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Interview with Olavi Mikkonen (Amon Amarth)

Amon Amarth will soon drop their 12th opus ‘The Great Heathen Army on 5th August and founding member and guitarist Olavi Mikkonen is naturally confident of his band’s work. 

We always try to do something a little different. For this album, my goal was not that many songs, 8 or 9. All the songs should have our full attention, really work on them 100% to make them all stand out. No two songs with a similar beat, they should all be unique. 

Classic Amon Amarth songs like ‘Get In The Ring’ and ‘Dawn Of Norsemen’ you know what you’re gonna get there. But at the same time, we wanted a few songs that stand out a bit. 

Heidrun’ may be the catchiest and funniest song we’ve ever made. ‘Oden Owes You All’ and ‘The Great Heathen Army’ are brutal in their own way. We have ‘The Serpent’s Trail’ which I think arrangement-wise and the way we played the riffs is a little bit different. It also has orchestration to create a bit more dynamics, the vocals are a little different from what you’ve heard before. 

Then of course we have ‘Saxons and Vikings’ which could’ve been a traditional heavy metal song but also a melodic death metal song. I think we have managed to do all Amon Amarth styles in one album.’

It is the commitment to create this diversity from other musical worlds that appear in tracks such as the blues rock infused ‘Heidrun’ and the marching band stomp of ‘Find A Way Or Make One’.

We just go with whatever ideas we have and what we feel is strong. I’m actually happy to hear that – everybody I’ve spoken to so far about ‘Heidrun’ they just hear the folkish thing in that song – while you actually hear the rhythm beneath it. The rhythm beneath, as you said, is kind of like a bluesy rhythm and when I wrote the verse riffs I was thinking in my head it was like Status Quo boogie-woogie but in a more death metal way. Obviously yes, I’m happy to hear that cause everyone gets into this folkish thing, and the only reason is that there is a violin underneath the guitar in one place. 

I’m happy to hear that in ‘Find A Way’ you hear marching too! Actually, in my demos when I made that song, I actually had a marching sound, like an army walking as an intro and outro but we never used that on the record, so it’s kinda funny that you can hear that sort of stuff!’

The album also features one very special guest on the ball tearing ‘Saxons And Vikings’ too. 

It’s Biff Byford from Saxon. We’ve had this idea for a very long time, we should do a song about Saxon and Vikings and it should be a duet between Amon Amarth and Saxon. That idea has been there but for whatever reasons it didn’t happen as we came back to Andy Sneap we thought timing-wise this might be it. Musically I had a few ideas that would fit well with both Johan’s and Biffs’ vocals. I sent Biff a draft and some music and he got really into it. Johan worked on the theme for the lyrics, Biff wrote his own lyrics. He came to the studio and we spoke about the song, worked on his words and he nailed his parts. I think that’s a dream come true cause Saxon means a lot to the whole band, we are all big fans of the band. I mean it makes sense if you’re going to write songs about ‘Saxons And Vikings’, there are only two bands that can deliver that!

The band is back working with Uber-producer Andy Sneap who fulfills a much more convoluted role than knob-twiddler.

He brings more than people think, when it comes to songwriting and the riffs, they are already in place. He can help us use different harmonies. When we track guitars, he can point out what I’m doing because he’s a great guitar player himself, while a producer who doesn’t play would just say ‘take it again’. Andrew can point out you touched that string, whatever, because he’s such a good musician himself, he knows all the tricks and what work’s. 

When it comes to sound I’m really terrible but I know what I want and can explain it with words and he knows what I mean. ‘Ok, you want that effect with that one?’ So that helps a lot.

He’s also a relaxed guy, so it’s a relaxed atmosphere, so we can have a laugh about it. That really helps, really makes the whole progress easy.  His biggest role is not being a producer, it’s like being a therapist for the band.’ 

Amon Amarth was part way through touring the epic ‘Berserker’ album when the world stopped and the band rushed back to their native Sweden. Rather than sit idle, they went back into working with the Swedish Government’s take on the pandemic assisting them.

To be honest, the recording and writing pretty much went how it always been. To us, the pandemic didn’t affect the writing process. The only thing that happened is that we didn’t plan to make a new album. Our plan was to have a bigger gap because we were halfway through, but we still had so much more to tour with ‘Berserker’. Once we realized, we couldn’t come back because of the pandemic we pretty much decided to write a new album.

 In Sweden, we didn’t have that many restrictions, so it didn’t affect us at all, to be honest. We could get together but we don’t really get together when we write these days anyway. Everyone kind of writes at his own pace and we just send files to each other and every once in a while, we get together. This time around we rented a cabin in the mountains in Sweden for a week where we nailed down the whole album there.

Whether it’s the spoken word Christopher Lee foreboding style of ‘The Serpent’s Trail’, the uplifting tone of ‘Find A Way’ or the epic storytelling in ‘The Great Heathen Army’, Amon Amarth are defiantly themselves.

‘We just go with whatever we feel is right, we don’t really listen to other people’s options. ‘Find A Way’ is a song that anyone can relate to. It’s about personal struggles and how to overcome whatever is in front of you. That’s the song itself is uplifting so it have lyrics to match about gathering strength and overcoming obstacles. ‘The Great Heathen Army’ is about the end of the Viking era in England, the biggest gathering they had when they invaded England and the lost.’

There are plans to come out to Australia next year but ‘no exact dates but working towards it’ so for now, ’Find A Way’ to grab a copy of ‘The Great Heathen Army’, turn it up loud and march those feet to the tune of Amon Amarth.

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