Amon Amarth + Behemoth
In what promises to be the metal event of the year in Ireland, Sweden’s Amon Amarth will team up with Poland’s Behemoth for a very special outdoor show at King John’s Castle in Limerick on June 17th 2019. Amon Amarth recently completed work on a brand new album due this Spring whilst Behemoth continue to tour in support of their recent ‘I Loved You At Your Darkest’ release. Tickets €49.50 go on sale Thursday 7th March at 10am via dolans.ie, ticketmaster.ie and usual outlets nationwide.
King John’s Castle (Irish: Caisleán Luimnigh) is a 13th-century castle located on King’s Island in Limerick, Ireland, next to the River Shannon. Although the site dates back to 922 when the Vikings lived on the Island, the castle itself was built on the orders of King John in 1200. One of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe, the walls, towers and fortifications remain today and are visitor attractions. The remains of a Viking settlement were uncovered during archaeological excavations at the site in 1900.
Heavy metal is a way of life, but it is not for the faint of heart. The history of metal is strewn with fading memories of bands that fell apart when times were tough. But history is written by the victors, and Amon Amarth have been marching purposefully from triumph to greater triumph for the last two decades. Formed amid the fertile Swedish metal scene in the mid ‘90s, these dedicated diehards brought a new sense of drama and destruction to the world of heavy music, propagating tales of Viking mythology and mortal combat over a devastating soundtrack of crushing rhythms, refined melody and rousing, rebellious refrains. From the release of their debut album Once Sent From The Golden Hall in 1998, Amon Amarth’s trajectory was firmly upward, as this band’s devotion to touring the world and spreading their inspirational creed began to resonate with ever-growing hordes of like-minded metalheads, first across Europe and then, in true Viking style, across the Atlantic and into North America.
With each successive album, Amon Amarth’s reputation grew; their arsenal of heroic hymns gaining strength and depth at the same time. Perhaps the most significant breakthrough came with cast-iron classic Twilight Of The Thunder God in 2008, wherein the band – vocalist Johan Hegg, guitarists Olavi Mikkonen Johan Söderberg, then drummer Fredrik Andersson and bassist Ted Lundström – seemed to perfect their formula of pulverising, fists-in-the-air anthems and shift into a higher creative gear. The impact was immediate and vast, and since that moment they have been unstoppable, as Surtur Rising (2011) and, most recently, Deceiver Of The Gods (2013) consolidated that success and took Amon Amarth’s explosive and exhilarating live show around the world many more times, and in front of ever-multiplying audiences.
Once again waking from their post-victory slumber, Amon Amarth are due to return with their most monstrous and spectacular album to date. A tour-de-force of cinematic melodic metal that combines the best of the genre’s traditional wing with modern heft and heart, Jomsviking is a concept piece inspired by the elite Viking mercenaries of its title, conceived and written by Johan Hegg and brought to life by the band which for the recording sees drummer Tobias Gustafsson [ex-Vomitory] slotting in neatly as a special guest session drummer.
“Deceiver Of The Gods was very successful for us and we had a good run with that and did some really great tours,” says Hegg. “Even before we changed drummers for this record we had the idea to make a concept album. It was something we’d never done before and it gave us a challenge. I started writing the story, went into it wholeheartedly and once you start going down that path there’s really no turning back.”
By far their most ambitious project to date, Amon Amarth’s tenth album unfolds like a synapse-melting multi-dimensional epic, with countless moments of classic metal grandeur and deathly aggression but also a newfound mastery of atmosphere and evocative dynamics that perfectly compliment the highs, lows and furious battles of Hegg’s narrative.
“It’s a pretty simple story where a young man is in love with a girl but unfortunately she’s being married off. He accidentally kills a man when this happens and he has to flee,” the frontman explains. “But he swears to have revenge and win her back. He can’t let go of the past. He feels that he’s been wronged and his life has been destroyed. The story of the Jomsviking is the background – it’s the way he finds to go back and claim his revenge. The way the story evolves is not a happy story… it’s a tragedy, I guess! But I like sad endings, because they’re the ones that affect you the most.”
Veering from the thunderous attack of opening statement First Kill to the victorious heavy metal sing-along of Raise Your Horns and on to the brooding drama of the closing Back On Northern Shores, Jomsviking sounds colossal – thanks, once again, to the supreme talents of producer Andy Sneap – and confirms that Amon Amarth are bigger, bolder and better than ever before in 2016. Neither deviating from their trademark sound nor restricted by it, they have simply evolved to the next level of metallic might, broadening their sonic horizons while simultaneously glorying in their cherished metal influences.
“When you write an album like this one, you’re basically making music for a movie,” says Mikkonen. “You have to follow certain moods and we had to figure out where we needed the aggressive songs or the more mellow or sad moments, and then we had to find the right ideas for that. It was difficult and it was challenging, but it was more fun! Before we were writing typical Amon Amarth songs, but this time we felt like we had to write something different. After ten albums you really need a challenge. We rose to the challenge and we’re really proud of what we’ve created.”
Bolstered by the regal presence of legendary heavy metal vocalist Doro Pesch, who duets with Johan Hegg on the heart-rending squall of A Dream That Cannot Be, Jomsviking flies the flag for authentic, red-blooded and unapologetic heavy metal while skillfully tapping into metalheads’ unerring love for epic tales of heroism, struggle, love, death and glory. Plainly the finest record of their career to date, Amon Amarth’s tenth album is certain to thrill and delight their global fanbase while the irresistible allure of Jomsviking’s cinematic heart will surely draw many more people into this band’s extraordinary sonic world. This campaign will not be stopped: 2016 will be the year that Amon Amarth conquer the world like never before.
“We just want to be more,” Mikkonen concludes. “Bigger shows, more production, everything bigger and better. I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be that way too. There’s a very good vibe in the band and I think it’s gonna be one hell of a year.”
“The shows are always absolutely fantastic,” Hegg enthuses. “When you’re onstage, performing, whether it’s a festival or a club, and you have that connection with people and you feel that reaction to all the hard work you’ve put in, that’s when you know that all the hardships you’ve experienced over the years were worth it. We are still growing. We grew with each album and we were never a trend. We’ve never followed trends and no trend has ever followed us. We’re on our own. We do what we love. There are so many shows planned in 2016 that it’s almost insane, but that’s what we live for.”
“It doesn’t get more blasphemous than this.”
That’s Behemoth mastermind Nergal talking about the title of the band’s 11th and latest album, I Loved You At Your Darkest. While it certainly seems an unlikely title for a black metal band—especially one that called their last album The Satanist—its origin might surprise you even more than the words themselves. “It’s a verse from the Bible,” Nergal reveals. “It’s actually a quote from Jesus Christ himself. For Behemoth to use it as the basis of our record, it’s sacrilege to the extreme.”
Of course, Behemoth are no strangers to blasphemy. Over the course of the last 27 years, they’ve pushed the boundaries of black metal and heresy alike. While anti-Christian sentiment might seem like stale bread where most metal bands are concerned, for Behemoth such ideas represent a very real threat to their physical freedom. Time and again, the government of their native Poland has charged them with various “crimes” such as tearing up a bible onstage in 2007 and using the Polish coat of arms on a Behemoth t-shirt in 2017.
“Obviously, stuff like that can piss you off. But I think it’s good to be pissed off,” Nergal says with a laugh. “Anger can be a massive driving force, especially when you make extreme music. But politically and socially, Poland is a very disparate country. You can never feel totally safe here. That makes it easier for me to get inspiration. If I lived in Holland or Australia, I don’t think I’d be doing what I do now. You can do or be anything you want there. I’m a huge fan of that kind of freedom, but I don’t really have it here. Struggling with that on a daily basis makes me who I am, and fuels my passion for this music.”
Nergal and his bandmates—Orion (bass) and Inferno (drums)—have channeled that passion into I Loved You At Your Darkest. A crushing salvo of black metal majesty replete with hellish riffs, thundering drum cannonades and soaring liturgical choirs reminiscent of classic horror cinema, the album is also bejeweled with nimble-fingered rock guitar solos on songs like “God=Dog,” “Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica” and “Sabbath Mater.” “I really wanted to redefine ourselves with this record,” Nergal explains. “I Loved You At Your Darkest is a more dynamic record. It’s extreme and radical on one hand, but it’s also more rock-oriented than any other Behemoth record.”
Nergal doesn’t view the heightened rock influence as a conscious creative decision so much as a renewed interest in the historical origins of the music he makes. “We don’t give consideration to musical direction, we simply create what naturally comes to us” he says. “But 15 years ago, if you had asked me who I thought was the best band on the planet, I probably would have said Mayhem or Morbid Angel. Today if you asked me, I’d say AC/DC. That should give you a clear indication of why this album is more rock-based. It all comes down to the song writing.”
Lyrically, I Loved You At Your Darkest revels in the kind of religious provocation that Behemoth do best. “It’s very religion-driven, maybe more than anything we’ve done before,” Nergal offers. “But it’s not just cheap goading. I believe this is some deeper metal language. It’s art.”
Unlike The Satanist, which was primarily recorded in one studio, I Loved You At Your Darkest saw its production spread across Poland and the United States. It was produced by the band members themselves, with drum co-production by Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In Flames), mixing by Matt Hyde (Slayer, Children Of Bodom) and mastering by Tom Baker (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson). Which is to say nothing of the 17-piece Polish orchestra arranged by Jan Stoklosa and engineered by Tomasz Budkiewicz. Or as Nergal sums it up: “Pretty much every instrument was recorded in a different studio, and a lot of amazing people were involved.”
All of whom came together to help realize Behemoth’s most exciting record yet. “Although our origin is black metal, Behemoth is something bigger,” Nergal ventures. “We know our legacy – but, with this record, we look to advance to higher ground!”