Johan Hegg: “I think ‘Find A Way Or Make One’ is one of those tracks which are timeless. That is what you have to do when you face an obstacle: find a way or make one. You have three choices; either you stop or you find a way and if you cannot find a way, then make a way. You keep fighting, no matter what you try and never give up really”
A new Amon Amarth album is always something we look forward to. These Swedish Vikings are a well established band by now for years and long before they did their surprise appearance at Wacken Open Air we sat down with front man Johan Hegg and bassist Ted Lundström to find out more about their twelfth effort ‘The Great Heathen Army’. Now that the album is out, we share this debonair conversation with you about the new and reinvented future of the band and how the band experienced life after former album ‘Berserker’ (2019).
Vera Matthijssens Ι 18 augustus 2022
‘Berserker’, the previous album, came out in May 2019. One year later Amon Amarth could not tour due to the restrictions for covid-19. What did the band do to face this?
Johan: ‘As little as possible’ (laughs) Obviously nobody really knew what would happen with this covid-19 situation. Personally I thought they were talking about SARS or influenza, a kind of flue that would never got big and be over in a couple of months. So we actually thought about just postpone the touring and pick it up again after a few months, but then we realized that this might take longer than expected, so we went in hibernation.’
Ted: ‘We still got a nice deserved break. We tour all the time and there is a lot of stress involved and it was actually nice to be at home for a while and can relax a little bit. So it was not all bad with the covid-19, it had good sides too.’
Johan: ‘It was the first time since the beginning, since I can remember, that we had not only one, but two full summers off.’
The good thing must have been that you could really focus on writing new material? How did that go?
Ted: ‘I don’t think it differs that much from what we normally do, but we had a break and we could come in with fresh and well-rested heads to focus on the new material. We started all over and maybe we had some input from the world situation. It was pretty much the same procedure as the last album.’
Johan: ‘Olavi and Johan write the music, obviously whenever they had ideas, they recorded those ideas and they work on them at home. It doesn’t matter if we are in the writing process or not, they do that all the time. So once we decided to start working on a new album, they already had – I think more than a half of the album idea-wise ready. So it is not that we start with a blank piece of paper, we had stuff when entering the writing process. It went pretty smooth actually.’
Since you are with several song-writers in the band, was there someone who stood out, who has the majority of new ideas?
Johan: ‘I think it is more or less 50/50. It is hard to say, because there are nine songs on the album.’
Ted: ‘Our guitar players write songs and then ended up with 50 percent each, the rest of us, we do our input when they have their basic ideas done, so I try to add, or give them input at least.’
It is not a concept album like ‘Jomsviking’, but there are main sources of inspiration coming from the Viking life. One thing that fascinates me is that there is an influence of your wife, focussing on the esoteric aspects of Viking lifestyle. Can you go deeper into that matter?
Johan: ‘You refer to ‘Serpent’s Trail’, which is the last song of the album. What happened to that? Well, we had this song and my wife and I kind of dig deeper into the esoteric aspects of Viking mythology, especially one thing that it deals a lot with, is the healing aspect which is sort of like an internal journey into subconscious to deal with any kind of obstacle you face in your life. It can be mental, emotional or relational or related to whatever, so the first part of that journey – ‘helvegen’, the road to hell actually it means – is the road down to that witches’ hole, where the serpent’s trail is. The song is about that and how you have to be careful walking, depending on the situation you are in, because if you get stuck, that means you can end up in addiction or something like that. It is something that a lot of people do, when they have issues in their life which they are not prepared to deal with. They end up in addiction, whether it is alcohol or drugs or whatever. When they move further, dealing with their issues, that’s when they succeed in coming out stronger in the end.’
Whatever you start, when you like it, there is a risk for addiction…
Johan: ‘I thought it was pretty interesting, because the way that Andreas tells the story and tells his perception of ‘Helvegen’ – which is of course factional in a way, it is a lot of interpretation that goes into it. But the way he tells it, is very interesting, because there are many parallels to human psychology actually. It is fascinating that there are those parallels, which I always found interesting.’
It is Viking oriented, but it can be reflected on our time, or any time… In which songs do you make this comparison?
Johan: ‘I think ‘Find A Way Or Make One’ is also one of those tracks which are timeless. That is what you have to do when you face an obstacle: find a way or make one. You have three choices; either you stop or you find a way and if you cannot find a way, then make a way. You keep fighting, no matter what you try and never give up really.’
Last two years you must have had more free time. Did you pick up old hobbies or discovered new ones?
Ted: ‘I could spend more time to the hobbies that I already had in the past. I work with leather and I ride my bicycle downhill and I do a lot of stuff. I have too many hobbies, that’s the problem. I never had time to do any of them properly. I just had in mind what I wanted to do. During the covid-19 I started building model planes in plastic, like I did when I was a kid. Some kind of stuff you did as a kid, you could pick up again. That was fun.’
Johan: ‘Like Ted said, I just got more time to do the hobbies that I enjoyed doing. It has been a lot of hiking, especially. Since you could not travel, I went out in the forest and walk.’
Ted: ‘I just got a little hammock, with a roof on top of it and a mosquito net. That’s what I am going to do this summer.’
‘Get In The Ring’ was launched as first single and video clip. We see Erick Redbeard showing up in that clip. What can you tell about this initiative?
Johan: ‘We met him a few years ago. I think the first time we met him was in Costa Rica. He came to the show we played. He had like a wrestling event in Costa Rica at the same time. He came to the shows in the US and he played Thor in the videos we did for the previous album ‘Berserker’. So he has been around for a while. He always wrestles in band shirts. Two years ago he asked us if we could write a ‘walk in’ song, a song that you play when he walks into the pit. We had the idea to do that, but we wanted to do it right and for this album we found the right song. A song that would be perfect for it. We did a song about a traditional Viking Holmgang, like a fighting duo.’
Why did you return to England, because I remember you liked the weather in the US so much during the recordings of ‘Berserker’?
Johan Hegg: ‘Haha no one wants to return to England, but Andy Sneap is top and the place is great, in the middle of nowhere.’
Did you work with Peter Tägtgren again to make demos?
Ted: ‘Not this time. This time we wrote everything and recorded ourselves the stuff. We did not include any outsider before entering the studio.’
Let us focus on the song ‘Saxons And Vikings’. I am pretty sure there is a guest singer and maybe a guitarist?
Ted: ‘Two guitar players yes.’
Johan: ‘We have Biff Byford from Saxon singing, but there is also Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt from Saxon doing guitars as well, in the solos. What else could we do? Look at the title: ‘Saxons And Vikings’!’
What is ‘Skagul Rides With Me’ about?
Johan: ‘Skagul’ is a valkyrie, a female warrior of Odin that will bring the men from the battlefield to Walhalla. In the mythology and history they are also almost goddesses you can turn to and this particular Valkyrie, her name is skagul and that means ‘war’. I came across her and the character of which the song is about, when I was doing research for a script that my wife and I are doing. Skagul was always victorious in battle, so they said Skagul rode to him everywhere, thus he would never leave.
‘Heidrun’ seems to be the catchiest song…
Ted: ‘It is a crowd-pleaser, we had a lot of fun doing that.’
Johan: ‘It is always fun to do, because you know we are a metal band, but we want to have some fun as well. We take our chance to do that from time to time (laughs).’
I read that it was difficult to choose singles. What came out of it in the end?
Johan: ‘Euh… three singles.’
Ted: ‘We always have different opinions in the band, because we have different taste. It is always a little battle, every time we record an album, to choose which songs are going to be the singles, but we don’t spend too much time on it or block decisions.’
Johan: ‘I think this time was probably a bit more than usual, because I think everyone had different prior songs. I even don’t know if we had a majority for any of the singles to start with. Normally you go: ‘well, three people like this song, let us pick that one’, but this time it was spread all over.’
That means every song has potential…
Johan: ‘That’s right.’
How many video clips are you going to shoot?
Ted: ‘At least three. We have plans for more, but we don’t know right now.’
Will you work with Grupa 13 from Poland for all of them?
Ted: ‘No. All of them will be different.’
What can you tell about the artwork? I see your faces with an army on it…
Ted: ‘Once we decided that we were going to have ‘The Great Heathen Army’ as title song, we started working on a cover. We wanted to use an army on the cover and then we decided to maybe go a bit crazy and add ourselves as five leaders of the army or something like that. It is a tribute to album covers like ‘Destroyer’ from Kiss and Manowar. We had a photo from ourselves from the previous video and we gave it to the artist, Tom Thiel, to draw it as a painting and so we are in front of the whole army.’
It may symbolize your return to conquer after the downtime…
Johan: ‘It can be. For me anyway a great heathen army can symbolize and stand for many things. One of the first things that crossed my mind, when thinking of a great heathen army for me was that it can also be seen as all us metal fans, bands and fans. People who have a party and drink, we are a fuckin’ heathen army. We don’t plunder a village, we go to festivals and drink and have a good time.’
Isn’t it going to be difficult to switch from home-modus into travel again?
Ted: ‘The first couple of shows will be hard, for sure. It is a completely different way to perform and play your instruments at home, sitting in a chair. Once you go live, it is a completely different thing. It takes a while to go back into the same energy or the same style. We got some preproduction for the tour, so we can adapt a bit.’
Johan: ‘I think it is always the case, no matter how long you have been off, one month or a week. You always have those few shows you have to get into the live situation. Preproduction really helps, but I still think the first couple of shows are always a bit like trying to get the feel for everything.’
In September and October the proper touring will start, with Machine Head and The Halo Effect. That is also a Swedish band…
Johan: ‘Yes, all the In Flames members basically. It is going to be fun. I think it is a great bill and I think it is awesome to co-headline Machine Head as well, because we have such different crowds and to bring that together into one show, I think it is going to be spectacular. I think it is going to be great shows and a lot of fun.’
The album sounds typical Amon Amarth, spiced with some new details. What was new and adventurous for you on this album?
(silence) Ted: ‘We played it pretty safe on this album I think. There is no big adventure going on in this album.’
Johan: ‘It is our biggest production for an album in many aspects. We always push ourselves to do better and evolve musically and all that stuff, but I don’t think there is any kind of thing one may call ‘adventurous’ (chuckles). We have a guest in ‘Heidrun’, a little bird in the back. That’s all I can say.’