Wrath of the Norsemen

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Amon Amarth has been a favorite of mine for ten years so when the opportunity presented itself to conduct an interview I jumped at it. In the middle of a North American tour, Johan graciously offered some of his time to sit down and answer some questions.

 Hello and welcome to Vinland. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Digital Metal.

What specifically started your interest in Viking religion/ history?
For me personally I guess it was back when I was about ten years old, we read about it in school and I really enjoyed the sagas and legends, as I grew older I started reading more about it and became even more intrigued. It also helped having an older sister who was very much into the whole thing, and coming from an area of Sweden with a lot of history of Viking settlements.

What is your favorite story from the Eddas?
It has to be the story of Ragnar’k. It’s just very intense.

That’s my favorite too, back in the mid 1980’s I actually had the entire Voluspa committed to memory. Some of the most powerful lyrics in Viking themed metal come from you. Did you steal a sip of Suttung’s mead?
Hahaha… Yeah, I couldn’t help myself.

I’m glad you got the good stuff and not the batch where bad poets got their inspiration that Odin urinated out when pursued by Suttung. Which comes first, lyrics or music? Do you write music to fit lyrics or lyrics to fit music?
Mostly music, but sometimes it’s the other way around.

Do you prefer to be identified by your musical style or your lyrical inclinations? To me Viking metal was always defined as Enslaved and Unleashed, and characterized by convictions and philosophy, not necessarily by sound. Now it is folkish bands writing cheesy drinking songs that have the Viking metal title. Do you care how Amon Amarth is referred to, Viking metal or death metal?
We used to care, but not so much anymore. People will always try to find labels for bands, and since we are a metal band singing about Vikings I guess we’ll always be referred to as Viking Metal.

I try to use the labels bands describe themselves with instead of trying to place them in one of the neat little categories. Since you are ok with it I’ll refer to you guys as Viking metal. Most people do not seem to be able to appreciate instrumental music. They need lyrics to relate. Your songs would work without the lyrics thanks to great instrumentation. Have you ever thought about releasing a song without words?
On the never released Sunlight Studios recording of Once Sent From The Golden Hall there was an instrumental song, but that never made it on to the Abyss Studios recording. However we put it on the bonus disc of With Oden On Our Side.

I can’t believe I missed that. I’m going to have to pull out that bonus disc right now. I bought Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds off the rack in ‘96 based on the cover art and the song titles. Obviously I was not disappointed, I’m still with you today. I’m looking forward to seeing you on tour, in Worcester, Mass. Next time you come through the States I hope it is as the headliner.
Well, we are definitely working on coming over here as a headliner, but it is also the matter of getting a good offer and putting together a good package. I still think we have some work to do here in the US to do a real headliner tour, but I’m fairly certain we’ll be able to do it in 2007.

You are embarking on a North American tour with many shows in a short time, spread all across the continent, what do you do to prepare?
We did a headliner tour in Europe, hahaha. Seriously though, it’s nothing special really. You try to come up with a setlist, and then you practice it in the rehearsal room for a couple of weeks, and then you just go up and play. It sounds easy, but of course we have help from our crew.

What bands do you listen to while travelling? What bands got you started playing?
I actually bring my I-pod with pretty much 20 gigs of music, so it depends on the mood, but it’s mainly metal. I also try to listen a lot to the bands we’re travelling with, to get to know their stuff. The bands that got the band started is hard for me to answer, as it was Olavi who started the band originally. I know he lists bands such as Slayer, Mercyful Fate, Death, Emma Numminen, Sepultura and even D.R.I. as some of his original influences.

Are you writing new material while on tour?
We tried it in the past, but it is pretty hard to concentrate. Still, you get some cool ideas on the road, and I think a lot of the ideas we had for this album was actually created on our last American tour.

Can you tell us about your weirdest live experience?
It has to be Tel Aviv in Israel. We had 10 guards on stage, armed with Glocks. The audience literally were trying to kill each other during the first four songs, that’s how wild the moshpit was, so the show was almost stopped by the club owner. We had to get off stage to calm people down and luckily they did so we could continue, but when we announced the last song and started playing I honestly thought someone was going to die out there. Everyone was ok though, but it was fucking wild!

If you could tour with any band past or present, who would it be?
It would definitely be a dream to tour with Slayer, as they are one of my personal favourite bands, and I know most of the guys in the band feel the same way.

That’s a tour package someone should make happen. If you opened for Slayer that would be almost as good as headlining here. What is your favorite place to play live?
Anywhere we have a good audience, and people are dedicated to metal.

I can guarantee you two dedicated fans here in Maine, my daughter and me. If Metallica promised to play only songs pre 1988, would you tour with them?
Tough question. Metallica of the eighties are definitely one of my personal all time favourite bands, and a tour with them would mean big exposure for us, but I’m personally not to fond of Metallica post Black Album.. So in the words of Brick Tamlin ‘ noyes…

Metal Blade has a long successful history. You have been with them for about a decade, how does it feel to be associated with this label?
It feels really good actually, as I think Metal Blade has one of the best reputations in the business, and they’ve treated us good.

Does your music support your families or do you have other jobs?
We’re all living off the band for a year now. Sure, we’re not living as millionaires, but you get along financially, and it feels really good to be able to focus on the music full time. It also means we have more time for families and friends when we are home.

That’s great, it is nice to see a band achieve enough monetary success to support themselves without having to sacrifice their style. Thanks for the chat and I’ll see you on the road, any final comments?
Yeah, check out the new album and see you crazy Vikings on the road!

As I type this up it is less than 24 hours from when I’ll do just that, and I’ve got a four hour drive down in which to enjoy With Oden on Our Side

[Amon Amarth]


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