean for mean it’s been an interest since I was like nine or ten when I started reading about it in school. Also my older sister was very much into that and still is. And we were writing different stuff. A lot of bands in the Stockholm area, where we come from, they had stories about Satan and blood and gore and shit like that. So you know, we were starting to go that path and then I wrote the lyrics for a song called “Thor Arise” and for me it just felt right. I thought the lyrics were cool and the guys did as well. So we started going down that path instead and we found out that this could really be our theme you know? And we would be different from all the other bands in our area. So that’s one of the main reasons we did it, but also because we felt that we all could stand for it. We all felt like this is what we are you know? And I think that’s an important part about being in a band, to be able to stand for what you do throughout the whole thing. I know a lot of bands who are like, “Satan this and Satan that,” then they still go celebrating Christmas with their parents and all that shit. And I’m not opposed to it; I go to my parents’ over Christmas. I definitely do, but I don’t see it as a Christmas because during Christmas there was also a Viking holiday. So I just to choose to see it as that!
The Norse Mythology; did you see these as personal philosophies which you can use in your daily lives?
Johan: I do, I definitely do. I mean I see the way Vikings lived their lives and one thing that I admire about my ancestry was the code of honour that they had you know? Like, if you give somebody your word you stick to it. No matter what! And that’s something that I really like. The whole thinking about everything; there are really cool sayings everywhere… that you can interpret of course in many ways… but if you really read them, it really gets to you. I mean that’s also one of the things opposed to Christianity if you will. Christianity is very condemning. They’re pointing fingers; you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that. Always don’t do, don’t do, don’t do. Whereas Viking mythology said if you want to be liked in life and if you want to get along with everybody, then you should do this and you should do that. I mean sometimes they say you shouldn’t but mostly when ‘it’ can bring you yourself harm and not the people around you. And that’s what I’m saying, it’s more positive thinking!
Although this theme totally works for you guys, did you ever have any problems being taken seriously when you first started out as a band?
Johan: Actually at first we experienced a lot of negative vibes, especially in Sweden. Because at the time when we came out, when we started making music, there were a lot of rightwing bands doing that stuff like with the Viking-themed lyrics. They never went as deep as we’ve done. We went deeper ‘mythologically’ and historically then anybody else, but people still saw us as you know… they sing about Vikings they must be totally rightwing racists. I mean we’ve never been a political band at all. And I personally am not a racist at all and nobody in the band is. I mean come on; we’ve had three drummers in this band. One was half East Indian and the other one was Martin Lopez who’s now in Opeth right? He’s from Uruguay. Come on, you know? [laughs]. I mean we wouldn’t have them in the band if we were racists. I mean a lot of people in Sweden thought that for a while, but now people are starting to understand that we are not racists and that feels really good. I mean it’s just our heritage and I feel proud about being Scandinavian. I’m not even fully Swedish myself, I’m part Norwegian. [laughs]
Touring. Over the years your live show has been continuously improving. You’re always enthused by your own music and seem to play every show as if it were your last. What’s your take on the importance of a live show?
Johan: I mean it’s always been important for us to put on a good show, but somewhere along the line we sort of drifted into this routine. You start getting too routine, you do the same thing over and over again, you just keep going. And eventually we saw footage of ourselves and we said, “Fuck we look boring on stage.” So we said to ourselves, “alright we have to do something about it; we have to try different stuff.” So with every tour we tried new stuff; we tried to do different stuff, and on this tour we really wanted to do the same. I mean we’re coming from underneath here, I mean we’re the opening act. We really have to work hard to earn people’s appreciation and that’s what we tried to do. But, we try to do that even if we’re a headliner. We want to put on a good show for everyone and we’ve always wanted that. It’s just that sometimes it’s easy to forget that you still have to work for it you know what I’m saying? And we try not to forget that you know?
Well you did a great job tonight!
Johan: Thank you, thank you. Yah it was good… it was cool! The crowd was a bit cool at first, but they got going after a while I guess.
You’re on tour and you play a show almost every night let’s say. Where do you find your energy to be so crazy onstage every night?
Johan: It’s just the audience you know… the people out there. You can feel really down sometimes. Like today for instance, when we did the sound check I was like, “Oh man I just want to go home!” Because you see the end of the tour and you go, “I wish I was home now in my bed.” You’re tired and it’s tough; it’s tough being on the road. But, the minute you get on stage and you see the people out there and you see it’s pretty packed; you still want to put on a good show. So you go, “Yah! Come on!” You pick yourslef up and you get going and when you get the response, you get even more excited and you want to get people more excited. So it’s like this upward spiral all the time, all the time. Every time you get on stage you get the adrenaline pumping and you get going. It’s fucking awesome! It’s the greatest feeling in the world to have people out there… I mean if you put your fist in the air and you go, “Hey, Hey” and you see all the people respond… you can’t really describe a feeling like that! It’s like we played Wacken Open Air a couple years ago… actually last year, 2004. 2 AM and we didn’t expect anybody to be there… and it was like 25,000 people.
Johan: Yeah! But I didn’t look outside at first, like before the show. I didn’t know what was waiting for us. We go outside with our intro stuff and start off with our pyros and shit like that. Burst of the pyros… and you can’t see shit! And then the light guy throws on the blinders and you see this sea of people. And you put your fist in the air and everybody, everybody… all the way back… just goes, “Yeah!” That’s a feeling man! Then you can pretty much fly, you know what I’m saying? It’s better than fucking drugs! [laughs]
Speaking of shows and tours. How did you come to be added to this tour with Trivium and headliners Children of Bodom?
Johan: Well, what I’ve been told… I’m not sure if it’s true. [laughs] What I’ve been told is that… we’ve been looking for a tour here in the US okay? And in Europe we have the same booking agency as Children of Bodom. And apparently Bodom asked the touring agency to put us on the bill because they [Bodom] knew we were looking for a tour. And that’s really cool I think. I mean I’m not sure if that’s true. Maybe it’s the bottom management, because it’s also our booking agency it might be so. In any case, that’s how it happened. And I think it’s really cool and it’s been a good tour. Sure a lot of hard work for us, being the opening band and all that stuff. But in the end… a perfect tour for us. Because I think this is the way the tours should be… like a bit more diverse bands, not all the same bands. If you put a pure Death Metal tour together you average maybe 400, 500 if it’s a good one. But this one has been like… I think the average is 800, 900. You can’t compare that, it’s impossible. I mean fucking Utah was like 600 people. And Utah is like Mormon country and it’s still 600 people. The tour has been really good actually!
This tour is almost done. I think you have one more show?
Johan: Yeah New York City.
That’s a good place to end. What are you guys doing after? What’s coming up?
Johan: We’re going back home on… well the day after of course. And then we’re gonna take maybe two, three weeks off and in January we’re gonna take a full month and just write new stuff and prepare for the new album basically. I mean it’s a first for us actually, to go home and take a month off, all of us. The four of us still work; I don’t because I’m a lazy bum. [laughs] No but, I mean we still have jobs… most of us. But everyone is taking January off and we’re gonna work sort of like 9 to 5 shit you know? Go some place, practice, write music, write lyrics, and talk about album covers, like do everything you know? And try to write the best stuff that we can. See how that works out you know? I mean we’ve never done it like that before but we’re gonna do that, record demos, listen to everything, and really work five days a week. [ END ]