Celebrating 30 years of global mosh-inducing Viking infused death metal in 2022, Amon Amarth are at the heights of their powers as they release unto the world their latest tome of barbaric and brutal bangers, The Great Heathen Army (available now through Metal Blade).
Ahead of their epic European trek with Machine Head and The Halo Effect and a pulverizing lineup that will lay siege to North America this fall (Carcass, Obituary, and Cattle Decapitation round out the killer bill!), frontman Johan Hegg sat down with Metal Injection for a deep analysis of one of heavy metal's leading flag-bearers.
Hegg goes deep into the new record, the bands' friendship with pro-wrestler and certified lifelong metal fan Erick Redbeard, his must-haves on the road (including his go-to beer on stage), his thoughts on three decades of Amon Amarth and much more!
You guys were kind of smack dab in the middle of touring for Berserker in 2019, 2020 and I believe were in South America when the pandemic hit?
Yeah, exactly. The pandemic or the shutdown in South America was pretty much chasing us. So whenever we left the country, they shut the country down right afterwards. But then finally, it caught up with us. We played the Heaven & Hell Metal Fest in Mexico City. And then every show after that was canceled. So we had to go back home.
Was the plan to get another couple of rounds of touring done, maybe do the European festival circuit and then record again in late 2020 or early 2021? Or did the pandemic and the shutdown of touring kind of precipitate the need to get back to writing and into the studio more quickly?
Obviously nobody really knew what was going to happen. So we were just saying when we got back home, let's just wait and see how this pans out, what this really is. Perhaps it'll be over in a few months and we can go back to touring. We'd do the festivals and then continue touring and doing all that stuff. But I think fairly quickly we realized that it was going to be something bigger than just a few months.
I think, maybe three or four months then we realized that, alright, this is going to probably be well over a year until any kind of touring is coming back. So we then said let's just take some time off, because there's nothing you really can do. And then when we feel like we're ready to do something, we'd start writing a new album and come up with a new album instead, because we felt it would be weird to go back touring on an old album. To have two years in between tours for the same album would feel really strange. So we pretty much just said "alright, this is the situation. Let's move on and record a new album."
Do you guys consider 1992 to be the proper start of Amon Amarth? Technically this could be the 30th anniversary of the band.
Yes, it would be (laughs).
So I guess at the time you wouldn't have been thinking 'what are we going to do for a 30th anniversary tour?' Because no one knew if we were going to be shutdown for six months or five years or whatever. That probably wouldn't have entered your minds in 2020 or 21.
I mean for us, we did the big celebration of the band for the 25th anniversary when we did the documentary. I think our idea now is we're celebrating 30 years, but I mean we're releasing an album, doing the European tour with Machine Head and then we do the U.S. run with Carcass, Obituary, and Cattle Decapitation.
It's probably the biggest headlining tour that we've done. I mean, the one with Machine Head is a co-headlining tour here in Europe, but it's the biggest headline shows and tours that we've done in Europe. So for us that's a pretty big celebration for a 30 year celebration, you know?
I'm wondering when you started to notice the progress? I feel like Twilight of the Thunder God probably had to change some things. We've seen in the last ten years, certainly in the last five, you guys level up in terms of festival headliner status, playing major venues and headlining major tours. Was there a point in time where you felt the band was gaining momentum?
I mean, there are quite a few of those points, obviously. Depending on how you look at it, some steps have been bigger and some have been smaller. But in general I think we've made small steps in that direction with each release. I wouldn't say that there's this one album that signifies a big change in that direction.
But having said that, I think Twilight definitely is one of those albums that, I think after With Oden on Our Side, Twilight of the Thunder God kind of cemented us as this up and coming band that delivers solid albums and that can put on good shows. And we've been building on that, I would say.
The Viking metal tag gets used a lot these days. I always refer to you guys as melodic death metal or death metal who happen to write about Norse and Viking lore. But with this album I feel like there's a ton of branching out, particularly in a song like “Get in the Ring”. You look at that music video, which is such a fucking ton of fun and has almost a Mad Max feel. You're keeping it in the Amon Amarth world, but at the same time there's a lot happening on this record.
I think so. I mean, there's just so many Viking songs you can do where people dress up like Vikings in the videos. So we wanted to do something different. And this song actually was written for Erick Redbeard as a walk in song, the wrestler Erick Redbeard. First of all, we wanted to have him in the video and then we wanted to do this kind of weird spectacle video with an apocalyptic touch. And I think it turned out great.
When did you become acquainted with him? I remember watching WWE and he was on the show wearing an Amon Amarth shirt. Me being a long time wrestling and metal fan thought, now that's fucking cool.
Yeah, that's kind of where we got to know him, or know of him anyways, when he did that. And then we actually ran into him because we were on a South American run for Jomsviking. And when we came to Costa Rica, as we were waiting for the luggage, a bunch of wrestlers and him were at the airport at the same time, because they had an event down there in Costa Rica. And so we talked to them and we invited him and one of the other wrestlers to come to the show later. And they show up at the show and we hung out and had a good time.
And then he contacted us. I mean, we asked him if he wanted to be in the videos on the previous record for the trilogy videos, which he is. And then he asked us if we wanted to write this walk in song for him, and that's how "Get In The Ring" was made. We didn't want to put together any old song. We wanted to have a really good song that we could put in the album as well. So when this song came around, we felt that this would be a perfect song for that specific thing for his walk in song. So that's what we did, the song for him with all the lyrics and everything to work with that.
Circling back to The Great Heathen Army, I'm curious about the thought process in selecting a producer? You're back with Andy Sneap on this record, who I believe worked with you on Jomsviking and Deceiver of the Gods. And then you moved on to Jay Ruston for Berserker. Is there a type of feel or sound that you're going for at a particular time or is it more about who's available? What went into the decision to go back with Andy, who obviously you've had a lot of success with?
Yeah, I mean, I love working with Andy. He's a great guy. He's a great producer. Always felt very good to work with him. I think what happened was when we went with Jay, Andy was involved with Judas Priest, playing guitars with them and just starting to get involved there. So he didn't have time, and then we went with Jay. And Jay's a great guy, and I think he did a good job for us. But for this album we actually wanted to go back to Andy because we wanted his style of production on these songs, right? So we asked him if he was available, but he wasn't. So we contacted Josh Wilbur instead, who produced Lamb of God, I think, and Slipknot. He was onboard, but he didn't want to travel to Sweden. And because of the pandemic we couldn't get visas to go to the United States to record. So that fell through.
But as it happens then, when Richie Faulkner had his heart problem on the stage, Judas Priest had to cancel their touring that they were currently on, which meant that Andy Sneap then could produce us after all. So for us that was great. I just wish that Richie Faulkner didn't have to go through that shit. For us, it worked out well then and we could do it. It was this weird thing really that happened and it worked out for us then. But Andy did a great job.
And also I think in that aspect, the pandemic worked in our favor because as we went to England, we were basically in the studio. Andy was working from like 9-10 in the morning till like ten or 11 in the evening and doing all this stuff like six days a week basically. It was this super focus on creating this album. And I think you can tell, I think the production is amazing. I think Andy did a brilliant job. And I think the songs really came out well with his type of production.
Thinking back to the first couple of records and certainly that period between 98 and maybe 2004, I think you released five records in a really concentrated time frame. We talked about how you guys are a death metal band that happens to adopt different elements from Norse legend, from Viking lore. When did it become like okay, this is kind of how we're going to present ourselves and represent ourselves. This is going to be the album art. When did it dawn on you guys that maybe there was a void in the metal space for a band with Viking themes, style and presentation and that being something you want to roll with?
I'm not sure exactly when it was, but I think it might have been right after Versus the World. We were kind of talking about maybe taking a different direction lyrically, writing something else. Michael Trengert, who worked for Metal Blade in Germany, he was one of our strongest supporters in our entire career. Unfortunately he's no longer with us. He died a few years back, but we were really close with him. At the end he was almost like a sixth member of the band. That's how close we were. So when he passed we were devastated. It was horrible.
But yeah, we were talking to him about it and he said nope, you have to stick to this course. This is who you are. And we kind of realized he was right, because for us it had become like us to present ourselves this way. And also it's something that's very closely connected to who we are, the history and the mythology, and it lends itself really well to the music as well, to write these stories.
For a record like The Great Heathen Army, and I'd imagine more so for a record like Jomsviking, is there a lot of research involved in going back through Norse history, Viking lore and Viking legends? Or is it more taking a loose idea and writing riffs and building around that?
I mean, for Jomsviking it was definitely a lot of research going in. I actually wrote a movie script basically that we based the whole story on. The story is loosely based on the saga of the Jomsvikings, which is an actual book from the 12th century. So it's loosely based on that. I've used that story as the backdrop for the general story. So there was a lot of research going into writing that story, obviously, but otherwise I do a bit of both.
Depending on what type of lyric and what I want to talk about and whether it's more historical, mythological or actually sometimes more temporary where I want to use metaphors, I can loosely take a story that I know and kind of use that as a backdrop or even create my own story based on what I know about Vikings and the Viking mythology. But other times, like for instance the title track and "Saxons and Vikings," I definitely did a lot of research about the Heathen Army and what they did to get it correct, you know? So yeah, it's a bit of both.
Well, now I have to know. Is that script ever going to see the light of day? We need that movie.
The problem with historical movies is that they're really, really expensive to make. But I think that the story is really good. I really love the story. And yeah, maybe I'll send the script to someone who can clean it up for me. There's probably a ton of unnecessary stuff in there, but who knows?
With touring opening up for you guys in a big way, are there any must haves you need on the road? Any do's and don'ts you've learned over the last 30 years?
You know, for me I'm pretty easygoing. There's a couple of things that I need to have. One of those things is ginger, lemon and honey so I can make a drink for my voice. And the other thing is Guinness. Yeah, it has to be a Guinness draft as well.
It's the perfect drink for stage because it's nitrogen and not carbonation in it, so it's a perfect beer for stage. And it's not super strong as well so you can have a couple on stage without it affecting your performance too much, or at all actually. I have to have Guinness. I mean, obviously if there's no Guinness I'll make do with Murphy's (laughs).
Are you guys big partiers on the road or is that in the past?
I don't really party anymore on the road. I mean, if we're not headlining, if we're supporting, maybe I'll drink a little bit more. But normally not. It affects the performance too much. And after all, people pay money to come see us perform and put on a good show. And so that's what we want to do.
From what I saw from the Berserker tour, the production is such a massive thing. You guys had this giant helmet on stage, loads of pyro, and the fans started rowing in the pit. The Amon Amarth show has almost taken on a life of its own.
Pretty much. We started building up this huge production that we kind of want to bring everywhere, and it's a lot of fun. And that's also one of the reasons why you kind of want to be in shape on tour as well, because you want to be able to utilize the production and not just have it as a backdrop for you standing there. You kind of want to be like the production and all that stuff and to have some fun with it, because that's how a show comes alive, in my opinion.
In a retrospective full circle type closer, with over 30 years in the business and 30 years of this band, I'm sure you probably couldn't have imagined a band like Amon Amarth not only would withstand 30 years, but be bigger than they've ever been in their 30th year. We spoke about the Versus the World era earlier where you were thinking that maybe you'd go in a different direction. Here you are, 20 years removed from that, and now there's arena tours, massive videos and productions. It's incredible.
Yeah, I think it's an amazing journey and it's interesting to see how your perspective changes as well. I know like a few years back Olavi and I were doing an interview. I forget with whom, but they asked us how far we saw this taking us, how far we could go? And I think Olavi said something like "yeah, there's probably a limit to what a band with growling vocals can achieve. So you know, I don't think that we can be much bigger than we are now."
And I said, "well, you never know," because back in the eighties who knew that Slayer was going to be this massive band. And they were super extreme for their day. And they became this massive arena band. So I said I don't see why we wouldn't be able to do their journey. I mean, why not? And you know, here we are today. Here in Europe at least, we are on par with Slayer.
It definitely is strange how your perspective changes. It's cool and it's been a lot of fun and it's been fun developing all the aspects of the band. Not only the recording and the songwriting and all that stuff, but the stage shows and the performances and all that stuff. So it's been a lot of work and a lot of fun as well.
*Catch Amon Amarth on tour throughout Europe with Machine Head and The Halo Effect, and in North America with special guests Carcass, Obituary, and Cattle Decapitation. The Great Heathen Army is available now!
9/8 – Nottingham, Arena
9/9 – Cardiff, Arena
9/10 – London, Wembley Arena
9/12 – Manchester, Arena
9/13 – Dublin, 3 Arena
9/16 – Zurich, Hallenadion
9/17 – Vienna, Adalle
9/18 – Krakow, Tauron Arena
9/20 – Tallinn, Saku Arena
9/21 – Helsinki, Ice Hall
9/23 – Oslo, Spektrum
9/24 – Stockholm, Hovet
9/26 – Copenhagen, Forum Black Box
9/27 – Hamburg, Barclays Arena
9/28 – Frankfurt, Fesalle
9/30 – Oberhausen, König Pilsener Arena
10/1 – Berlin, Velodrom
10/2 – Amsterdam, Afas Live
10/4 – Milano, Lorenzini Dirict
10/6 – Barcelona, Sant Jordi
10/7 – Madrid, Vialegre
10/8 – La Coruna, Coliseum
10/9 – Lisbon, Campo Pequeno
10/12 – Paris, Zeni
10/14 – Munich, Olympiahalle
10/15 – Leipzig, Arena
10/16 – Prague, Tipsport Arena
10/18 – Budapest, Barba Negra
10/20 – Esch Sur Alzette, Rockhal
10/21 – Brussels, Fore National
10/22 – Stuttgart, Schleyerhalle
11/11 – Las Vegas, NV @ Brooklyn Bowl (no Carcass)
11/12 – Phoenix, AZ @ Arizona Financial Theatre
11/14 – San Antonio, TX @ Aztec Theater
11/15 – Houston, TX @ Bayou Music Center
11/16 – Dallas, TX @ Southside Ballroom
11/18 – Atlanta, GA @ The Tabernacle
11/19 – Orlando, FL @ Hard Rock Live
11/20 – Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore
11/22 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore
11/23 – Boston, MA @ MGM Music Hall at Fenway
11/25 – Detroit, MI @ The Fillmore
11/26 – Chicago, IL @ The Aragon Ballroom
11/27 – Cincinnati, OH @ The Andrew J Brady Music Center
11/30 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE
12/1 – New York, NY @ Hammerstein Ballroom
12/2 – Toronto, ON @ History
12/3 – Laval, QC @ Place Bell
12/5 – Madison, WI @ The Sylvee
12/6 – Minneapolis, MN @ The Fillmore
12/7- Kansas City, MO @ Uptown
12/9 – Denver, CO @ The Fillmore
12/10 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
12/12 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox SODO
12/13 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
12/15 – Wheatland, CA @ Hard Rock Live
12/16 – San Diego, CA @ SOMA
12/17 – Los Angeles, CA @ Kia Forum