|"We've never called ourselves viking metal and like most musicians, we just don't like to put labels on ourselves. In our mind, it's very much associated with bands that come out of Norway who are playing a very black metal oriented music and that's not what we play. Sure, we have the same inspirations when it comes to the lyrical themes but musically we're a completely different kind of metal so it's tricky. To somebody who's never heard us but has maybe heard Enslaved, Borknagar or Einherjer, they will expect something very different than what we do." - Johan Hegg
It was nearly two decades ago when an unlikely collective from Tumba, Sweden affectionately known as Scum reared its callow head upon an unsuspecting underground. Initially a death/grind group made of jagged riffs, dark atmospheres, untethered vitriol and copious amounts of mead, Scum prowled the burgeoning Stockholm metal scene unnoticed before enlisting vocalist Johan Hegg to their ranks in 1992. Little did the young warriors know that Hegg's imposing stature, Thor-like growl and treasure-trove of viking-related lyrical themes would inevitably help shape the very core of their sound.
The band later changed their name to Amon Amarth - "mount doom" in J. R. R. Tolkien's middle-earth legendarium - and unleashed the five-song Thor Arise demo. Though raw and uneven in sound and execution - it was their first demo, after all - their infectious brand of epic-sounding brutality and unadorned conviction caught the attention of vigilant metallers searching for a new variety of extreme. Amon Amarth continued to sharpen their warring death metal skills with The Arrival Of The Fimbul Winter demo and subsequent Sorrow Throughout The Nine Worlds EP and by 1997 found themselves on Metal Blade Records, where they remain to this day.
A compelling fusion of buzzsaw riff work, melodic harmonies and soul-crushing rhythms punctuated by Hegg's callous black/death roar and accounts of Norse battles and treachery, Amon Amarth's 1998 Metal Blade debut, Once Sent From The Golden Hall, earned the band international accolades by critics and fans alike. For the next ten years and an astounding six full-lengths, Amon Amarth marched on, longswords in hand, pillaging their way through countless tours and festival appearances stateside and abroad. With each passing recording came a discernable growth in musicianship and a deeper connection with the Nordic myths that make their already brutalic sound all the more absorbing.
A record Metal Hammer called "the biggest and most powerful" the band had ever recorded, 2008′s heroic Twilight Of The Thunder God was applauded around the globe. The record landed at position #6 in the official German album charts as well as #10 in Finland, #11 in Sweden, #14 in Austria, #21 in Switzerland, and #48 in the difficult to crack US. Time Out New York commended the Swedes for playing "some of the most unabashedly epic metal you're likely to find these days," while popular online music portal MetalSucks called the offering "(a) bottomless gauntlet of riffs that the band endlessly takes gargantuan swigs from, sounding both lush and emotive as well as skull crushingly heavy.." The Village Voice agreed stating, "the viking war metal of Amon Amarth is limitless."Twilight Of The Thunder God earned the #7 position in Revolver Magazine's Top 20 Albums that year and was met with numerous European tours/fest appearances as well as a victorious North American headlining tour in October 2008. In 2009 the band returned to the states for another successful stretch of dates with Goatwhore, Skeletonwitch and Lazarus A.D. and again in 2010 with Holy Grail and Eluveitie. In addition, Amon Amarth was crowned Best Breakthrough Act at Metal Hammer's prestigious Golden Gods Awards and earned a support slot on the European leg of the Unholy Alliance Chapter III tour featuring Slayer. The band even made their way to India for the first time, headlining the Deccan Rock Festival in Bangalore as well as tours in China and Taiwan.
In May of 2010, Amon Amarth - Hegg, guitarist Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg, bassist Ted Lundström and drummer Fredrik Andersson - began writing what would become Surtur Rising. Recorded at Park Studios and Fascination Street Studios and produced at Fascination Street Studios by Jens Bogren, the offering is named in tribute to Surtur, leader of the fire giants of Muspelheim ("flame land") and the oldest being in the nine worlds of Norse mythology. According to legend, when Surtur lights his sword in the Eternal Flame, he will be given the power to raze the nine worlds. It's a gripping story - both visually and thematically - for what is easily Amon Amarth's most sonically monolithic offering to date. "It was a cool story and character," elaborates Hegg, "and one we knew we could write a really brutal song around."
The eighth long-player in Amon Amarth's winding discography, Surtur Rising offers ten tracks of fist-raising, peck-flexing, hyper climactic fight anthems led by the fiery lungs of Hegg, searing rhythms and a volatile twin riff assault with a courser, more organic-sounding production to add more depth to their already consuming tone. "A major change for us on this album was the sound and production," comments the frontman. "It was one of the main things we had discussed before going into the studio. We thought we needed to be a bit more aggressive and rougher than the previous two. We wanted a harder, tougher sound and I definitely think we got that."
Each track writhes under the weight of its own valiant heaviness with the band's signature viking themes pulling it all together. From the first world war between the two clans of gods in "War Of The Gods" to the return of Loke, the god of treachery, in "Töck's Taunt - Loke's Treachery Part II," (Loke first appeared on 2006′s With Oden On Our Side studio offering in "Hermod's Ride To Hel - Lokes Treachery, Part 1″), Amon Amarth manage to keep the Norse gods glued to their headphones for 48 minutes. "We basically deal with Loke's actual deceit on "Loke's Treachery Part II." When he totally told the gods to go fuck off," laughs Johan. "Then there's the title track which talks about Surtur and his fight against Frej (the ruler of peace and fertility and the son of the sea god Nj"rd) at the end of the world," he continues. "It's told from the perspective of Surtur himself. Then we did something kind of cool and have "The Last Stand Of Frej", which is derived from the same Norse myth but told from a totally different perspective. I thought that was pretty cool to do. to have that kind of mirror effect."
Surtur Rising will be released in North America on March 29, 2011 and will be followed by a headlining tour in April and May. "Hopefully we can take some new steps in our career and reach another level as a band," Hegg notes thoughtfully. "We want to play places we haven't played yet and reach a wider audience without sacrificing what it is we do best. We've always mainly made music for ourselves so as long as we like it, it's ok. Of course it's better if other people like it too."
(Source: Official website, 29.1.2013)