Amon Amarth Go All In

Amon Amarth Go All In
Photo: John McMurtrie
Norse mythology and metal music make fine companions. A long and ever growing list of bands — not just from Scandinavia but from all over the world — are committed to proving this fact. Few bands do it better than Sweden's Amon Amarth, with their smelting of colossal death metal, triumphant melody, and Nordic tales. And it doesn't hurt that they look a lot like modern Vikings. Their latest, Deceiver of the Gods, once again takes us back to an epic Norse past, through clashes of gods, tragic battles, and warriors' pursuit of death and honour. The music in which these stories are embedded is as heavy as ever but bears an almost nostalgic appreciation for the band's heavy metal roots. Reflecting on the new album, bassist Ted Lundström explains these "classic" touches, the importance and appeal of Norse mythology, and several other things Amon Amarth.

How does it feel to be releasing your ninth album after more than two decades as a band?
After 20 years as a band, and with the same line up the last 15 years, it feels great to be able to release, in my opinion, our strongest album of our career. That shows that we have many years left to go in this business.

What do you feel are the biggest differences between Deceiver of the Gods and your previous records, especially the most recent, Sutur Rising?
First of all, we decided to enter a new studio and work with a new producer, which gave us a fresh sound and some new ideas. We have been thinking about [Andy Sneap] as a producer for a couple of years, but we never got to it until this album. After three albums working with Jens Bogren, we felt it was time to move on and contacted Andy to see if he was available and interested in working with us. We had a meeting and decided to work on this album together. I think being trapped out on the English countryside in Andy's studio made us focus more on the recording and working with such an experienced producer was really cool. We had a great time in the studio and I think that shows on the album.

Deceiver of the Gods has a bit more thrash and heavy metal influences besides the melodic death metal we usually do. We also widened our style with the almost doomy song "Hel" together with the old Candlemass singer Messiah [Marcolin].

How did you end up recruiting Messiah Marcolin for guest vocals? Did you have a previous connection with him or with Candlemass?
We have known him for a while and had been talking about doing something together but the opportunity never really showed up until now, when we wrote the song "Hel." We do not want to bring someone into the studio just to have him on the album, but we want to have the perfect song for that artist before we even ask. The backing vocals is actually Messiah singing too — we just wanted some choirs to make the song more epic.

Do you have a favourite Candlemass album?
My favourite Candlemass album probably is Nightfall — that album spun a lot on my record player when I was younger. But I also like Ancient Dreams a lot.

The new album has no shortage of death metal aggression, but it also has plenty of classic heavy metal and thrash moments, even right in the opening moments. Why these more "classic" elements, and why now?
They have always been there since that is the music we grew up with, but I guess we let it shine through a bit more on this album. Already, when we started the writing process for the new album, we decided that everything we think is good enough should be on the album even if some fans might think it is too much of heavy metal or thrash.

We try not to think about it and just play whatever we feel like but of course it does pop up sometimes. Early in the writing process for this album we actually decided to not give a fuck what people thought about songs and lyrics and just do just whatever we felt like. If we thought it was good enough for the album it should be there even if it was something crazy. We called it to "go all in" and I believe, in the end, it helped us to make a more interesting album.

How different was the writing process for this album?
I guess it did not differ too much from the last couple of albums. With the new technology, a lot more work is being done at home and shared over the internet with each other, and then we all gathered in the rehearsal place to put everything together. We did spend a lot of time rehearsing the new stuff to be well prepared for the studio. There are some parts on guitar and bass that are a little more advanced than our usual style.

How much do you end up working with existing unused ideas and how much of the writing is brand new for each record?
There are always some riffs that come late in a writing process for an album and are not ready for recording that are pushed to the next one but I would say that most of the material is new for this album.

What's your favourite song on the new record?
Choosing just one song as favourite of the album is tough but I think I'll go with "Blood Eagle" because of the straightforward energy and the cool meaning of the title. A Blood Eagle is a very macabre way to kill someone. It was sometimes used by Vikings as a death punishment. It is performed by cutting up the back of the person and breaking the ribs open like wings and them pulling out the lungs. We felt this song needed some effects to really get that gory feeling ["Blood Eagle" opens with a sonic representation of what the song describes.]

Deceiver of the Gods, the title of the new record, refers to the Norse trickster god, Loki. How important is the connection to Norse mythology for Amon Amarth's identity as a band? And what are Loki's metal qualities — what about this figure makes him a good fit for the kind of metal Amon Amarth play?
We decided to use Norse mythology in the beginning of our career, so if we would change that style now I think a lot of our fans would be disappointed, so I would say it is important for us. Norse mythology is full of great characters and stories that work great as lyrics for metal music, and I guess Vikings have a cool reputation over the world too. Especially today when you have the Marvel movies and also the TV series Vikings.

Loki is a cool character, both evil but also good sometimes. I would say he is very human compared to many other gods. He is sometimes the guy who helps the other gods out of trouble but it is usually he who put them there in the first place, so he is very ambivalent.

Do you think there's something about Nordic history or identity that can translate to other cultures or other parts of the world?
I have noticed that when playing in other countries who also have a history of nature-based religion or mythology, they feel connected to our history and can relate to the sagas and history. It is always interesting with mythology from other parts of the world. I love reading about Egyptian, South American or Asian old stories and myths.

You have a busy summer schedule playing shows and festivals in Europe and North America, including the Rockstar Mayhem Tour…
I think it will be a great tour and I'm really looking forward to it. We have not done anything like this in North America since Sounds of the Underground [in 2007]. There is something special about a travelling summer tour. Parking lot BBQs, signings, great bands and hopefully not too hot weather for us Swedes.

You're also scheduled to play Heavy MTL in Montreal this year?
This show will hopefully be one of the highlights of the summer. We have always had great shows in Canada but this time we'll get to play in front of a bigger crowd than we ever have before. It will rock!

How does playing a festival in Europe compare to festivals elsewhere?
The European festivals are usually bigger than the festivals we've played outside of our home continent. But I think the metal audience is similar to each other wherever you go. Beer and an outdoor festival is a great combination.

What kinds of venues — and parts of the world — do you like best for performing?
They are all great, but of course in different ways. Playing in front of a sold-out Wacken [Festival], for example, is an amazing experience but you never get that intimate feeling you have at a sweaty, packed club show. Both good but in different ways.

Do you have a favourite part of the world to tour?
It is the same as with the different arena types. Crowd might differ a little in how they act but I love to play anywhere people are willing to come see us. South America is fun to play because of their willingness to sing along to anything that has a melody. Sometimes they even have their own songs between our songs in a proper football supporter way.

What's your favourite Amon Amarth song to play live?
Any song that makes the audience happy and go wild. It can differ from show to show. "We Shall Destroy" should be great at a show when the audience feels like singing along and jumping.

How much did the shift to doing Amon Amarth full-time change how you operate as a band or how you make music?
It made a huge different since we all of a sudden had a lot more time to spend on writing and rehearsing new songs. It was quite tough in the end, right before we were able to quit our daytime jobs. All our spare time and vacation was spent on the band and it was tough on family, friends and job. We have time to work on our songs so when we enter the studio nothing is rushed just to be ready.

Aside from the album and touring — if you have time for anything else — is there anything else exciting or unusual coming up for Amon Amarth?
The time we have off touring or recording is usually spent with family and friends outside the band. Some of us have some shared interests that make us hang out within the band outside the music, for example me and Olavi are going out ice fishing when we have the time. Me and Johan Hegg, we share our interest in beer and sometimes go to beer festivals or just brew our own beer for fun.

How important do you think a sense of humour is for being a death metal musician?
I think it helps a lot when you are a touring musician, since long tours living on a tight space like a tour bus and doing a lot of travelling can wear you out. But that goes for all kinds of musicians, not only death metal ones.