Amon Amarth inspired by Viking life

The Swedish death-metal band is touring North America to promote its new LP Berserker

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      Amon Amarth’s current tour marks a veritable Swedish invasion: all four bands on the bill—including Grand Magus, At the Gates, and Arch Enemy—are from Sweden.

      That’s by design, Amon Amarth’s vocalist Johan Hegg explains to the Straight by cellphone from L.A. “Everyone knows there are tons of fuckin’ awesome bands coming out of Sweden, so when the idea came up to do a tour together with Arch Enemy, we thought we should see if we could get one more Swedish band on there. We ended up with two!”

      Amon Amarth is touring a new LP, Berserker, which, true to form, has songs drawn from Norse myth, like “Fafner’s Gold”, as well as from history, like “The Berserker at Stamford Bridge”, and Viking life, like “Shield Wall”.

      While Hegg often consults ancient texts like the Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, and Njal’s Saga to get details correct, “Shield Wall”—about “one of the main Viking fighting tactics”—is a good example of how he sometimes takes poetic liberties.

      “You can make up your own stories,” he says, “as long as you have the facts about how Vikings behaved and what they did.”

      While the chorus—“Vikings!/Raise the shield wall!/Hold the front line!/Fight ’til death!”—has an anthemic, martial simplicity, there’s also a richness to the gravel-throated singer’s lyrics that can get lost in the fist-pumping.

      “Shield Wall” shows how Vikings “were often very tight-knit in their fighting”, Hegg says. “People often tend to think of Vikings as very brutal and savage, but they were actually very disciplined in battle, they had tactics, they thought out different ways of winning, even if they were outnumbered. It wasn’t just sheer brutal force.”

      Besides using storytelling to shed light on aspects of Viking culture, Hegg will also “use history and mythology as a metaphor for something else I want to discuss, even though I may not want to be super obvious about everything”. “Fafner’s Gold”, for example—another album highlight—recounts a tale of dragon-slaying and treachery, drawn from the Poetic Edda.

      “It’s a bit like The Hobbit, a story about greed and what it does to people,” Hegg says. “Fafner murders someone and steals a treasure. The treasure is cursed, and he turns into a dragon, and to protect the treasure, he lies on top of it all the time; and he lives in Gnita plains, which is like a wasteland. I think it’s really very contemporary, because this person gets a treasure and becomes a hideous creature that destroys the earth around him. It’s basically what we as people are doing to the earth right now, because of profit, because of greed.”

      A point of curiosity: for all his admiration of Vikings and their lore, does Hegg identify as a pagan?

      “I’m an atheist,” he replies, “so it depends on what you mean by ‘pagan’. I think a pagan technically would be someone who holds to the old gods. I don’t. I guess technically I’m more of a heathen, then. But I identify with the mentality and the philosophy of the whole thing­—maybe not so much with the religious aspects. And I mean, we’re modern people, we don’t walk around with swords and stuff.”

      Hegg pauses. “Well, I do occasionally, but that’s more for fun.”

      Amon Amarth plays the PNE Forum on Saturday (September 28).