Amon Amarth is slated to play in 17 countries between now and the end of the year. The group just dropped Deceiver of the Gods, their ninth album dedicated to bloody Viking battles and Norse mythology, and the Swedish death metal band is once again traversing the globe as their ancestors did, championing Odin and seeking glory in Valhalla.
The band's Swedishness is as central to their identity as towering blond-haired-and-bearded frontman Johan Hegg's earth-rumbling growl or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal-indebted riffs, but it's not all fermented fish and meatballs.
"I don't really eat Swedish food," guitarist Johan Söderberg admits over the phone during a tour stop in Indianapolis. "I like the food here in America. Fermented fish — I've never tried that myself, and I wouldn't ever want to try it either. It's got that smell all over those cans. It's only some people who like that stuff."
While they might not vouch for the food, Amon Amarth has become inseparable from the history of Swedish death metal in the 15 years since the release of their full-length debut Once Sent From the Golden Hall. Where American death metal pioneers often reveled in gore and filth, Swedish bands like Entombed borrowed more from punk. Others like At the Gates favored melodic riffs over bludgeoning ones. Amon Amarth took all that and delivered it on a grander scale. And while, like fermented fish, death metal might be an acquired taste, the version these Swedes offer comes about as close to arena-ready as the genre gets. Think Metalocalypse's Dethklok but with even more cartoonish album covers.
Two decades in, Amon Amarth hasn't messed much with the formula. While a big chunk of Deceiver of the Gods is about Loki, the shape-shifting foil of Norse mythology, Amon Amarth stays true to form.
"The last album, I thought it was really easy to write," says Söderberg. "This album I thought was really hard to write, actually. We always have the goal that we need to top ourselves on each album."
That last album, 2011's Surtur Rising, made it considerably harder for Amon Amarth to top themselves, but Söderberg says that having had the opportunity to hone their songwriting chops over the course of eight albums made them more comfortable going into this one. So with their last week in the studio this time around, they challenged themselves a different way: by creating a bonus EP called Under the Influence, which is included in the double-disc version of the new album.
"We tried to come up with an idea that nobody had heard of, and then the idea came up that we should try to write music in the style of another band," offers Söderberg. "Something fun and challenging for us, and something you'd never heard before."
The idea was to do a bit of their own shape-shifting, writing and recording four songs in the style of the four bands that had influenced them the most: AC/DC ("Stand Up [to Go Down]"), Motörhead ("Snake Eyes"), Judas Priest ("Burning Anvil of Steel") and Black Sabbath ("Satan Rising").
"There are bands that are probably copying other bands, but they don't want people to know that," says Söderberg. "But that's actually the whole goal of the EP, to sound as much as possible like the band we're trying to copy."
But don't expect to hear those songs Thursday night at Marathon Music Works. Part of copying those bands meant using different gear than what Amon Amarth normally uses, and there aren't likely to be any scene changes before fellow Swedes Children of Bodom take the stage. Instead, expect Amon Amarth to do the same thing they've been doing for the past 20 years: delivering fist-pumping metal.
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