Getty Images / Metal Hammer Magazine
With Sweden's melodic death metal legends Amon Amarth gearing up to release their eleventh full-length album Berserker on May 3, we caught up with the band's vocalist Johan Hegg to talk about all sorts of things including the new record, the best live show he's ever seen, and even a little bit about Game Of Thrones. Scroll on for the full interview:
You guys have really stepped it up with Berserker. What gives the band that desire to continually improve and refine what you do?
Well I mean that's something we are always trying to do - it's always been our goal to outdo ourselves in songwriting, production, everything you know. So yeah, I think I'm really happy how this album turned out and it's certainly exceeded my expectations.
A testament to how happy we were with this album was that we were gonna put ten songs on it and two were going to be bonus tracks. But we couldn't decide which two would be the bonus tracks because everyone has different favourite songs. So we just put all of them on the album (laughs).
Which were the two songs which had conflicting opinions?
Oh dude, seriously, it was more like three, five, ten tracks (laughs).
That's always a good sign! What about you personally - you've been doing Amon Amarth for over 25 years now. What keeps you passionate about the band after so long?
Well that's easy - for me it's playing live. Doing the live show is what I enjoy the most, and although writing the songs and the lyrics and all that is fun too, the thing about the live show is having that instant connection and reaction, whereas with writing and recording you work on something for a whole year and then you have to wait another six months until you finally get people's opinion about it. I love the instant connection with the audience.
Can you try and describe the moment you found out that you would be supporting Slayer on their final North American tour next month?
(laughs) It felt fantastic man. I think when the question came if we would be willing to do it, of course we jumped on it. I can say that Slayer are probably the favourite band for everyone in Amon Amarth. Obviously we have a lot of favourite bands but Slayer are the one that we can all agree on as being right up there, you know. So to be able to go on a tour with these legends, on their farewell tour, was an honour to have been asked to be a part of it. The package is amazing with Cannibal Corpse and Lamb Of God as well so it's gonna be a lot of fun!
What's the best show you've ever been to Johan?
Best show I've ever been to? Hmm...I think one of the most absolutely insane shows overall was probably Iron Maiden here in Stockholm last year at the Tele2 Arena. I mean their stage production was just bonkers (laughs). I don't know what to say, I mean, they do the intro song and you're standing there looking at the stage, it goes dark and then the light comes back on and there's a fucking massive spitfire hanging above the stage! You're just standing there like "what the fuck is going on" - brilliant, amazing, fantastic show. Obviously Iron Maiden are a great band and another one of our favourites and yeah it was a privilege to see that show.
You've been bringing out giant viking ships, sea monsters and fire galore for your live shows. Are you going to try and somehow top that like you've done with Berserker?
Of course we are, we're actually working on some stuff for the stage right now. There's nothing I can really reveal about it but you'll see it soon!
You're obviously a pretty big beer fan. So - what do you think of ours?
There's some pretty good stuff in Australia! I'm trying to think which ones I've had...obviously I've had Coopers but I'm not sure you can really call that localised anymore 'cause it's massive and you can find that everywhere but yeah there is definitely some good stuff down your way.
I've seen a ton of online fan videos about Game Of Thrones which use Amon Amarth's music in them. Are you hanging out for the final season?
Oh yeah man, I love Game Of Thrones, I think it's a great show. My wife would probably kill me if I watch episodes without her so I'm gonna have to stay away from everything and watch it when I get back home [from tour]. Spoilers are hard to avoid with that show but then again I don't really listen to people anyway (laughs).
Going back to the new record, you wrote the lyrics after the the music had been completed which was a different process this time around. Was it harder, easier, different inspiration?
For the most part that's how I wrote the lyrics this time. What I did have...I had a bunch of ideas or topics that I was exploring but I hadn't written anything until I'd really started hearing the music for it. In some instances I would listen to a song on repeat and then all of a sudden (clicks fingers) there would be like one word that would come to my mind and you kind of create from there. I also did have a couple of lyrics that I'd already started working on before I had any music but in general the music came first. On [our last record] Jomsviking I already had the lyrics first but that was a concept album so we had to have the lyrical ideas before anything else came.
Something that you've always done really well is paint a vivid picture with your lyrics whether it be of a war, a ship sailing through a storm or another mythological setting. Do you consider yourself involved with storytelling as much as death metal?
That's kind of what we always wanted to do from the start of Amon Amarth. In a way we would say "if these lyrics were a movie, what would the soundtrack be like?" or "if this was the soundtrack to a movie, what would the lyrics be about?". So it's always very important that the music and lyrics fit perfectly together because we do tell stories. Mythological, historical or sometimes really personal ones that we use Viking mythology as a backdrop for. It's all about making the lyrics and music go hand in hand for us.
I know you were here in Australia only a year ago for Download, but we miss you already! When will we get to raise our horns with you once more?
I promise we will be back! Unfortunately though I don't have any concrete information on that right this minute...
Amon Amarth's new album Berserker is out on May 3!
Listen to Amon Amarth now.