Johan Soderberg is one of the premier death metal guitarists in the world. He has a lot of interesting opinions and though he was tired, was willing to open up about his career, goals, and his bands mammoth new album.
How is the tour going?
Johan: Really good! The tour has been going well. No complaints here!
You’re in Omaha today… being from Sweden, what is your perception of Omaha?
Johan: I have never been here before. It looks like a small town. We had a nice barbecue today, so that was nice!
So the new record is a major step forward for Amon Amarth – why did you make this step now of all times?
Johan: I don’t think it was a conscious decision to do something really different. I think we wrote the way we are used to writing. I think maybe why this album seems more melodic is because we had a new drummer who allowed a lot more space and allowed the melodies to stick out. We weren’t necessarily looking for that either. Normally we program the drums initially and have Tobias add his stuff before doing the proper drum tracks. I think our drummer on the record used less kick drum throughout and that helped.
Can we expect more of this in the future?
Johan: The next album will be completely different. If Joakim stays in the band he will have a totally different way of drumming. We want to have a drummer with a certain sound.
What defines Joakim’s style?
Johan: He’s probably the most technical drummer we have ever had.
Is that weird to work with?
Johan: It’s actually amazing! It’s never been easier to play the songs live than now! It’s super tight and we can hear every fill.
Obviously there has been a rise in paganism in recent years, how do you feel about that, do you feel like you benefited from that?
Johan: I don’t really think about paganism so much. I don’t really have any spiritual tendencies. We are just a heavy metal bands and we write about Vikings and their way of living, it’s nothing I want to practice personally. I am happy as a metal musician. The historic and mythological side of the band is more our vocalist. He’s more interested in those things.
What’s your relationship been like with Viking culture?
Johan: I think it’s just a cool heritage. It’s something to be proud of that we had in our history. It’s cool that we can write metal about it, it’s a perfect fit for me as a musician to write music for those kinds of stories.
How do you construct a song to reflect a story like that?
Johan: That’s the big difference on this album. In the past we wrote the song without knowing what the lyrics would be. Now we have the story and different parts of the story needed music. I was composing as if it were more of a music story. It’s much easier to get into the mood if you know what you need to be getting at before you start writing.
Did you have to change your approach to music going in? What were the precise changes you made going in with more of a vision?
Johan: I knew more how I should think when I started to write a song. It was also harder because you also don’t have completely free hands as you do when you start writing without lyrical content. So it’s both easier in one way and harder in another?
Will you do more of this in the future?
Johan: I would like to have more lyrical content before I start writing a song. I don’t think I would want a whole concept album again though. Maybe we could do it 50/50 with half the songs figured out already and the rest would come up with the music coming first.
I’ve kind of grown up with Amon Amarth as one of the biggest bands in the world. I’ve always been struck by your portrayals of masculinity – it’s almost Manowar like at times. Do you ever worry that will bite you in the ass or be called outdated?
Johan: I don’t think so. On this album for example we have a female side to the story as well. Even though its super masculine with big muscular Vikings, our music sounds like that, we need to write lyrics reflecting that. It would be strange to write an Amon Amarth song about flowers and love. I don’t think that will ever come back at us because we have the more female aspect. It’s not all about war!
You and your band have had a mark on heavy metal that is impossible to ignore. What do you think your legacy will be when Amon Amarth is gone?
Johan: I hope we get kids growing up to start playing music influenced by us. When I was growing up I had bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica influencing me. Black Sabbath are one of my earliest influences too. For me they started heavy metal. I looked up to those bands. Now that I’m a musician myself I still have some of those influences in my writing style today, hopefully I can do that for kids.
I feel like that’s already happened…
Johan: I can’t really hear that in any bands yet!
To head towards the end… what do you love so much about music?
Johan: It’s a big passion. I think about music 24/7, I always have music in my head. I can never turn it off. Sometimes it’s annoying but I just guess that’s the way you are if you’re a musician.
You say you have music going in your head all the time… is it other bands or your compositions?
Johan: It can be a bit of both!
Read more interviews, reviews, and other features free in June 2016 Vandala Magazine