Sweden's melodic death metal tyrants Amon Amarth have recently released Surtur Rising,their eighth studio offering in their critically revered pantheon of Viking-inspired death metal.Named in tribute to Surtur, leader of the fire giants of Muspelheim, (flame land) and the oldest being in the nine worlds of Norse mythology, the record features ten tracks of sword-wielding, fist-pumping,hyper climacticbattle anthems. The follow-up to 2008's monolithicTwilight Of The Thunder God, the new record was recorded, mixed and masteredat Fascination Street Studios rebro, Sweden with Jens Bogren and features strikingly brutal cover art by Tom Thiel.
Upon release of the new record, the group will embark on a U.S. headlining tour as well. Simply dubbed An Evening With Amon Amarth, this very special trek will find the group touring without support and instead, performing two separate sets each night, with one set featuringSurtur Rising in its entirety. On the eve of the group's new opus, Joe Matera spoke to Johan Sderberg to discuss the new album, sci-fi movies and Satanism.
When it came to the songwriting process for the new album, Surtur Rising what was it like?
It was pretty much the same as the last two albums. I started to write in January last year. Basically the process is like this; I just play guitar to some simple beat in my home studio until I come up with stuff I like. I did that for about three months and then we started to rehearse. Olavi [Mikkonen] takes his ideas and I take mine, and we start to put it together in the rehearsal place. That's when Johan listens to the songs and he starts to write the lyrics. Usually we will rearrange some of the songs in the rehearsal place too. Then we did a U.S tour in April, and when we got back from that, we continued to work out new songs and some days at home, to come up with new guitar parts. And then we went back to the rehearsal place to put it all together.
How did the approach of making this album, differ from previous efforts?
The approach was, as always, to try to top the previous album both song and production vise.
When it came to the recording process, how was that approached?
This was the third album that we recorded with our producer Jens Bogren and the biggest difference on this album was that he had built a new studio since the last time. We also decided to record the drums in another studio in Stockholm called Park Studios. It was just to make the new album have a different sound than the last one.
When it came to this new record, was there much pressure on the band to top the success of the previous album Twilight of the Thunder God?
I personally felt a huge pressure because Twilight is a great album and those songs are not easy to top. Lots of riffs and song ideas had to be put in the bin before they even made it to the rehearsal place. And it usually takes us about ten months to come up with ten songs that we feel are as good, or better than the last album. So the biggest pressure is that you know it has to be done by a certain time cause the date for when the recording starts, is not easy to move because then everything else has to move to along with release date and tours. If you postpone the recording by two weeks, you might have to postpone the release date by six months.
What sort of gear did you use for the album in the recording sessions?
I used Peavey 6505 and 6505+ heads and then we mic'ed up several different cabs with lots of different mics, like ribbon mics, condenser mics and some regular SM-57s to get different sounds for the overdubs. We usually put down four dubs on the rhythm guitars and try to keep the gain pretty low. We just use the amps own distortion. Then when we put down the lead melodies and solo, we crank up the gain and put some effects on the loop. We used some analog Delay and a Phaser pedal, and on some solos, I used a Wah pedal. When it came to guitars, we used mainly Gibson Explorers but also a Les Paul Custom, a Flying V and a Gibson SG with a Sustainer pickup system on it to get the E-Bow like tones that we have on some tracks. And I use DAddario XL 157 strings that go from 0.14 to 0.68. They are perfect for keeping the guitar in tune when you tune down like we do to standard B or drop A.
Do you like to experiment in the studio?
Yes, on this album we felt it was time to bring back the use of sound effects like we used to do on some of the earliest albums. We also used more orchestral arrangements than on previous albums and some parts with acoustic guitars, which is something we never had before.
Are you also one who enjoys seeing out different guitar tones?
I try to keep it simple and just dial in one good rhythm sound and one lead sound with a little more gain and a delay on top. I don't like to have too much things to step on when we play live.
What is your gear set up like for the live stage then?
It is the Peavey 6505+ and a Peavey 4 x12 cab that we put two mics on and a Delay pedal on the effects loop. But on the upcoming tours, I am going to add a Maxon Phaser pedal to the effects loop just to make the solos sound more like on the album. That Phaser pedal sounds almost like a Wah pedal too.
"Twilight is a great album and those songs are not easy to top."
Do you prefer the studio environment to the live stage?
I think they are both equally fun. When I have been touring for maybe one and a half years or more like we usually do on each album, I start to miss the songwriting process and the studio. And when the new album is finished, I can't wait to go out on tour again to play the new songs live. I can't really write any new material after the recording is done either, as I have to be out touring for some time to get the urge back to start writing again. It is like a continuous cycle.
Since you joined the band in 1998, I noticed the production of each successive album has improved, is it something this something that the band are conscious off and prioritize with each album?
Yes we always try to top the production. When we look back on earlier albums there is always something we feel could have been done better sound wise. On the albums before, like With Oden On Our Side, we did the producing ourselves and that was not always a good thing because you get too many different views on things, as all five of us wants to tweak things. So we decided that we needed one guy who did the sound tweaking and
that is when we started to work with Jens. Another element too is the fact, that today we spend two and a half months recording. On the earlier albums, we'd spend between three to five weeks in the studio. And of course the technology has moved forward very much the last years too.
How do you feel about the label that some critics place on the band by calling it Viking metal due to the heavy lyrical emphasis on Norse mythology?
People can call our music what ever they want, I don't mind. I just call our music Heavy Metal'.
You're a fan of horror movies and sci-fi movies tell us about your passion for these types of movies?
Yes, I like many of John Carpenters movies a lot and sci-fi movies like Alien and Blade Runner for example. I think those kinds of movies had a special vibe that you don't find in today's movies. What I don't really like that much is the computer animated stuff today. And also the film scores today always sound the same; it's just these big orchestral arrangements and I don't think that really fits sci-fi movies. I think sci-fi needs to be more electronic sounding.
Does it ever influence you on the musically side of things?
Yes, to me many of John Carpenters scores sound like metal music. He just didn't use electric guitars to record it he just used mostly electronic instruments like old modular Moog synthesizers. His music has a dark feeling over it, similar to the dark feelings you'll find in metal music and I get influenced by that.
Every band has its share of Spinal Tap moments, and Amon Amarth have had their share too, such as the time the band lost two wheels from its tour bus on the highway. Can you share some others that have happened to the band as well?
One incident that comes to mind is also about a bus. We had a real old and very religious bus driver once on a North American tour and when we where about to cross the border to Canada, the guy started to pray really loud while he was driving O lord please take these boys safely across the border'.and so on. Not even a minute after he was done praying, the whole gear box collapses on the bus! We were able to jump on another band's bus, who were on the tour too, so we made it to the show anyway though.
How do you find metal audiences compare from the European audiences to the American audiences?
I think they are quite similar. The American audiences are usually a bit more into moshing and stage diving, while the Europeans are more the fist in the air head, bangin' and singing along crowd.
The band has toured with many other metal bands, so who have been some of the best bands you have toured with?
I think the tour we did with Slayer was very nice. They had a very good catering company on that tour who served excellent three course dinners every night and we really enjoy having good food on tour. Any time when there is another Swedish band on the tour, the partying seems to jump up a notch too.
"When the new album is finished, I can't wait to go out on tour again to play the new songs live."
What do you think of the association of death or metal bands in general and their association with Satanism, do you think this is an ignorant notion and one perpetuated mostly by Christians?
If someone makes a movie about Satan, nobody thinks that the director or the actors are sitting at home worshiping Satan. But if a band writes songs about Satan, some people instantly make the assumption that these guys are sitting at home worshipping Satan. I think that almost all bands that have lyrics about Satanism, have them in order to make the songs have a dark feeling about them, just like a horror movie. If you make the most brutal riff you can, it doesn't really fit to have lyrics about flowers in spring time.
Have you got a guilty pleasure that is something out of the ordinary that would surprise your fans?
I do have some Run-DMC and Beastie Boys albums but I haven't listened to them since I was fourteen or something. Though I'd probably wouldn't like them today either.
Other than that I like all music that has a dark feeling about it. It can be anything from classical to electronic stuff. I don't really care about genres, as long as it's something that sounds good to me.
Finally, what has the rest of 2011 in store for the band and what can fans expect from the upcoming tour?
2011 is going to be lots of touring. On the first American tour, we are going to play the whole new album live plus do a set with songs from some of the other albums as well.
There will be bigger production stage sets, but there is still much planning to do as we haven't figured out the whole year yet, but we certainly can't wait to get started!
Interview by Joe Matera
"If you make the most brutal riff you can, it doesn't really fit to have lyrics about flowers in spring time."