Ours is an age in which nobody buys records anymore, so when an underground band like Amon Amarth — Sweden's Viking overlords of metal — releases new material, and that album manages to debut within Billboard's coveted top 50, people take notice. And when you release a blood-drenched video, depicting the violent pillaging of a small village, people also take notice.
While they've been a band for more than 15 years, it seems people are finally paying attention to Amon Amarth. Earlier this month, their latest studio set, Twilight of the Thunder God, sold more than 11,400 copies and entered the Billboard top 200 at #48 — besting the sales of such established mainstream artists as Tina Turner, Faith Hill, T.I. and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello's solo project, the Nightwatchman — and no one was more shocked about that than frontman Johan Hegg.
"I think we were all actually kind of surprised we'd reached that high," he told MTV News last week; since the album's release, Twilight of the Thunder God has sold close to 25,000 copies, which, for a metal act, is quite an accomplishment. "We're happy we did, and I think one of the key elements that contributed to [the high debut], obviously, is building a fanbase. That's what we've been doing all these years as we've steadily grown as a band. The fact that we've had a couple of successful tours in the U.S. has helped, and the fact that this record actually is really good didn't hurt."
By now, Amon Amarth's fans know what to expect from the band: albums that focus on Norse mythology, the Viking age and the pre-Christian world. For Hegg, these are topics he's been fascinated with since his childhood, and themes that will no doubt saturate the band's future efforts.
"I've been interested in Vikings from the first time I read about them in school when I was 10 years old, so it's always been there for me," he said. "It's become almost like a mentality and a way to be that I think really fits my personality well and speaks to me in a good way. Vikings are misunderstood. They were very sophisticated people. Some people think they were brutal savages who just raped and killed, but that's not quite true. Obviously, they did stuff like that as well — but those were the days. That's what people did in those days, whether you were a pagan Viking or a Christian. But there's a certain code of ethics and a certain way of thinking that really appeals to me within the Viking heritage and history and mythology."
Not too long ago, Amon Amarth took over the old Viking site of Jomsborg, home of the Jomsvikings in Wolin, Poland, to shoot a video for the album's title track with director Dariusz Szermanowicz behind the lens. The band was forced to edit the clip twice because the original was too gory for public display.
"It's a pretty brutal story, actually," Hegg explained. "We did two versions because we knew no one would play it. It's a pretty bloody story. It's about a Viking raid on a village, so it's pretty simple and straight to the point, metaphorically talking about the lyrics in the song. It's hard to take for some people; there were blood splatters on the camera and stuff like that."
The band, fresh from wrapping a U.S. tour, will be heading overseas this week for the launch of this year's Unholy Alliance III Tour, which runs through November 27 in Helsinki and also features Slayer, Trivium and Mastodon. Hegg said the band plans to return to the U.S. in early '09 and would be open to playing one of the summer's traveling festivals. But don't expect to hear new music from Amon anytime soon.
"We're a band that put a record out, tour and tour until we drop, and then we start thinking about writing new material," he said. "We've never been good at writing on the road. Of course, you can get some ideas, but actually, writing songs on the road has never been our strong point."
The rest of the week's metal news:
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