EXCLUSIVE: Authentic purveyors of Viking Metal, Amon Amarth have been steering their longboat through the metallic oceans for almost two decades. Releasing latest album ‘Jomsviking’ to critical acclaim in March 2016, the band are now set to play their biggest ever UK headline slot, when they close the Friday night at this years’ Bloodstock Open Air festival. We caught up with guitarist Johan Söderberg in Dublin, for an EXCLUSIVE chat about inspirations, the new album, and of course, dragons! Deceiver of the gods: Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Johan, how are you today?
I’m good, thanks. The tour’s been good. This is number six in a row, show wise.
Are you feeling the burn?
Yeah, but tomorrow’s the day off, so that’s going to be nice, to get some rest.
Your current touring package consists of Amon Amarth, Testament and Grand Magus; it’s a great bill, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s really good. I’ve been watching those other bands. I’ve only watched four of five songs so far, but some day I’m going to watch the whole set. We have about fourteen dates left, but not with Testament. Testament is only in mainland Europe, and then we switch to Behemoth in Scandinavia.
A slightly heavier bill then for Scandinavia; is that because the Scandinavians like it harder?
I don’t know really why they don’t have Testament on the whole run, but it’s probably that they didn’t have time to do the whole tour, I guess.
You’re playing bigger venues on this tour; do you need a big stage to accommodate the Amon Amarth show?
Yeah, and this is almost too small, actually. In Germany we had the full production with pyros and everything. We’ve had to scale it down a little; take away some ramps. The whole stage has ramps behind the drums and everything, and also, the dragon that comes up behind the stage can be scaled down, so it’s shorter, so it can be like seven metres tall. Also, you can’t have flame throwers in here; it’s too low ceiling.
Are you using the same set that you premiered in the ‘Raise Your Horns’ video?
I think so. There were different clips in that; there were festival clips, and there were club dates, and all kinds of different things.
There were some fantastic cameos in that video, from Rob Flynn to Anthrax; was it difficult to persuade those guys to appear?
No, it wasn’t that hard, actually. The one with Rob Flynn that you mention, I actually filmed that myself with my phone. I just gave him a beer and said; “you have to do it!”
Going back to the big stage production, and is the big shows that the likes of Iron Maiden put on in the 1980’s that inspired you?
Yeah, I mean, that’s what you were dreaming of when you were a kid. I watched Iron Maiden for example, and that’s what you want to have; the big stage production. But you have to reach a certain level and bring in a good amount of people to be able to afford those kind of stage sets.
It must be nice to be at that level now where you can do these big productions.
Yeah, finally we have reached this level!
Are you been pleased with the reaction that ‘Jomsviking’ has received?
Yeah, I mean, I think it had had the best reaction of any of our albums. It was the first one that reached number one in Germany, for example.
The band is clearly bigger now than you’ve ever been.
Yeah, and that’s really cool for us that our fans like our new material. Like, some bands, their fans only like their earlier stuff. For us, it’s the other way around.
So does that mean that you concentrate on the newer songs when performing live?
Yeah, I think it’s like five songs or something from the new album.
What was it like working with producer Andy Sneap on the album?
He’s super nice to work with; really relaxed, and his studio is a very relaxed environment as well, out in the countryside in the UK. We wanted to work with him because he’s also into traditional heavy metal. He’s a real heavy metal fan; he likes Iron Maiden and bands like that, the same as us, so it’s easy to work with him. He understands if you’re after something, like -“I want to have this vibe here on this song” – he knows exactly what you’re talking about.
Amon Amarth has recently appointed a new drummer Jocke Wallgren. For you as a guitar player, do you notice the change, or is it seamless?
Yeah, definitely. Nothing bad about our old drummer, but the new guy is so in time, all the time. So it’s super easy to play with him. It’s much easier to play now than it was in the past. You can concentrate more on the audience, you don’t have to look at the band. I don’t really think about what I play, I just play the songs.
Who are your biggest influences as a guitar player?
I would say Iron Maiden, and also Metallica, riff wise. When I started to play guitar, I tried to pick out Metallica riffs, and that was how I started. It’s fairly easy to hear what they play and try and copy that.
Would you like to cover something by one of those bands?
Not really. I don’t mind to play covers, but it’s something you just do sometimes to make a bonus track for an album or something.
Have you hears any of the tracks from Metallica’s ‘Hardwired… To Self-Destruct’?
I only heard one song. I thought it was okay. But for me it’s the early Metallica that’s it. What’s my favourite album? I would probably say ‘Ride The Lightning’ or ‘…And Justice For All’.
Finally, you’ve been with Amon Amarth for eighteen years; what’s been the highlight in all that time?
I would say actually this year of touring after this album has been probably the highest level we’ve ever been, so I think the highlight is now.
Amon Amarth play Bloodstock Open Air on Friday 11th August. For ticket info and more, visit the official Bloodstock site.