Hosting Ukrainian Refugees for Two Months Was a ‘No-Brainer’ Says Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg
Amon Amarth's Johan Hegg was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The veteran death metal group just released their new album, The Great Heathen Army, which the vocalist discusses, but he also touched on the "no-brainer" decision he and his wife made to host Ukranian refugees at their home in Sweden.
The record is the group's twelfth as they stare down what will be the 25th anniversary of their Once Sent From the Golden Hall debut next year. Stylistically, Amon Amarth have been keen on evolving without straying too far from their core and on The Great Heathen Army, they fittingly recruited three members of Saxon on the classic metal-leaning new track "Saxons and Vikings."
Prior to the album's release, Hegg and his wife Maria felt compelled to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine as Russian aggression has left several Ukrainian cities and towns decimated, creating a humanitarian crisis in Europe. Humble as can be, he doesn't consider his actions to be particularly special and feels that many people would do the same if they had the ability to.
Read the full interview below.
The Great Heathen Army is melodic, but it recalls the fundamental heavier sound of earlier Amon Amarth. What brought the band back to that musical mindset?
When it comes to Amon Amarth, we've always been a band that wrote the stuff that came naturally and I think that was the case here. The riffs and ideas that we had went that way organically. We've never been abandoned for us our creativity or our setting — every time we've tried to set out to do a heavier album, it never really worked. It has to come naturally and that's what happened this time around. It wasn't exactly planned, but it turned out great.
The album was recorded with producer Andy Sneap on his farm in England. How does an idyllic remote environment benefit brutal music?
I'm not sure if it benefits brutal music per se, but it definitely benefits the recording situation because the less distractions you have, the more focused you can be on the work. You spend those extra hours in the studio to really make everything the best you can.
On this occasion, especially that proved to be correct. Because of COVID, we couldn't really go anywhere and Andy didn't go anywhere either. I don't know how he did it, but he was in the studio from 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning until 10 or 11 o'clock in the evening, working on the album six days a week. It was intense, but I think the result was amazing. He did a great job.
The song "Saxons and Vikings" features Saxon vocalist Biff Byford. What kinship do you feel for traditional heavy metal, particularly in the context of this new album?
We're kids of the '80s and when we grew up, Saxon were one of the big heavy metal bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. We've been fans since we were kids.
When the idea came about to do this song, it was obvious that we're going to ask Biff if he wanted to sing. [Saxon guitarists] Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt are also on the song playing the solos. It really works well because that song has that heavy metal drive. We're still keeping one foot in death metal, but still gravitating more toward [classic/traditional] heavy metal, so that definitely makes it work really well and I think [Byford] brought such a great new element into to that song. I still I get goosebumps when his voice kicks in. It's amazing.
Amon Amarth, "Saxons and Vikings"
You hosted Ukrainian refugees in your home. How has the world view of being a touring musician affected your perspective about people in other countries?
When you tour and when you travel as much as we do, you meet people from other countries, so you get exposed to other cultures and start to understand people that are from other places.
When the war in Ukraine started, it was unbelievable. Since my wife and I live in a big house by ourselves with our pets, we said, "We can host some people for a short while when they get here." We had them live with us for two months. It was a no-brainer. It was just something that we wanted to do. We didn't even think about it twice.
We advertised on our Facebook group and we got an answer right away. They came and stayed with us, then we found them a new, more permanent place to stay. One of them actually went home to Kyiv again. It's insane. It's hard to fathom that we have a war going on in Europe again, and a big one that. It's crazy.
You and your wife are amazing people for what you did.
I think a lot of people would do the same thing we did, but I don't think that most people have the ability to do it because if you live in an apartment or something, it's a little bit more difficult. We have a big house and the space, so I don't think it's anything special that we did, really. I think most people would help if they can.
Obviously, you're a student of medieval and Scandinavian history. What other peoples and eras of human history interest you?
European history in general is quite interesting, but almost all kinds of history interest me. There's so much stuff to read about. When I was in high school, I wrote a paper on the American Civil War, for instance. I had a big interest in that for a time and there's tons of stuff that interests me when it comes to history. Vikings have always been my main historical interest since it was very young.
How Amon Amarth's John Hegg Learned to Scream
Thanks to Johan Hegg for the interview. Get your copy of 'The Great Heathen Army' here. Follow Amon Amarth on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Spotify and catch them on their North American tour with Carcass, Obituary and Cattle Decapitation this winter.
Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.