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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.

Tobbe: When you asked Messiah to sing on the album, was he positive from the very start?

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 Andy have?

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 be rougher.

Tobbe: 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 difficult.

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.

Tobbe: 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.

Tobbe: 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, you know?

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.

Tobbe: 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 this question.

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 our songs.

Tobbe: 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 needs.

Olavi: We all have different tastes. What someone thinks is awesome, another one thinks is useless.

See also: review of the album Deceiver Of The Gods
See also: review of the gig the same night

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