Swedish melodic Death Metal warriors Amon Amarth are just finishing off one final jaunt round Europe before settling down to the hard task of stirring the blood of a follow up to their beast of an album, ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ (Metal Blade). Ahead of their recent show at a packed-to-the-pulpit Colchester Arts Centre (a converted church), riff-monger Johan Söderberg took time to fill in Ghost Cult on all that is happening in their world.
“It’s fun to play a church. I played one church before in the US, so this is the second time. It should have good acoustics. Churches were built for acoustics” grins softly spoken Amon Amarth guitarist Johan Söderberg. Later on Söderberg’s head will be whirling (in synchronized fashion with his band mates) and he’ll be cranking out heavy, catchy Viking metal to a fervent crowd. But backstage before the show, the unobtrusive man is a far quieter proposition than the riff god he’ll portray from the stage.
Amon Amarth are back doing what they do best – hitting it hard on the road, this time bringing their distinctive brand of Norse warfare to a whole host of smaller venues they’ve not visited before. “It’s been an old school traditional vibe, with the audience close to us. This is what we were aiming for, to have these intimate shows and also to get out in smaller markets we hadn’t played before.”
Normally when a band announces “An Evening with…” or “Back to basics” tour, it’s because their star is waning, and the “reconnecting with the audience” schtick is a way to mask a reduced demand. Yet Amon Amarth are still riding the crest of the ocean waves, and 2013’s Deceiver of the Gods their most critically and commercially successful album to date. But there seems to be a move from several bands, most notably Machine Head to bring their music to different, smaller venues, but to play more shows, actually pulling in bigger numbers across a tour than one marquee show would. “The down side is the perception, that maybe people think we’ve lost some crowd, or something, but that’s not why we’re doing this. This is just for something different because we’ve toured all the big markets already on this album, so this is for us. This is the last tour for the album, then it’s pretty much straight into writing because I never write on the road, I write at home.
“I started writing for the album before Christmas, when we had a break on this tour. I have some ideas that I’ll be working on when I get home. Then we have the rest of the year to come up with the songs. It’s always pressure in this band. Every album we make has always done better than the one before, so it’s always the pressure that you have to perform better, and do a better album next time.”
And there’s the crux, Amon Amarth have managed what so few can: continuous improvement and the art of tweaking and refining and step by step enhancing and perfecting a sound without straying from it. And Amon Amarth have managed to get bigger with each album, which is quite a rarity as these days a host of bands appear in a flash of glory before being dead and buried a couple of albums later, forced to reinvent themselves.
“It’s been a very slow on the rise!” Söderberg laughs. “With some bands they go straight up, and it’s easier to drop back down, if you have a slow progression, it’s easier to stay on the up.” Do you see it as a reward for a combination of improving professionally (technically and as a songwriter) and sticking to your guns (or, rather, hammers) in terms of what “Amon Amarth” is and does? “I think so, yes. We’ve always kept our style, and while we have changed, it’s not too much.
“Even when did the mini-CD the Under The Influence album, then we really tried to do something different and sound like a song in the style of other bands, but still some fans thought these we were regular Amon Amarth songs as well. Even when we tried hard to sound different, we still sound like Amon Amarth! When the five of us play together, it sounds this way. It doesn’t matter if we try to sound like something else, it sounds like us.”
To these ears, Deceiver of the Gods was peak Amon Amarth. They’d always had the catchy and the melodic, and their trademark Norse bounce, but on tracks like five-fister ‘As Loke Falls’ they opened the door and let out the Iron Maiden harmonies and licks that had bubbled beneath the surface, but never been allowed to flood into the sound.
“I like (to listen to) more traditional music when I’m at home, like Iron Maiden and other classic heavy metal. There’s so many bands these days, it’s impossible to keep up with every band, so I just stick to the old bands that I like.
“That (traditional metal) is what we always had as our influence, but these later albums, we now let that shine through compared to the previous albums. Of course, we still want to sound brutal -it’s also been the core of the band since the start, is that we have to keep that brutal sound (but) in the past we were (worried) ‘This sounds too much Iron Maiden, we can’t use that’ but on the last album, it changed and we were ‘Fuck it. Let’s use it’; if we like it lets go for it.”
Just as the Vikings hailed the Old Gods, so too their descendants, Amon Amarth, still worship the Gods of classic metal, and if that means they continue the path trodden so well from 1998’s Once Sent From The Golden Hall (Metal Blade) to the beast that is Deceiver of the Gods, with each step a stronger and bolder one than the last, then All Hail The New Gods!
Words by STEVE TOVEY