Interview conducted December 07 2013
Interview published December 22 2013
Metal Covenant was supposed to talk
to melodic death metallers Amon Amonth in June near the release date of
their latest album Deceiver Of The Gods. After 2 cancellations we finally
instead were given the opportunity to talk to guitarist and main songwriter
Olavi Mikkonen a few hours before the band's
show at Arenan in Stockholm, Sweden. Olavi stands with both feet on the
ground and definitely is someone who sees two sides of the coin.
Tobbe: Now that you guys are on home turf,
is there actually any bigger difference when you're up on the stage here,
or is the difference more in what comes around with friends and so?
Olavi: Of course it's a little bit special since
I know quite a lot of people in the audience. I don't know though, most
of my friends have been my friends for 20 years so they've seen us many
times and so has my girlfriend, so actually there isn't any bigger difference.
But today it's gonna be more fun though. Well, now it's not a surprise
anymore but it doesn't matter, but Messiah [Marcolin, former Candlemass
vocalist who made a guest appearance on Amon Amarth's latest album Deceiver
Of The Gods] is gonna be on stage. We soundchecked earlier today and
I had butterflies in my stomach. Something new, something fun.
When you asked Messiah to sing on the album, was he positive from the
Olavi: The thing is that we met him a few years
ago and we talked about the possibility to do something together. This
season we had a song that felt so damn right and we needed something
like that to take the song to a higher level. So we asked him and he
jumped on the wagon immediately.
Tobbe: We never spoke to you guys after
the release of Deceiver Of The Gods in June, so tell me what the response
has been during these six months.
Olavi: I think it's been really good. Everything
points to the better. The fans' response has been great and on this
tour a song like Deceiver [Of The Gods] goes down really well. All people
I've spoken to says great things and most people are positive. Of course
no people that approach me says that we are worthless and that the new
album sucks, but if you look at it in terms of sales and so, everything
has turned out better. I'm really satisfied with the new album, I think
it's great and I think Andy [Sneap, producer, etc.] did a great job.
We had a good vibe and we had good songs. The entire session felt very
good. Metal Blade did a good job for the release. We signed with a new
management before this album and they also did a good job. Everything
is really positive.
Tobbe: Hand on heart. How much impact did
Olavi: Directly, maybe not that much. Of course
he did the production and when we work with a producer, we really let
him do his job. We don't say that we want to do this and that. We give
him free hands. On the contrary we write all songs and all songs were
fully written before his entry. The only thing we really did was to
extend or shorten a few parts, but nothing else really. When I knew
that we were going to work with Andy, I got inspired as a songwriter
though. It became more thrashy parts and more Accept. I love Accept's
two latest albums, the comeback albums, and I have always loved Kreator.
Tobbe: Andy has made himself a name by now
and I guess he's a busy man. I definitely hear marked differences between
Deceiver Of The Gods and Surtur Rising. Bigger differences than between
With Oden On Our Side and Twilight Of The Thunder God or between Twilight
Of The Thunder God and Surtur Rising. Was this an intentional decision?
Olavi: Yes, we felt that we had reached as far
as we could go with Jens [Bogren, producer]. We wanted more free space,
not sterile or neat. I don't say that our sound is ugly right now, but
we wanted to create a live feeling and we have also done that. We have
played more live, even if we don't record live. Like when we recorded
the drums, we all were in the same room and played the songs over and
over again until they were solid. Also when we recorded the songs, we're
not machines, we're just humans and we can't play a riff identically
20 times. We left them that way and that's the way it should be.
Tobbe: More like the old days.
Olavi: Exactly. We actually haven't copied and
pasted anything. Everything is recorded to have a live feeling and to
I hear distinct differences in both the guitars and the drums. I also
hear things going back to earlier Amon Amarth.
Olavi: I think it's like this. We decided really
early, when we started to work on the album, even before we had written
any songs. We decided to have no boundaries, like with the song Father
Of The Wolf. We had never dared to do that 5 years ago, because that
was far too much heavy metal. Now we said that if we have ideas that
everyone thinks are dead cool, though not 100 percent Amon Amarth, just
fuck it and go for it anyway. Then we have the song Blood Eagle that's
very Slayer-ish and we wouldn't have dared to do that either. But what
the fuck, Slayer has been my favorite band since I was 15, so why can't
we have something a bit in that direction?
At the same time we thought if we do songs like
We Shall Destroy that recalls pretty much riff-wise of Death In Fire
or something like that. What the hell, we did Death In Fire 10 years
ago and if we have a similar riff now, why can't we do that? It's still
we who did Death In Fire, so why can't we do another one, you understand
what I mean? We said we shouldn't be afraid and just go for it. As long
as we're satisfied and just don't give a shit if people say that now
we write the same songs all over, or if people say that we sound too
much like Accept. We just said "Fuck it!".
Tobbe: If you look back at the record. What
are you absolutely most pleased with if you have to pick just one thing?
Olavi: [7 seconds pause] Damn, now it became
Tobbe: Yes, it's difficult. That's why it's
so fun to ask certain questions, you know.
Olavi: [Another 7 seconds pause] I'm definitely
most satisfied with Deceiver [Of The Gods]. It was the first song I
wrote for the album and I had the goose bumps back home. Now I don't
know how it will work tonight, but during the entire tour there have
been awesome sing-a-longs during the intros, you know with the guitar
and so. And that was also something I had in mind when I wrote it.
Tobbe: I'm pretty sure that song will go
down well tonight as well. I'm not gonna provide any high odds for that.
It's a great song, simple as that. You mentioned your home, so can you
tell us how you write a song? You're the main songwriter of the band.
Olavi: Well, how the hell does it work? I don't
know, I'm not the one who lock myself up and work every day. I must
have a feeling and when it comes, then I can work 24/7, you know. But
I don't know, because there's not one definite way how to create a song.
It just comes from somewhere. Sometimes I get a melody together and
I believe I already had this melody when we finished Surtur [Rising].
The thing is that I entered the songwriting process on that record rather
late and we already had so much good material, so I had to set some
aside. So when that record was done, I already had ideas for 3 new tracks
and Deceiver [Of The Gods] was one of them.
Tobbe: So it's mostly work at home?
Olavi: Yes. Sometimes I sit and watch TV and
play with an acoustic guitar and sometimes on a soundcheck or when I
warm up or whatever. And then I have some riffs and then I record those
riffs on my cell phone and later I go through all the stuff.
Isn't it great to have those nowadays [pointing at my cell phone]? You
can travel light. All I have with me is that one.
Olavi: Yes, exactly. Many times when I drive
my car I start to hum and think "Oh man, that is super cool".
So I pick up my cell phone and record it.
Tobbe: Yes, it's awesome. One thing about
your band that is impressive is that Deceiver Of The Gods is your 8th
straight record with the same lineup. It's only the debut that has different
personnel. So what is your secret to keep the band intact since '00? Or
when the hell was it? I can't remember when the second album was released.
Oh fuck it.
Olavi: I believe the essential thing is that
we share all incomes equally, even royalties. It doesn't matter if I
write 65 or 70 percent of the music, I still only have 20 percent. Johan
[Hegg, vocalist] have written all lyrics and he only have 20 percent
as well. We all share equally, so we never have to argue about money.
Tobbe: But maybe then you want to argue
about money, because maybe you want more, because you write more eventually?
Olavi: But at the same time, I wouldn't have
been here if Ted [Lundström, bassplayer] hadn't been in the band,
or Fredrik [Andersson, drummer]. After all, we're a crew, a team. And
when we write songs, it doesn't matter who does the riffs, it's only
the best material that ends up on the records. When we build the songs
in the rehearsal room, we build them together and everybody has an opinion.
But I believe the money thing, although [hesitates].
When you talk about money, people think it's all about money, but of
course, it's a business movement we do. But we took a decision before
we even made any money, that when we started to make any money, we shall
all split equally. And because of that we don't have that thing to argue
about. We are all married, so we don't meet girls either. We are old
men damn it and our teens are over, so we don't fight over girls. We
have actually nothing to argue about. We all have the same goal and
no one says that they want to go in other directions.
Tobbe: Have you ever considered at all,
any of you, ever, to play something different?
Olavi: We have felt that a little, but then
we did that bonus record [Under The Influence. Bonus disc on Deceiver
Of The Gods.] where we tried to do Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and
there we had the chance to fool around for a while.
I think the essential factor is that we have
nothing to fight over and we still also thrive together as a group.
I met a buddy, whose name I won't mention, from another Swedish band.
He was so damn astonished that when we are on tour and have days off,
the entire band goes out and eat dinner together, all 5 of us. He just
said "Shit, after 20 years.". We think it's fun to talk about
different things and so.
Tobbe: Yes, you only have 17 hours to kill
each day while on tour. But I'm pretty sure that it's the money thing
that keeps you together.
Olavi: Yes I believe that too, especially this
thing with royalties. One guy maybe don't want to tour because he gets
all royalties and the other guys must tour to pay the rent.
When did you realize that you actually could earn a buck on your music?
Olavi: Versus The World. During that time we
started to earn at least something. Before that we played for free or
for a case of beer.
Tobbe: Things look better now.
Olavi: Yes, they do.
Tobbe: You slowly become more and more popular,
you know. Is there any end to your popularity or do you think it will
reduce? What do you think?
Olavi: Well, it's up to us. If we deliver bad
albums and play shitty gigs, then things can go quickly downhill. But
I think as long as we have passion, can write good songs and perform
good gigs, I see no end to this. It's like you say, we still grow. Even
if we have been big in continental Europe for many, many years, this
tour has been our best tour ever.
Tobbe: You have made yourselves a name as
a pretty good live band, or actually a fucking great live band. Is this
something you discuss? I mean, do you talk about what to do to deliver,
Olavi: Yes. We plan our stage shows at a very
early stage. When we plan an album cover, we don't only plan for the
album, we plan for the appearance of the backdrop, so we try to see
the big picture when we start a new cycle. And then we have fun, we
actually get along really well. You know, there are bands where all
members have their own locker room and then they get up on stage and
hate each other, while we go up and have fun together. I believe you
can see that. And then I hope that we are pretty good on our instruments,
so that it sounds good.
Tobbe: You have 9 albums right now. There
are a lot of songs to pick your setlists from. Is it tricky?
Olavi: Like fucking hell. You simply have to
try things out for the new songs. On this tour we have picked a few
that we knew would work and we have a rotation between 4 songs. The
old songs, like Death In Fire and [The] Pursuit Of Vikings are rather
hard to omit. I think we did the Surtur cycle without Cry Of The Black
Birds and now it's back again. We have to do that, have songs in and
out of the setlist. Then we always try to have a rather unexpected song,
like with [The] Last Stand Of Frej from our last album, a song that
we haven't toured with in Europe before. We usually start a setlist
with a lot of wild cards that we all think will be awesome, but as the
tour proceeds we change it to songs that people really want to hear,
because it's much more fun to play for an ecstatic crowd than for a
crowd that doesn't know what we're playing.
I can imagine how hard it is to please everyone. If we have a look at
your future. In 10 years, where do you see Amon Amarth?
Olavi: Oh shit, that's hard.
Tobbe: Yes, it's tricky. I generally ask
Olavi: We recently all turned 40 and I never
believed this when I was 20. I couldn't even imagine how to be 50 and
play death metal. We actually don't play death metal, but we play hard
metal and shake our heads on stage, which feels a bit strange. But at
the same, I'm totally convinced of that in 10 years we will surely do
this, because in my head I'm still 20. At least I hope we can.
Tobbe: If we add another 10 years, you will
be 60. How will it look if you shake your heads like you do now? Your
heads will probably fall off and roll over the stage floor. 20 years is
a fucking long time.
Olavi: I indeed hope that we still can be friends
and that we still can be able to have fun together, but you never know.
We take one year at a time.
Tobbe: Okay. Your best album? You can absolutely
not pick the new one.
Olavi: Twilight [Of The Thunder God).
Tobbe: I don't agree, but I guess you don't
give a shit, do you.
Olavi: I used to think it was Versus [The World],
but now it's Twilight [Of The Thunder God], because there are so many
great live songs on that record.
Tobbe: Yes, you play them live and I don't.
I think With Oden On Our Side is your best one.
Olavi: Most people think so, but the thing is
that when we try all songs live from that one, not so many of them actually
go down well, whilst Twilight [Of The Thunder God] has many more live
songs. I only see the live context. I never sit at home and listen to
I understand. Have you ever written and recorded a song that you now feel
like "Why the hell did we record this one? It's totally worthless.".
A song you never should have done?
Olavi: I have many things that I regret, things
we did wrong, where we took the wrong path for the song. It's small
things, like with the direction of Doom Over Dead Man. I like the song
itself though. I also regret the keyboard-ish sound in For Victory Or
Death. I wanted to have a real guitar solo sound in the beginning of
that, even if I think the song is awesome. If there's one song I regret,
it's Abandoned from our first album, Once Sent [From The Golden Hall].
We needed one more song, so we just took a riff from here, a riff from
there and another riff from somewhere, and there we had a song. But
we were pretty young back then, so we didn't understand better.
Tobbe: What song is absolutely most fun
to play live?
Olavi: Right now Deceiver [Of The Gods] feels
most fun since it's fresh, but otherwise [The] Pursuit [Of Vikings],
even if we've played it millions of times, because everybody is just
so down for it.
Tobbe: According to me that is a song that
has received maybe a, I shouldn't say an undeserved, but that song has
received a very, very good reputation and many people are down for it,
but I don't know many that thinks that song is your absolutely best one.
Olavi: Absolutely. It's not always the songs
that you listen to at home that are the best live songs.
Tobbe: Okay that's it, man. Thank you for
your time. Rock hard tonight.
Olavi: Thanks for having me. I actually read
the reviews at Metal Covenant pretty often. It's not many webzines that
I check out, but that's one of them.
Tobbe: Thanks, man. That's good to hear.
We try our best to satisfy our readers and try to explain what an album
is about, but that's not always the easiest thing to do and fill everyone's
Olavi: We all have different tastes. What someone
thinks is awesome, another one thinks is useless.
of the album Deceiver Of The Gods
See also: review
of the gig the same night