The photos in the booklet for Swedish Viking metal champions Amon Amarth’s new CD, Surtur Rising, show the band in a burned-out forest outside Stockholm in screaming assault poses, brandishing weapons. This means axes, in the case of vocalist Johan Hegg and guitarist Olavi Mikkonen, a hatchet for guitarist Johan Söderberg, a sword for bassist Ted Lundström, and, for drummer Fredrik Andersson, a bloody-tipped reconstruction of a medieval spear. It’s cool from a metal perspective, but savage enough to be a bit intimidating.
Andersson—a powerful drummer, known for his relentless double-kick onslaught—chuckles at the observation. “We had been talking about comic book–style photos, so that’s why we did this for this album,” he tells the Straight, speaking long distance from Sweden. “We’ve been kind of against using props in photos up until now. It’s just that this is our eighth studio album and we felt like we needed to do something other than just stand up straight and cross our arms.”
While there’s no word as to whether Amon Amarth will by trying to get its medieval weaponry through customs, the band will definitely be out to vanquish and conquer on its upcoming North American tour. Shows will find the group playing two full sets, with the whole of Surtur Rising followed by a roughly 80-minute performance drawing from its extensive catalogue.
The structure was suggested by the band’s booking agents when Amon Amarth failed to find a good support act for the first half of their North American tour in the spring. “We thought it was a challenge, and also a statement that we don’t really need a support act—we can fill venues just by ourselves.”
Surtur Rising, which welds a melodic, epic, classic-metal sensibility to growled death vocals and warrior-intense pummeling, has topped charts and won heavy praise from critics. “We’ve been really fortunate,” Andersson says. “Since I joined the band, 13 years ago, every album has peaked from the previous, so we’ve been on a steady upgoing trend, which is pretty unusual. We’re still awed about it—it’s nice to have people appreciating what you’re doing. We want to see how far it will take us.”
Surtur Rising offers myth-based stories about Odin, Loki, and the Viking apocalypse Ragnarök, in which the fire giant Surtur, or Surt, will come to cleanse the earth with his flaming sword. The lyrics—drawn from Viking sources such as the Hávamál—advise listeners to “fearlessly”¦charge ahead” (“Live Without Regrets”) and to seek fame and respect that will survive them after death (“Doom Over Dead Man”). Passion for these themes originates with lyricist Johan Hegg, but has spread over onto his bandmates.
“Being in the band, you get drawn into it,” Andersson says. “I didn’t know that much about it when I joined the band, but it’s become a part of me, so to speak. I don’t practice any religion or beliefs, but I like how Norse myths describe personalities, and how you’re supposed to act towards other people. What they thought was right back then, it’s how I already believe people should be, so when I got into Norse mythology, I felt connected to it.”
Within limits, he adds. “These were people living in the Dark Ages. They thought you would fall off the earth if you went too far!”
Amon Amarth plays the Commodore Ballroom on Thursday (August 4).