Amon Amarth

author NB date 19/11/08

Swedish, Viking death metal band Amon Amarth are currently on tour supporting headliners Trivium and Slayer as part of Unholy Alliance Chapter III. You can check out our thoughts on this in the gig reviews section; but first, we caught up with them backstage at the first of their Hammersmith Apollo shows in London to chat with guitarist Johan Söderberg. In a room filled with fresh fruit, we discussed Vikings, fame and the key to band chemistry. Hi, and thanks for doing this interview with us. To kick things off, why don't you introduce yourself to our readers.
Johan: Yeah. I'm Johan, the guitar player for Amon Amarth. You're billed as the opening act on the Unholy Alliance Chapter III. Needless to say, playing alongside bands like Slayer, Trivium and Mastodon, you stand out from the lot. How do you feel you fit in the line-up?
Johan: I think we fit very well, I don't actually think that we stand out that much. We are basically a metal band. What are your expectations for this tour?

Johan: Well, we played Manchester and Wolverhampton already, and those shows were very good. I think the whole tour is going to be good, and it's going to get even better when we come to Germany and Scandinavia, because then we are playing right before Trivium. We'll switch places with Mastodon. Do you have any further touring plans for Europe next year in support of the new album?

Johan: Yeah, we're going to do all the festivals in the summer as well as many tours in 2009. Do you think that, given the state of the music industry, it's possible for a band today to reach the kind of legendary stardom Slayer enjoy?

Johan: I've been thinking about that... I can't see that any band can be as big as Metallica for example. I don't know why. I guess there are too many bands and too many forms of spreading the music. In the older days it was just a couple of bands, and when one album was released, it was massive. Now everybody seems to release albums all the time. Do you prefer playing in a support slot as on this tour or headlining a slightly smaller tour?

Johan: I prefer to headline tours, because then you can do everything as you want to do it. I don't like playing really small clubs, but then, we rarely do that anymore. Now, let's talk about the past a little. Could you outline some of the band's history, where it started and how Amon Amarth came to be?
Johan: It started way back in 1992, but it wasn't until 1996 that we got a record deal for our first mini EP. After that we signed with Metal Blade and in 1998; that's when I joined the band and we started touring. You have released seven full length albums now. What would you say is key to keeping the music interesting and varied enough for fans to enjoy the entirety of your discography?
Johan: We just play the kind of music we always have. We don't try to change too much, we try to perfect what we have instead. All of those albums, and in fact the entire band, are centered around this Viking theme. What made you decide to focus on that?

Johan: We thought it was a very suitable topic for the music. Hard music needs to have some hard lyrics, and there's a lot of battle and things in our lyrics. Has your passion for writing Viking themed lyrics ever led you to research that topic?

Johan: Our singer does very much research. He reads lots of books about it and stuff. So what do those tales mean to you on a personal level?

Johan: The thing is, it's just a cool subject to get inspiration from. It's nothing I really think too much about in day-to-day life. You don't think some of the ideals from those times could be applied to modern day?

Johan: (laughing) Not really, no. What other Viking or pagan metal bands have caught your ear?

Johan: Nobody, actually. After so many bands started adopting this Viking theme, it became a little too much, maybe. So, would you consider yourselves to be some of the first to have done it?

Johan: Yeah, among the first. But we don't dress as Vikings on stage or anything. We're a regular metal band, just with lyrics about Vikings. Most people associate the Vikings mainly with Norway and Denmark, yet it's Sweden and Finland that are home to the majority of folk- and Viking metal bands. Why do you think that is?

Johan: Maybe we're trying to take back some of the Viking credibility from them (laughing). Some of the glory...

Johan: Some of the glory, yeah. You've just released "Twilight of the Thunder God". I'd like to hear your own thoughts on that album, how it turned out.
Johan: I think it's the best album we've put out so far, and the response so far has been very, very good, and people have responded well to the new stuff being played live. We did an American tour before this and that was very successful. Sold out almost every night. During the production for that album, you released a series of 8-page comics in magazines throughout Europe. What was that all about?

Johan: It was just something we thought would be a cool idea; to have one of the songs' stories as a comic book. It's basically the title track in a comic form. You've had the same line-up since 1998, which is more than most bands today can match. What is the key to having a stable band?
Johan: We have to have a good chemistry in the band. Keeping the line-up the same is crucial, because changing it too much means changing the band's sound. I'm assuming that the band doesn't take up all of your time, so what do you tend to get up to in your downtime?

Johan: I spend most of the time with my family and try to go on vacation and stuff like that. Some years ago Johan, your singer, said that you've found your own niche within melodic death metal instead of melting into the Gothenburg scene. Now, Amon Amarth is from Stockholm, so I'd like to know what you perceive to be the main differences between the Stockholm metal scene and the Gothenburg metal scene, sound- and otherwise?
Johan: Every band just sounds different, I think. I don't really see how bands from one place adhere to one sound, if you know what I mean? I also read that you have trouble selling in Sweden?

Johan: Yeah, in the past we didn't sell as much as we wanted. We were always playing outside of Sweden, touring in Europe and America. But now, as of late, we've started playing more in Sweden and they seem to be getting into it. Could you ever see yourself in a broadly different band to that which Amon Amarth are nowadays, inside or outside of metal?
Johan: No, I don't think so. I've played in Amon Amarth for so long that I can't see myself doing anything else. Which bands have influenced you back in the day. I know that some of you are huge fans of Motörhead, so I'm just interested to know where your influences lie.

Johan: My influences are Iron Maiden and Accept - old, traditional heavy metal. Black Sabbath and Metallica. You've been signed to Metal Blade records for all but one of your albums, so it seems like that's exactly where you want to be?
Johan: Because we've been with them so long, we've become good friends with them, so it's just easy to work with them. Alright, we're nearing the end of my questions here, but before we finish, can you tell me where you see Amon Amarth in, say, five years time?
Johan: I think we're just going to keep doing what we've always done, as long as it works. If we start to go the other way, if we start to lose fans, then we'll probably quit. As long as we keep on this level, or increase it, we're going to keep doing it. Well, that's it from us. Good luck with the rest of the tour, and thanks again for doing this interview with us. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the fans and readers?
Johan: Come out early to the shows because we play early!.

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