AMON AMARTH Guardians of Asgard

Is it really necessary to introduce Amon Amarth in 2008? Still the same pummelling Swedish death metal machine, as they were 14 years ago when they started. However, after the release of their 6th album, in what way are the members and the band different? What is their view of the metal scene from the top of the ladder? I hooked up with the guitarist Olavi Mikkonen to find out.

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OK, so, the first question is, of course, the new album. The first thing we noticed, as fans, is that its sound is quite a bit different from, for example, the previous album. Both the production and the songs themselves sound a bit more on the brutal side of things. Would you agree as a band member?
Well, I don’t really know what the big difference is. The production is definitely tight and we tried to make it sound cleaner. But still, I think the key things remained the same. Maybe there is slightly more brutality, which might sound as if it stops the melody from coming forward at first, but song-wise, it’s just as variable. We really just recorded what sounded right, not minding whether there is too much melody or something else.

I primarily referred to the previous album, which sounded full of hit-songs, so to speak, full of energetic fast-paced one-offs. The new album, on the other hand, contains songs that don’t always seem to have context within themselves, there are no songs that would qualify as potential singles.
That’s not really the way I see it. I think all of the songs qualify as potential singles. I believe the quality of songs is really high, there are no tracks sticking out. But that’s, of course, just my point of view.

What was the songwriting and recording process like?
The songwriting was OK. We started in January, when we didn’t have any shows scheduled. After one month, we had five songs. Then we took a break for a couple of weeks before getting together again and finishing the album. The recording was almost like last time, except that we had a little more comfort this time around. Last time was the first time we recorded together [with the current line-up]; this time we knew each other, so it felt much better.

One more thing that really, really sticks out from the new album is the album artwork, especially the cover art. It looks stunning – in fact, I think it’s the best cover I’ve ever seen.
The cover is by Tom Thiel, the same guy who did covers of “The Crusher” and “Versus The World”. We are also very pleased with it!

Whose idea on Earth was the “Bubblehead” edition of the album? (laughter)
I think it was the label’s idea from the ground up. We thought it was great to have something like that, something that is not so common. I think it will be funny for the fans to have!

Your new video for the title-track of the album premiered a few days ago. How did that go?
The recording was very cool! The Viking village, the fighting and everything… I think it reflects the lyrics well. As for the quality, I really think it’s up to the viewers to decide. As far as I’m concerned, it went great.

You also have many guest appearances on the album. You have Roope Latvala from Children Of Bodom, you have Apocalyptica performing on one song, LG from Entombed… How did you get in touch with all those people?
We knew Roope because we’ve really toured a lot with Children Of Bodom. It was fun cooperating with him. He really has impressive skills, even for us two guitarists of Amon Amarth, so we just thought his shredding would improve the song. He was the natural choice for us. You also mentioned LG from Entombed, a fantastic singer. We thought he would fit well with Johan, and he sure did. And then the Apocalyptica part – we’ve known them for a long time, plus they are probably the most famous Scandinavian metal band.

Amon Amarth has the reputation of a live band. Do you think that your albums are just a basis for live performances, or would you like fans to regard them as separate works of art?
I would definitely say that all our albums should be regarded separately, as pieces of art, but we are also a very active live band… I don’t know, I think we are as much of a studio band as we are of a live band. We really give 120% at each live show, just as we are meticulous with our studio work. We want everyone to have a good time, including us. I think you can see that on our DVD release as well.

Let’s face it – your touring schedule can be terrible. How do you cope with everyday life when you’re on tour 24/7? I suppose you guys have families, wives, girlfriends – what do they think of it?
Yeah, our schedule can get pretty hectic. They don’t like it, of course, they want us to stay a little longer at home; but that’s life, you have a job you like, and you have to do it, even when not all aspects of it are great.

What about the New Year show in Bochum, Germany? Four nights in a row, playing all the songs from your discography?!
First of all, we always wanted to do something like that. The idea was always there, to do a smaller club where we could play all of the songs we don’t play anymore, even those songs we never played live! However, that is pretty difficult to organise, as you might presume. Therefore, when the opportunity arose, we agreed unanimously that it would be great to do it – four nights in a row, playing all those songs, and finishing on New Year’s Eve… It’ll be a challenge, but also fun for us. Basically, it comes down to – when we can do it, why not?

You mentioned that you’ve had this idea of doing that in a small club. What do you actually prefer – smaller venues, where you have like 200 people, or a big festival like Wacken with tenths of thousands?
I think I prefer something which would be between the two. Smaller shows are definitely more intimate, you are closer to the audience, you literally have contact with them and feel their support. Festivals like Wacken, on the other hand, offer a different experience – you can see the enormous number of people you are playing in front of, but then again, the audience is very far away, and you don’t really get the feeling that those are your fans. I guess I slightly prefer smaller clubs.

Apart from great music, of course, you built your reputation on your Viking-themed texts. Nowadays, it’s not such a big deal, but back then, when you were starting, it was quite original and new. What is the reason behind these Viking themes? Why Viking, and not stereotypical death metal themes?
Back when we were starting, such texts seemed too ordinary and uninspiring. Johan just started writing about things he talked a lot about, stuff that he was interested in. We all thought it was a very good idea, to develop on such basis. It was nothing planned, it just happened.

Your name is actually derived from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, while, as you said, you spontaneously started singing about Viking themes. Nowadays, it’s quite widespread; there are many bands with names from Tolkien’s books, bands ranging from power to black metal singing about Vikings… Do you guys regard yourselves as some sort of trendsetters? Do you fancy at all the fact that so many bands sing about similar topics today?
I wouldn’t go that far to call us trendsetters, but yeah, I somehow think it’s cool that so many bands followed our path, singing about those things. The downside is that now labels are trying to sign more and more pagan bands. They saw that bands like us are doing good and they want to sign all such bands. That’s what always happens when a new trend comes. You had the same thing with metalcore a couple of years ago – every metal label wanted to sign a shitload of metalcore bands. In Europe, pagan bands are currently popular, so the labels are on the hunt again. I cannot deny that it’s cool to have so many “followers”, but in the end, there should only be a few bands at the top.

Speaking of record labels, you’ve been on Metal Blade for quite some years now and with a band the size of Amon Amarth, I would expect to see you on Roadrunner or Nuclear Blast, even some bigger labels like Virgin or Sony. What is it that makes you prolong your cooperation with Metal Blade?
There are a couple of reasons and obviously, the main one is that we are the number one band on Metal Blade. For us, it’s better to be number one and a top priority on a label. If we signed for Roadrunner, they have Slipknot and the like, and we would hardly be high priority anymore. That’s why we stick with Metal Blade. Of course, it would be easy for us to go on a bigger label, but, it’s not all about that. We have been on Metal Blade for 10 years now and it has been a very nice relationship. It’s almost like your friends. Bigger labels have more money for promotion, that’s true, but it’s not all about money.

Good thing you mentioned money. The top reason most metal bands blame for poor sales is Internet and downloading music. How do you regard piracy? Overly positive or negative?
There is always a problem with that. Some bands don’t mind, some bands hate it. In my opinion, I think it’s most useful. You can actually listen to stuff you were thinking of buying, so you know exactly what you’re paying for. I can’t see a bad thing to that. However, the problem is when the albums leak, one, two, four weeks before the release. Then everyone downloads it and starts listening to it. Subconsiously, after listening to the album for weeks, people will eventually lose the impulse to buy it, since they will have listened to the songs a hundred times. Then labels have to put bonuses and do limited editions with some extras.
Or the bubblehead figures! (laughter)
Yeah, or the bubblehead figures. Basically, metal fans are buying discs as collector’s items, since they have access to it anyway. It’s just the way I see it. You have to give people the reason to buy your album apart from music itself.

What about the future plans for the band? Do you have any strict plans or do you just go with the flow?
Right now, we have to do some heavy touring, 11 months or so.

That’s a heavy schedule!
Yeah, but we always look forward to meeting fans around the globe. After that, we don’t really have anything specific we must do, we’ll see.

Any final message for your fans in Serbia?
Yeah! We’re sorry that the festival – Castle festival, right? – was cancelled, we were really looking forward to playing in front of Serbian fans for the first time… We were really sorry about that! And also because we were looking forward to drinking some great Serbian beer!

Who told you about that?!
I don’t really remember anymore, but we heard about it from different bands. So rest assured that we will visit you in the near future!

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