Interview: Amon Amarth

Written by Anthony Toto

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“I loathe their bloody righteous ways/It fills me with despise/Fuelling flames of violent rage/ will be their world’s demise,” Amon Amarth Vocalist Johan Hegg’s roaring growl on “Deceiver of the Gods” commands listeners to bow at the sound of his Viking presence.

Formed in 1992, Amon Amarth created a musical vision perfectly suited for the grandest clashes of middle earth. While American interest in metal dwindled in the mid-90s, a rising scene of innovative Swedish bands including Amon Amarth, At The Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and Opeth crushed the notion of musical limits within the confines of heavy metal. Each band mixed the serenading melodies of New Wave of British Heavy metal with the precise musical execution of Bay Area Thrash and the chaotic grunting nature of death metal.

Photo Credit: John McMurtrie
Photo Credit: John McMurtrie

With a catalog consisting of nine-studio albums, Amon Amarth’s warrior-like mentality complimented the grand storytelling of its lyrical content. 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods expands the band’s penchant for mythological exploration with a conceptual storyline focusing on the evil Norse God Loki. Adding a dramatic backdrop to the album’s composition, the songs are highly consistent in intensifying the musical palette of intertwining guitar harmonies, rapid tempo drumming, and thrashing intensity. The head banging passages within the guitar riffs recall the hammering syncopation of ancient armies marching together in battle.

After breaking out in popularity during the mid-2000s, Amon Amarth continues to push the boundaries of melodic death metal with its relentless live performances reaching new audiences on big-named tour packages and festivals across the world.

In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, Amon Amarth Vocalist Johan Hegg spoke about the band’s newest album, his personal interest in mythology, and the band’s continuous growth in popularity.

Photo Credit: JohnMcMurtrie
Photo Credit: JohnMcMurtrie

Pop-Break: Let’s start off with the new music video for “Father of the Wolf,” the video itself is an amazing visual spectacle with its storyline and battle scenes. Could you talk about the concept or idea behind making such an intense music video?

Johan Hegg: Well, the startup idea took a week I guess. As far as the storyline and everything goes, we pretend to have a bit of a mythological background in the video based off mythological readings and all that stuff. The production team built a storyboard and everything around it for us.

PB: Did you have any input on what you wanted to include in the video?

JH: Not really, no. Most of it was done here in the States; we only did the live shots in Germany.

PB: When you first saw the video, could you describe your reaction? Were you pleased, happy, or blown away?

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JH: (Laughs) Do I have too? I thought it was a cool video. I thought it was really cool.

PB: Your latest album Deceiver of the Gods, talk about the writing process and how the band approached the recording studio?

JH: Well, the way we always do it is by going in with the notion of writing the best album we could possibly write. I think that’s exactly what we set out to do and in a couple of ways, I think we definitely succeeded.

PB: On Deceiver of the Gods, the sound is heavily focused on melody with guitar leads and musical passages reminiscent of bands like Iron Maiden. You guys weren’t afraid to wear your influences on your sleeve this time around.

JH: We always were influenced by a lot of bands before us but they were just never put into the albums or music before. On this album, we weren’t really afraid of showing those influences so that’s why you could notice it more. I think we managed to use those influences and make it onto our own but with a new twist.

PB: Where did the inspiration behind using the story of Loke come into play?

JH: It’s taken from mythology, most of it. We had music here that fit very well with the mythological story of Loke, and that’s kind of when he became the main character of the album.

PB: One thing I appreciate about your band is the usage of imagery in your music; your lyrical content paints a picture of the stories you are trying to convey. The lyrics on your albums read like novels.

JH: Yeah, I mean that’s the way we always worked when it comes to writing lyrics. It’s nothing really new and it’s just the way we have done it throughout the years.

PB: Bringing up Iron Maiden again, you look at different Iron Maiden album covers and Eddie’s [Iron Maiden’s mascot] presence draws in listeners from a visual standpoint. In a similar sense, your albums Twilight of the Thunder God, Sulfur Rising, or Deceiver of the Gods, the covers have such an incredible mystique. What is the importance of having a great album cover? What does it mean for you in terms of showcasing your music?

JH: For us especially growing up in the eighties with Iron Maiden album covers and stuff like that, we loved those types of album covers; all of them. The album covers are definitely important for us. We want them to be powerful, majestic, epic, and all those themes to fit the music. That’s why we wanted to do that with our album covers. We wanted the covers to properly sit in front or our albums and CD’s. That’s because of where come from as music fans ourselves.

PB: Consistency in writing and performing has played a huge role in keeping this band alive and growing in terms of popularity. This lineup of the band has been together since 1998; could describe the chemistry of working with the same group of musicians for such a long time?

JH: Yeah, I mean it’s hard to describe why it works and why it doesn’t work for some other bands because obviously, I have only been in this band (laughs). I have no other reference really. We’re just five guys with the same kind of goals, determination, and love of music. Obviously, that helps. I think the fact that we share everything equally; workload and money wise as well. It’s always been a team effort for our band and I think that’s very important.

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PB: Could you talk about your relationship with Metal Blade Records? It’s uncommon nowadays to see bands stick with one label for such a significant amount of time.

JH: Oh yeah, I think Metal Blade is one of the best metal labels out there. They really take care of the bands and they love what they do. They are very honest and they always treated us very well. We never felt that we needed to change really so yeah, it’s a good label.

PB: Last year, you were apart of the Rockstar Mayhem Festival. On one stage, there were these big mainstream American bands like Rob Zombie and Five Finger Death Punch that are played on the radio. On the other stage, the lineup showcased your metal contemporaries like Behemoth and Children of Bodom. What do you think that says about the metal scene in America?

JH: We opened the main stage and it was a very good opportunity for us to play in front of large crowds here in the states. I thought it was cool.

PB: Do you take pride in growing the melodic death metal sound in America?

JH: I don’t really see it that way. We got an opportunity to play the Mayhem Festival and do a set of songs in front of a different audience. We just wanted to make the most of it.

PB: After becoming a big name in the Metal scene, do you still search for new and upcoming metal bands?

JH: It depends on what you mean by up and coming. There a bunch of good bands, I don’t really know if they are new. Most of the bands I listen too have been around for a while so I don’t know if you could call them new really. There are a bunch of bands like Enslaved and Skeletonwitch, they are doing a great job over here as well. Mastodon, Primordial, and Witchcraft; there are a bunch of great bands out there.

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PB: Being from Sweden, what is your take on At The Gates recording a new album?

JH: I think it’s awesome and I’m really curious to see how that comes out. I listened to them a few weeks ago and they are still a big influence on my band. I’m very excited. I think it’s the right move for them if they want to continue doing this reunion. They need to put something out there. I have feeling that it is going to be something spectacular because I don’t think they would release anything less than what they would be satisfied with themselves. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they come up with.

PB: Going back to the beginning, did you ever think that you would be touring the world in twenty-years?

JH: I mean, you could always dream, right? Everything in our band; the reaction has always been in steps. When we first started out, it was about being able to release an album with a label and we did that. We started touring and we toured Europe and then we wanted to tour the U.S. We never looked too far ahead with anything. We have never been impatient and we always tried to take everything one step at a time with everything we do. Even though we had dreams, I don’t think anybody said it out loud really.

PB: Who is your favorite band that you opened up for?

JH: Slayer.

PB: You opened up for them in Europe. Did you learn a lot from Slayer by playing that tour?

JH: Yeah, it was amazing. It was probably the biggest crowd and the first kind of huge tour we were apart of in Europe. It was a different level from what we were used too.

PB: Where does Deceiver of the Gods rank in your catalog?

JH: Right at the top. I think it’s the best album we’ve done

PB: Are there any personal favorites?

JH: I love all the songs of the album; track one through ten.

PB: What could fans expect from your band in the next year or so? Do you think you will return to America later this year?

JH: I think we’re touring this year and that’s it. Obviously, we’re touring now and headed to Canada. And yeah, we will. When we figure out the exact dates, it’s going to be revealed as soon as we have them.

All photos credit to: AmonAmarth.com

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