Fire! Vikings! Me­tal! The new AMON AMARTH doc­u­men­tary has it all.

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - Words: dom LaW­son

In the early 90s, a group of friends from Tumba, Swe­den, got to­gether to write death me­tal songs about Vikings. In 2018, that same band are head­lin­ing the world’s big­gest me­tal fes­ti­vals, pack­ing one of the best live shows in mu­sic and, per­haps most bizarrely, star­ring in their own doc­u­men­tary…

Just over a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago, Jo­han Hegg had a mo­ment of in­spi­ra­tion. As front­man with nascent death me­tal crew Scum, he was charged with writ­ing lyrics for the band’s first demo un­der their new name, Amon Amarth. Three of the four orig­i­nal songs on the demo con­formed to stan­dard no­tions of me­tal lyrics, but the fourth was dif­fer­ent. In­spired by his heart­felt ob­ses­sion with Norse mythol­ogy, Thor Arise was the first de­fin­i­tive step on the band’s long and fer­vently Vik­ing-themed march to glory. Not that Jo­han no­ticed at the time, of course.

“I’d never been in a band be­fore. I’d never writ­ten lyrics, so I was very new to all that,” he re­calls. “When I started in Amon Amarth, I was writ­ing lyrics that re­minded me of my favourite bands, like Iron Maiden and Me­tal­lica. Then I was in­tro­duced to Bathory. They were do­ing al­bums like Twi­light

Of The Gods and Ham­mer­heart, and I thought, ‘Wow, you can write lyrics about one of my favourite top­ics! Awe­some!’

“I was a big Vik­ing nerd back then, and I still am, so I de­cided to write Thor Arise… and it felt good! It felt like it fit. Once we started writ­ing ma­te­rial for the next demo, The

Ar­rival Of The Fim­bul­win­ter, our mu­sic be­came a lit­tle bit more epic and I felt more con­fi­dent us­ing mythol­ogy and Vik­ing his­tory as the lyri­cal con­cept. That started the ball rolling more than any­thing, I guess. And here we are to­day.”

We speak with Jo­han and bassist Ted Lund­ström as they take a quick break from work­ing on Amon Amarth’s next stu­dio al­bum, the fol­low-up to 2016’s wildly suc­cess­ful

Jomsviking, due for re­lease next year. But while the Swedes are pri­mar­ily fo­cused on their fu­ture, their past is also very much in their thoughts. To cel­e­brate their an­niver­sary as a band, they are re­leas­ing The Pur­suit Of Vikings: 25 Years In

The Eye Of The Storm, an ex­pan­sive DVD fea­tur­ing tons of eye-melt­ing live footage and, sig­nif­i­cantly, an ex­ten­sive doc­u­men­tary de­tail­ing their story so far. From hum­ble be­gin­nings as as­pir­ing mem­bers of Stock­holm’s fledg­ling death me­tal scene through to the com­mer­cial break­throughs and fes­ti­val-head­lin­ing tri­umphs of re­cent years, it’s the kind of com­pre­hen­sive, qui­etly mo­men­tous ret­ro­spec­tive that you only get to make if you’re a gen­uine big deal.

“It feels very strange in some ways, you know, both that we’re in a band that some­one wants to make a doc­u­men­tary about, and that we get to star in it! Ha ha ha!” Jo­han laughs. “I re­ally had to think back a lot to try to re­mem­ber stuff that I haven’t thought of for years. Some things were sur­pris­ingly emo­tional.”

“It’s su­per-weird, but at the same time, this is some­thing we’ve been want­ing to do for a long time, to give peo­ple a lit­tle glimpse of us away from the stage,” adds Ted.

“If some­one had told me 25 years ago that we would have our own doc­u­men­tary, I would’ve said, ‘That’s in­sane, it’s not gonna hap­pen!’ Ha ha ha! But things do hap­pen.” f the new doc­u­men­tary con­firms any­thing, it’s that things

def­i­nitely hap­pen to Amon Amarth, al­though not al­ways in a good way. It’s un­de­ni­able that the band have risen to their cur­rent po­si­tion of promi­nence thanks to a great deal of de­ter­mi­na­tion, hard work and ded­i­ca­tion to their creative cause. As a re­sult, each suc­ces­sive tri­umph has been sweeter still. But there have also been a hand­ful of daunt­ing chal­lenges to face along the way: mo­ments of col­lec­tive self-doubt, the om­nipresent threat of phys­i­cal burnout from all that tour­ing and the oblig­a­tory line-up changes that nearly all bands go through have all tested but ul­ti­mately strength­ened Amon Amarth’s re­solve.

One of the doc­u­men­tary’s fun­ni­est mo­ments comes when Jo­han re­calls the band’s first-ever gig out­side of Swe­den: an im­promptu show in Ber­lin that they were so ex­cited about, they man­aged to get shit-faced drunk be­fore they even reached the air­port in Stock­holm. Amaz­ingly, and in spite of their own youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance, they still made it to Ger­many and to the venue, had a quick, restora­tive nap and went on to play the show. Even back then, when ex­pec­ta­tions were un­der­stand­ably mea­gre, me­tal’s Vikings-in-Chief ex­hib­ited a re­silience and en­thu­si­asm that has served them well. If you want to know why it’s Amon Amarth that are head­lin­ing fes­ti­vals, rather than any other com­pa­ra­ble band that emerged dur­ing the mid-to-late 90s, the an­swer seems to lie in their abil­ity to soak up the pun­ish­ment and keep forg­ing ahead.

“The only way to learn is to make mis­takes, you know?” Jo­han shrugs. “The trick is to ac­tu­ally learn from them. If you learn from your mis­takes, you won’t re­peat them and then you’ll grow and be­come bet­ter, both as a per­son and as a band. So that’s one of the key things that we’ve al­ways been good at, to take away the lessons and bring them with us for when things have gone to shit. We know to say, ‘We won’t do that again!’ and then take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.”

It’s hard to imag­ine now, but Amon Amarth re­ceived a fair amount of crit­i­cism back in their early days for their pas­sion­ate em­brac­ing of Vik­ing im­agery and sym­bols that were be­ing rou­tinely hi­jacked by far right, Nazisym­pa­this­ing move­ments in Swe­den and be­yond. Once again, un­wa­ver­ing be­lief in what they were try­ing to achieve saw them through and made it pos­si­ble to even­tu­ally es­tab­lish them­selves as of­fi­cial heavy me­tal fig­ure­heads for Vik­ing cul­ture.

“Back then our ap­proach was, ‘Fuck that!’ We shouldn’t have to stop do­ing what we like just be­cause some­one else was us­ing those sym­bols,” says Ted. “The neo-Nazis use Vik­ing sym­bols, but we didn’t care about that. We had the ab­so­lute right to use that stuff in the proper way, in a good way. So we just went full steam ahead, show­ing peo­ple that

we were the real Vikings. I guess it paid off!”

Bask­ing in the glow of a 25-year job well done, Amon Amarth don’t have much to com­plain about at this point in time, but just over a decade ago the band’s story nearly came to an abrupt halt. De­spite grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity with each suc­ces­sive al­bum and tour, the Swedes were feel­ing deeply frus­trated by their lack of ma­jor break­throughs as they be­gan work on what would be­come their fourth stu­dio al­bum, 2002’s Ver­sus The World. As Jo­han ex­plains, the re­al­ity of be­ing a full-time band with all the pres­sures and tri­als that en­tails was nearly enough to bring Amon Amarth to a pre­ma­ture end.

“Back then, in our warped minds, we’d been tour­ing a lot and we felt we were bet­ter than we ac­tu­ally were,” Jo­han ad­mits to­day. “We felt we de­served to get a shot at head­lin­ing and we de­cided to do it. We got a chance to do a head­line tour in Europe but it was a dis­as­ter. We made it through, but af­ter that we just felt like, ‘Fuck this, it’s not worth it!’ We were tak­ing time off work so we couldn’t have any va­ca­tion, be­cause all of that went to­wards tour­ing and record­ing. It was too much. In the end, we de­cided to do the last al­bum we had on our con­tract with Me­tal Blade. We were go­ing to call it The End and it was gonna be this big thing about the end of the world and then that would be it.”

Of course, we know that Amon Amarth didn’t give up. Re­al­is­ing that their new ma­te­rial was ac­tu­ally pretty fuck­ing good, The End be­came Ver­sus The World and went on to be the break­through the band had needed in Europe. Songs like ri­otous opener Death In Fire con­firmed that Jo­han and his com­rades were re­fin­ing and up­grad­ing their trade­mark sound. Sud­denly, ev­ery­thing started to come to­gether and Amon Amarth marched for­ward with re­newed alacrity.

“When we’d recorded Ver­sus The World, we had a press day and ev­ery­body loved the al­bum, so we were all feel­ing pretty pos­i­tive about it,” Jo­han re­mem­bers. “But then at Wacken Open Air, we played Death In Fire for the very first time and the re­sponse was amaz­ing. That was one of those piv­otal mo­ments. I felt like, ‘OK, maybe this is worth do­ing…’ I felt there was a chance for us to keep do­ing this.”

“When you’ve had many dis­ap­point­ments, the mu­sic scene can be very tough,” adds Ted. “You hit ob­sta­cles on the way and you be­come frus­trated and start to think, ‘Fuck this shit, let’s go back to the nor­mal 9 to 5 thing…’ But hope­fully

“We learned lessons from the times things Went to shit!”

Jo­han hegg

“We ig­nored the neo-nazis and used Vik­ing sym­bols in a good Way”

Ted Lund­sTröm

you al­ways think, ‘Give it one more chance!’ It’s al­ways worth try­ing a lit­tle more. So we got over that bump, and from that mo­ment we were stronger and more fo­cused, to go 100% into this.”

Steady and in­cre­men­tal, Amon Amarth’s suc­cess took a lot of peo­ple by sur­prise, but you would have to be daft to deny that the Swedes have taken to their head­lin­ing sta­tus with great style. Few me­tal bands of the modern era have such a pro­found un­der­stand­ing of what makes heavy me­tal work and why it means so much to so many peo­ple. Even fewer bands have a stage show that fea­tures a full-size long­boat, au­then­tic bat­tling Vikings and enough fire to make Satan him­self feel like open­ing a win­dow. What comes across most strongly in Amon Amarth’s live per­for­mances, how­ever, is how much fun the band are hav­ing, liv­ing out their heavy me­tal dreams and de­fy­ing the usual com­mer­cial odds into the bar­gain. Twenty-five years af­ter pen­ning Thor Arise, Amon Amarth are still putting in the work and de­servedly reap­ing the re­wards. For now, Val­halla can wait. In 2019, the march to glory be­gins all over again.

“We have a great fuck­ing al­bum on the way and we’re re­ally happy,” states Ted. “It feels like we’re tak­ing ev­ery­thing to the next step. We have a su­per-cool vibe in the band at the mo­ment. We have the DVD and the doc­u­men­tary, too, so there are a lot of things go­ing on and that’s how we like it. We want to be busy and creative all the time.”

“It feels great to be where we are right now,” Jo­han con­cludes. “For me per­son­ally, play­ing the shows is def­i­nitely the best part of this job, be­cause you get the con­nec­tion with the fans. So when you have some suc­cess and you can put on a big, Iron Maiden-es­que stage show and it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence, the crowd can walk away and feel that they’ve been part of some­thing. That’s one of the best feel­ings there is.”

the drum riser is a Vik­ing hel­met. a VIK­ING hel­met

You don’t get this shit with michael Bublé

cou­ple of peo­ple tuned up.to Sum­mer Breeze last year…

ted lund­ström: ab­so­lute Vik­ingbloody #lad

Val­halla can wait – amon amarth are hav­ing far toomuch fun on midgard

Jo­han hegg: mas­sive wrist­bands or badass fer­ret sad­dles?

ted lund­ström and olavi mikko­nen give us a tour oftheir home­town, tumba

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