Studio recordings of anthems like "Death in Fire" and "The Pursuit of Vikings" impress with their galvanizing, menacing, down-tuned guitar riffs. However, as a live act this Swedish melodic death-metal quintet is tighter than the leather pants Angelina Jolie wore at last month's Beowulf premiere. The two aforementioned songs are so popular among Amon Amarth devotees that both appear repeatedly on 2006's Wrath of the Norsemen live DVD set.
"It just turned out to be three discs with 'Death in Fire' and '[The] Pursuit of Vikings' at five shows," says vocalist Johan Hegg, reached at home in Stockholm. "But I don't expect anybody to sit down and watch all the shows back to back. Come on! I love Slayer, but I wouldn't want to watch them for seven and a half hours straight."
The thick-bearded 34-year-old might be underestimating his fans, who have demonstrated their fealty in unexpected ways. After one Toronto gig, Hegg was given a hand-carved walking staff covered with runes. During the band's last European tour, a Polish fan got creative. "He made a Simpson-esque clay figure that looked like me," Hegg recalls.
The group will participate in an in-store signing at the current Scrape Records location (17 West Broadway), hours before playing their upcoming gig. Unlike at European shows, no full-costume Viking battles will be staged. "To bring the Vikings that we work with in Europe over here would be very expensive," says Hegg. "We're not Iron Maiden."
Still, Maiden's melodic influence can be detected on Amon Amarth's latest studio album, With Oden on Our Side. Guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Sí¶derberg inject spiralling, odyssey-evoking grandeur into "Cry of the Black Birds", with Hegg roaring the lyrics like Darth Vader channelling a grizzly bear: "Raise your swords up high, see the black birds fly/Let them hear your rage, show no fear/Attack!"
From the trill-laden thunder of "Runes to My Memory" to the heavier-than-Thor's-hammer "Valhall Awaits Me", producer Jens Bogren (Opeth, Soilwork) gives each instrument greater clarity than on 2004's Fate of Norns.
"We wrote all these songs together in two months last year, and we did it like a 9-to-5 job," Hegg says. "Before, when we had day jobs, we had to rehearse and write in the evenings, and you're not really creative at that time."
Singing about Viking myths and history throughout the band's 15-year career might seem repetitive, but Hegg views it differently: "I write a lot of songs metaphorically about my life, the band, and the world in general. That way, I keep it fresh."
Amon Amarth plays the Croatian Cultural Centre on Friday (December 14).