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Just before the release of the Swedish's sixth album, we met Olavi Mikkonen who looks back at the band's career, its current events and its rebirth.
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Olavi Mikkonen was supposed to receive us with Johan Hegg, the singer, but the latter is absent because of a bad flu.

Hello Olavi, how is Johan? 

I had some news yesterday, he's a little better but he still has a fever. 

That's surprising for a Viking! 

Yes, he only has a broken leg and an axe wound in his chest. And the bear he fought with is more wounded than he is! (Laughs) 

How do you view your career? With nearly 30 years of service, you might have been able to release more albums and build a career like Maiden or Metallica? 

Yes, I'm old (laughs).  When you start as young as I am, at 15, you don't think it's going to go that far. I would never have dreamed of this or that I would continue at 45. My profession is Amon Amarth, and everything I do has been related to it for over 10 years. It's amazing, I never thought it would happen, especially playing this kind of music. Sometimes it's hard to realize because I'm a normal guy, I shop at the supermarket, I don't have anything special. And at the same time, when we're on tour, I get nervous with my heart racing. I'm still a fan. 

When you play Hellfest with these two giant dragons on stage in front of tens of thousands of fans and you're in the middle of all this, it must make you feel like you're not the average person, right? 

Yes, it's crazy, but I don't know how to explain or describe it.  

Now that you've reached this popularity, don't you feel some kind of pressure when you compose?

A few years ago, after "Twilight Of The Thunder God" (editor's note: in 2008), I had problems of this kind. There was nothing that gave me pleasure. It wasn't really a burnout but rather a blocking syndrome. But it was very punctual. For the new album "Berserker" I didn't feel any pressure. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don't. I don't think about it too much. I think I'm more inspired when things are going well for us. For example, at the end of the last tour, which was a great success, just like the album, when I came home, instead of taking a break, I started writing the next day, and in one month I already had several songs written. Similarly, when we went to Los Angeles to choose a producer, to visit this superb studio, all this also inspired me. 

Is this step the reason why you changed producers? 

No. We just needed to do something different. If you're looking for the best melodic death producer, it's Anders Nip or Jens Borgen. And we went to see these two people. The goal was to do something new that no one had done before. 

You wanted to break the routine? 

Yes, and we were looking for a new sound. L.A. is a magical and inspiring place for that, with this history of music that reigns there. 

Especially since it must not be easy to renew or be innovative in the field of death and its very marked codes?

Twenty years ago, my inspiration was the traditional heavy metal of the time with Slayer, Iron Maiden. Today, they still are, and that's why our music hasn't changed much. I'm not influenced by Muse or Radiohead. Yet we seek to create something new. For example, the track "Raven's Flight", the beat, the tempo, it's something we've never done before. Yet the audience thought, "Oh, that's Amon Amarth in a nutshell. We try new tempos, new riffs but our melodic imprint may still be a little similar. However, we are constantly bringing new things like the acoustic break in the middle of "Sheid Wall" before returning to heavy music, or the clear vocals in "Ironside" are new contributions for the band. For the texts, it's the same, we're always looking for new angles even when it comes to recurring themes like Thor, to whom we dedicate two new titles in "Berserker". Another example is "Into The Dark", a title about Loki (Thor's brother), a dark being, we approach him explaining that we all have a part of darkness in us. 

Viking culture is very present in your texts. Is it important for you to highlight these roots by breaking the clichés of the collective unconscious conveyed by cinema or TV series? 

We do our thing. We don't really care what's going on around here. But on the other hand, when we released "Twilight Of The Thunder God" in 2008, all of a sudden, everyone knew who Thor was, before the comics adapted to the big screen. When we shot in the USA, Thor's hammers could be found in all the stores, and of course it was thanks to the Marvel films.  

Did this affect your popularity?  

Yes, suddenly people realized what we were talking about in our songs.  As for the "Vikings" series, it also helped us, it's cool to see people understand Viking culture, costumes, etc.. But in 10 years, they'll probably be over it! 

Your news is the release of the album "Berserker" (editor's note: early May). It takes its name from a wild warrior from Scandinavian mythology. Is it a logical continuation to integrate it into your stories, especially when you often see Johan with a T-shirt in his colours on stage? Is Johan some kind of Berserker on stage? 

Oh yes, absolutely! (Laughs) He is the modern Berserker. No, actually, the whole album is not about this character. Each song has its own theme without any link between them. But we found the story of the Berserker really cool, this warrior repelling the English invader and killing dozens of enemies before succumbing. 

The artwork of the album shows precisely this Berserker, alone. A coverage that also changes from previous ones... 

Yes, and we called in a new artist for this one that we wanted different. It remains the representation of a proud and solid soldier but we wanted something more serious in the approach with a more elaborate atmosphere and colors.  

It's not just that you wanted to change, with a new producer... 

... yes, this is the Amon Amarth 2.0 I was talking about. It feels like a new beginning in a way. That's how we see it, as a new chapter in the group's history. But it's not something we planned. It just happened like that, of course. 

So Amon Amarth 2.0 could go back for another 30 years? 

Ah, I don't know how old you think you are, but 30 years could be complicated (Laughs). But we're fine right now, there's a really good energy in the group. 

During this career, have you ever wondered how far you could go? 

It's not an easy question... I wish I could do this as long as I can, but we can't set a deadline. It will last so long that we will feel that everything is going well, that we have something to share with the audience in the writing. We will try to do it as long as possible. For the moment everything is going well in the band, we have the same desires, and the energy that Jocke brings is incredible: he is younger than us and is very enthusiastic about everything, and it also boosts us. The chemistry within the group has not been so perfect for many years. And I think it's reflected in our music, that we're very united and still want to prove a lot of things.  

Your compositions have also evolved, like the first track of the album'Fafner's Gold' which is more complex, more progressive too...

... I'm glad you noticed... 

... you are aware that you will surprise, even destabilize your fans? 

One of the objectives of this album was to offer an opening track that is surprising for its quality of writing and interpretation, an intro that no one would expect. Before, the first title of the albums was the single and I wanted to change that. 

This is another example that with this Amon Amarth 2.0 you have changed almost everything... 

Yes, that was the goal and you will see with the videos that there is also something new on that side. Over time, you learn from your mistakes, you gain knowledge and experience. We put all that in the album. 

What do you think was the biggest mistake you ever made? 

I don't think I have an example of a "big" mistake, plus small repeated ones. When I see some songs again I think that we could have arranged this or that detail, or done a little differently here and there. No real big career mistakes, I think. It's part of everything you learn from and it gets better.  

Not to mention a concept album, "Berserker" made us feel like a great book telling several short stories and ending in apotheosis with "Into The Dark". 

Yes, you're right, you have to see it as a whole. Obviously, each title must have enough consistency to exist on its own. When you listen to the album in one go, it must make you travel between its ups and downs, its different tempos, creating different feelings. That's what we've been trying to create. 

The epic side is very present and one has the impression of watching a dark and melancholic film. On the other hand there are much wilder titles like "Ironside", "Valkyria" or "Raven's Fight". It looks like a fight that's going to end in blood. This feeling of entering a battle that will end in death was the original idea? 

I don't think that was our approach, but yes, in a way. The Berserker is a soldier and when you enter a battle like his you know it's going to end badly. Yet you enter it with the rage of the winner, otherwise, you have lost in advance no matter what happens.  

Can this philosophy apply to the group and its career, or did you have to struggle to get to this point today? 

Yes. At least personally, I think it's a good way to deal with adversity. Courage and determination. At first we were outsiders, and with this mentality, you work even harder to get there. When you have it in you, you get better results.  

Did life's events forge your character? 

No, we all had it when the group started. In Stockholm, there were many groups and we could only rely on ourselves. It was us against the rest of the world, but more in a spirit of conquest than battle. But I don't really know where it came from, it just happened and it helped us persevere.  

We also discover, through titles like "Mjölner" or "Sheild Wall", a more angry Amon Amarth and more "Viking" in an old school spirit. Are you okay with that? 

Yes, surely, but I don't really know how to answer that question.  On our latest DVD we play two sets. One normal and the other on Old School material with old songs. We had to relearn and rework these tracks a little to make them stick to the atmosphere of the concerts. This certainly influenced us in the writing of this album. We said to ourselves, "Hey, that was good too," and it made us want to go back to that kind of writing and interpretation. I find that "Iron Side" and "Fafner's Gold" are the ones that sound like our beginnings, but the ones you mention also have roots there. 

After all these albums dealing with the same theme, do you feel more Vikings than Swedish? 

We all have Viking blood in our veins, and we are no more so now than we were 10 years ago. We're just doing things better today. 

The listener may be surprised by the latest track "Into The Dark" with its piano and symphonic style. Was this the best way to end the story and pay tribute to the past hero?  

Yes, we can see it that way. As I said, this song is about the darkness we all have in us. And when I wrote it, I had in mind that making the song epic and beautiful with this orchestra that comes back in the end.  

The album is very coherent as a whole; do you plan to play it entirely on stage?

Why not? Why not? It would indeed make sense, even if we haven't planned it like that yet. We are lucky that the fans still love our new songs. Even if they appreciate that we play our classics, we always add at least five or six songs from the last album. I think that will still be the case and that the fans will appreciate the new work so why not. But we have to maintain some of the classics that fans expect.  

There are not really any guests on the album, why? 

There is one in fact, not necessarily significant. For the intro of the first track, Johan and I tried to play the intro on acoustic guitar but we didn't like the result. So we looked for someone who was used to this kind of instrument. So we asked Javier Reyes from Animals As Leaders and he kindly accepted. And the result is what we wanted. He is incredible on the acoustic guitar with an incomparable feeling. 

He is often compared to Steve Vai. 

Yes, he's incredible. He had his 9-string guitar I think with this very deep sound.  

His universe didn't make him a natural candidate to play with Amon Amarth, did it? 

Yes, but we asked our producer if he had a name in mind and he said, "Of course, my friend Javier" and that's how it was done. 

What do you expect from this album and its release? 

We hope that the fans will love it as much as we do. We don't expect much else, except to introduce it through the upcoming summer tour. I can't wait to play it in front of the fans.  

Any dates planned in France?  

Yes, we will play at the end of June at Knotfest and Hellfest, as well as in clubs in Strasbourg and Toulouse. And we'll be back in Paris this fall for a headlining tour with a more massive show that should please you. And this time we will come to a large room to have the whole set and the complete show.  

We look forward to seeing it. Thank you. 

Thank you very much (in French in the text).

Thanks to Noise for her contribution...... 

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