Not so long ago, metal turned 40. Ever since Black Sabbath first shook the stage, numerous bands have tried to make their mark on an apparently versatile and permissive genre.
From the symphonic experiments of dramatic bands with predominantly Gothic paraphernalia to the folky insertions of Viking-Metal, the artists devoted to the sound made by "heavy metals falling from the sky" (to quote Chas Chandler) have tried their best to suck out the leaden marrow of their favorite music.
The wise disciples of metal will say, with the emergence of each new band, "Nihil novi sub sole". But there are quite a few foolish ones left, who believe that the wheel can be (re)invented.
Amaranthe is a part Swedish, part Danish band, formed in 2008 by Jake E (vocals) and Olof Mörck (guitar). Elize Ryd (vocals), Andreas Solveström (guttural vocals), Morten LĂ¸we SĂ¸rensen (drums) and Johan Andreassen (bass) soon joined them, and the line-up was complete.
These six audacious musicians are determined to erase the Latin expression from the vocabulary of metal fans everywhere. They are the harbingers of a new style, called "Modern Metal" or "Pop-Metal" and if we were to describe what they do, we’d say that it’s like an ABBA cover sung by Judas Priest, featuring…Cheryl Cole.
Many have called them frauds, while others couldn’t help becoming their fans. Whose side are you on? Maximum Rock Magazine has summoned Olof Mörck for an interview and the guitarist was kind enough to attempt to lift the heavy veil off our eyes, showing us a new path in the desert of metal.
Your debut album, „Amaranthe”, came out in April. How was it received by the public and by the critics?
The response has been astounding and way beyond our expectations! We felt ourselves that we had something really good going on, but to get to tour around the world and have very strong sales with the first album, in a time when the business is ever dwindling, feels very invigorating. We got some really awesome reviews too, generally – of course, there will always be people who donâ’t get what you are trying to achieve, but it is not something we focus on when the general response has been so mindblowing.
The amaranth is a special flower believed to be undying. Many poets have spoken about it: Milton, Aesop etc. Why did you choose the name? Do you wish to make music that will last forever?
That is a pretty good interpretation of the band name – usually people think it is Nightwish inspired, but we acquired the name before any of us knew that song. Amaranthos is ancient Greek for something that will never fade or grow old – and thatâ’s how we want our music to be: full of energy, never becoming boring or growing dull.
You have a unique line-up. For starters, there are three vocalists in your band: a female voice, a clean male voice, and a guttural male voice. Why did you choose this risky line-up?
It was basically a result of me and Jake treating Amaranthe as an all-star project from the beginning, with lots of guests who were supposed to appear on the album. We are friends with a lot of the quite famous Gothenburg metal bands, and they were quite enthusiastic with the stuff we showed them, so our vision was basically a Gothenburg Avantasia. Two of the first, and pretty unknown guests, were Andy and Elize, and when we heard all three voices together on the first demo song we knew we had something special. So we scrapped the whole all-star idea, and went with the three of them instead. It was kind of random, but we had a really good feeling about it.
"We are a metal band at the foundation, with guitar solos and heavy riffs"
The music you make is hard to categorize. People largely label you as a crossover act, combining power metal influences with pop. Where would you situate yourself, genre wise?
It is basically a mixture of all our separate influences – my personal taste is quite wide, and neither one of us is really that stuck to any genre. We wanted to avoid following any specific band, and that generally meant staying away from any specific genre too. When asked, I simply call it „modern metal”. There are definitely poppy touches, but also some really heavy ones. It is important for us that we are a metal band at the foundation, with guitar solos, heavy riffs etc. But beyond that, it is up to the listener to form his own opinion.
Do you think there’s a specific audience for your type of music?
So far it seems to be as wide as the music itself, since it incorporates influences from many different sources. At the end of the day, there might be a very specific fan base that ends up listening to us, but I have seen people with really, really heavy preferences dig us, as well as 16 year old blogging girls. We donâ’t want to be exclusive to any category of people – but we donâ’t want to twist and turn ourselves to appeal to as many as possible.
Some people have accused you of writing excessively commercial music. Certain critics went as far as to call you "metal-frauds". Do you think people have misunderstood your musical vision or are they right – are you in it for the fame?
I think that the whole mindset is kind of ridiculous, but I guess it exists in all subcultures. If we were in it for the fame, why would be playing metal at all? I think the very second you are actively „trying” to sell out or be famous, you are doing yourself a great disservice, and I think that 99,9% of the times it fails really horribly. To be able to achieve great things and come a long way in the business you have to have an insane amount of drive and believe in what you do no matter the adversity, otherwise you will never make it. To be able to do all that without having your heart into the music you are playing is from my perspective impossible.
"People who say narrow-minded things about integrating pop into metal probably have favorite bands that listen to bands such as Abba"
Why do you think many people believe that pop influences donâ’t fit right into metal music?
I guess it depends on what you mean by pop influences. Personally, there are a lot of parts with pop music that I think donâ’t fit into a metal context at all: the lyrics can be ridiculous, the music itself overly happy, and, among other things, these never lend themselves to metal. For us, our mindset was to never integrate any influences that werenâ’t powerful, catchy and strong. If you listen to the great Abba hits, they are extremely well written and quite punchy – and have already influenced metal greatly way before we picked that up. People who say narrow-minded things about integrating pop into metal probably have favorite bands that listen to bands such as Abba, for example.
What is your favorite track on this first album?
I would say „1.000.000 Lightyears”, even though it is hard to choose one. It represents the whole album in a great way, with a really catchy chorus along with a section that could be a riff from a Lamb of God song. I am very happy with the short solo too, and I think it displays, in every aspect, the diversity and originality that weâ’re aiming for.
Tell us about your future, how do you see yourselves evolving, musically speaking?
In the near future we will start to work on a new album, and see where that takes us. The general vision for writing the material is to take the whole concept even further: faster, catchier, heavier, poppier – a little bit more of everything, while staying true to a sound that we ourselves have come to know and love.
A final message for your fans in Romania?
Canâ’t wait to play for our Romanian friends! We were sad that we didnâ’t play there on the last tour, even if we were driving through Romania, but hopefully we can come there soon! Cheers!
Courtesy of Olof and Thomas Engstrom.