Amaranthe: "We like a little touch of drama"

A discussion about signature sounds, inconspicuous influences and the silver linings of streaming with Olof Mörck

Από τον Αντώνη Μαρίνη, 23/02/2024 @ 11:32

Ever since their very beginning, Amaranthe have been standing right in the middle ground between catchiness and heaviness, dance melodies and downtuned breakdowns. Even if the road wasn't paved with gold, as many purists would like to think, the sextet has always pushed forward and kept a positive stance. Now, after staying quiet for almost four years, the Swedes are back with their seventh full-length release, and we had the chance to talk once again with Olof Mörck, this time focusing on their creative method, the importance of not taking yourself too seriously, as well as a little snapshot of his bond with "For Whom The Bell Tolls" - yes, that one.


It's common for a band that releases something new to say it's their biggest or most diverse, but I feel like "The Catalyst" is exactly the case. Was that something you aimed for?

You're completely right! I mean, it's always like 'the latest album is the best, most diverse, most whatever', and it's not really so much promotion as it is... When you spend two or three years making an album, you're going to have a very tight connection to it, and hopefully you've gotten a little bit better at writing. But a lot of the times it isn't true, so I know what you mean. Anyways, we started to write the album in the beginning of 2021, this was right after the promo period for "Manifest", and because of covid we knew that we were going to take a lot of time off, we weren't going to tour and do all those things, so we were kind of thinking what the next step, the next phase would be.

We told each other to not start immediately, but after we, Elize and I, had two-three months off, I could tell that she was already thinking about it, and I was jamming on the guitar, so we had something like a concept phase, trying to figure out where we wanted to go. We had a lot more time compared to the previous albums, so this time we really had the opportunity to keep an open mind. We were testing every idea that came into our heads, and you know some of the ideas were very different and didn't end up on the album, because at the end of the day we have our signature sound and we like to keep that in line, but we just decided to make it a little bit more adventurous.

That was something I wanted to point out; you do all those things, but you have your sound and it's always been so well balanced.

You know, if you take our first album from 2011 and compare it to "The Catalyst", you can clearly hear that it's the same band, even if there are some different members and stuff. It's a consequence of a few different things, I think. You always have the contrast between the heavy guitars and electronic keyboards, that are a little bit modern, the three vocalists of course, and the style of the individual musicians, like me on guitar and Morten on drums... it's the combination of all these. During the early days, we did some experiments, but after a few songs that never got published, we realized we had found something different and we should stick to it.

You can do a million different styles of music on the side

Down the line some people are maybe going to complain that it's the same, but such is the case with a lot of bands that have found their sound. I'm not comparing us with, let's say Iron Maiden or AC/DC or Sabaton or Nightwish, but with those bands you can always hear that it's them. In many of those cases, their last album sounds a lot like their first, but I think that's a cool thing. You can do a million different styles of music on the side, but if you're doing a band, you like the sound that you created and you want the fans to follow along, I think you should just stick to it.

Since you mentioned it, looking back to when you started and where you are now, what would you say is the biggest difference in the way you approach composing, or recording, or anything for that matter?

That's an interesting question. Most of all, I would like to say that we put a lot of effort into keeping the method the same, 'method' being how we physically write. So, Elize and I have been writing music together since even before Amaranthe. [Picks up and turns the laptop around] This is actually where we write all the music! You can see that it's a pretty simple studio, here's where the entire new album was written. Even the first album was written in my old apartment, in a similar studio. We don't go to fancy big-shot studios and spend a month in there with the best speakers in the world or anything like that. We want to keep it simple in the way that we started, meeting as friends, sharing a dinner and a glass of wine, and then sitting down and writing music together.

Obviously, a lot of things change throughout the years, and I think the biggest difference is that we're usually a lot better and a lot faster to figure out what we want. And Elize has just gotten better and better at writing music. When a melody comes in her head, it's much faster for her to kind of pick them out and throw them towards me. Then, for every musical part that I have, she always has ten different ideas for melodies, and from there we kind of just figure out what fits the part best. I think it has to do with maturing and of course with experience. And it's same for me, if I if I'm looking for a certain sound, a riff or something, it's much easier to figure out what it is that I want to hear now.

We have an intro with Ian McDiarmid, the Emperor from Star Wars, talking about Lucifer and all kinds of stupid stuff

So, the last time we talked was when you released "Manifest" and you mentioned that you had some doubts about the more symphonic-power-y sound of... [Pause] Great, I've completely lost the name of the song.

Hmm, maybe "Crystalline"?

It was "Archangel"!

It's been almost four years, so it's fine! [Laughs]


[Laughs] So yeah, with the new stuff, I was a bit surprised to see you go even further into that. How did you change your mind on that?

When we wrote "Archangel" in the studio, I might have told you about this the last time also, but when Morten is recording his parts, Elize and I always sit on the side to hear the drums. By that time, we kind of already have an idea where the production is gonna go, and it's a really inspiring and creative period, so we always write some songs on the spot. On the last album it was "Viral", "Archangel" and "Crystalline", they were written completely in the studio. This can be really beneficial, but for "Archangel", when we came to back to the house that day and we were talking about it, it felt like the song was a bit too different.

Like you said, it was almost symphonic power metal, maybe a bit geeky... I was kind of imagining almost like this "Diablo III" kind of universe, with archangels and stuff like that. It's really different from what we usually do, and we were both like 'maybe we should fix it tomorrow'. Then the next day, we come to the studio and we're like 'yeah, this is super cool in a totally different way'. What happened this time around, it's two things really, one is much less important but still important; so, a lot of people liked it, now it's our second most streamed single ever...


Yeah, after "Drop Dead Cynical", "Archangel" is like easy number two, it streams five times more than maybe "The Nexus" or "Hunger" or "Amaranthine" per day, it's a very successful song. Now, obviously it's cool to do stuff that people like, but most of all we really like the idea of playing this stuff live. You know, there's a lot of things you can do with it on the stage, like we play with pyrotechnics and we have an intro with Ian McDiarmid, the Emperor from Star Wars, talking about Lucifer and Satan and all kinds of stupid stuff with full red lights, and Elize when kind of acts the part, you know, we like a little touch of drama.

It's cool to shake things around, surprise people a little bit

We didn't want to go too far with it, because there are bands that do this incredibly well, like Nightwish and Within Temptation and so on, but early in the process for "The Catalyst" we were thinking that it would be cool to do something symphonic and it was kind of Elize's musical idea with the vampire theme and the whole thing for "Damnation Flame", which was the first single, and we were like 'okay, people probably think they know what to expect, so let's go with this!' It's cool to shake things around, surprise people a little bit.

I also felt some of that symphonic touch on "Breaking The Waves", which I love.

Thank you! I just have to point out, with that song, because it's a very different one for Amaranthe, I really love the vocal lines that Elize created. They're a little bit ghostly and haunting, so what I heard in my head was kind of a Scottish arrangement, but since we use all these modern keyboards and heavy guitars, it's kind of hard to tell that the arrangement is going back in those places. We actually did a bonus track, which will be out a little bit later than the album, where we hired a bag pipe player and my wife plays the Irish and Scottish flutes on top of it, and we went with some medieval drums and acoustic guitars and everything, so then we arranged it like what sounded like in my head when I initially heard Elize jamming on the ideas, so if you like the song check that version out!

That sounds perfect! To be honest I have a somewhat strange question, that I'd been meaning to ask a bit later, but since you went there...

Please go ahead! [Laughs]


[Laughs] So, I have a soft spot for all those little weird things you try from time to time, like the acoustic versions or that flamenco-ish version of "Adrenaline"...

Oh, so you heard it!

Of course! But you know, my issue is that these tracks are all over the place. Is there any chance to see a complete release of that sort?

We kind of did, but it was long ago, I think it might have been back in 2015, it's almost ten years. I haven't really thought about it, but it would be a good idea now that we put more time and energy into these versions. For this album we did like a jazz version of "Insatiable", with a double bass and a little bit of latino influences, and I got to play some jazz piano, I was very happy about that. [Laughs] What we're essentially trying to do is to show where all these influences come from, like if you take away the guitars and the electronics, this is where the songs come from. With "Insatiable", for example, it has this groove, it's not really on the beat, but you would never hear the influence in the single, I would never hear it either. Same thing with "Breaking The Waves". I think it's cool to show some musical versatility and to show that we have all this vast array of influences.

It's not supposed to be humoristic, but it's also not supposed to be taken too seriously

Fingers crossed! Now, apart from the music itself, I have to mention that I really enjoy the fact that you're still having fun with the visual parts, you know, still opposing the super-seriousness of the metal scene.

[Laughs] It's been part of our concept for a long time, that 'don't take yourself too seriously' attitude, already from the first video for "Hunger". We take the music super seriously, of course, and we're really passionate about it, you know, it's not supposed to be humoristic, but it's also not supposed to be taken too seriously. It's kind of obvious from the video clips, when we're running around shooting and stuff, like we don't think we're action heroes for real, walking away from the explosions in... I mean we have at least three videos like that! That's kind of poking fun at Hollywood, but it also looks cool and our music is pretty hard-hitting, powerful and energetic, that's what we're aiming for, so it's cool to combine that with strong visuals. We're kind of getting into this thing live now as well, we built a stage set which looks like a big machine and it has smoke coming out of it and all these things that we couldn't do before.

For something a bit different; the other day we did an interview with Dani Filth, and like a lot of musicians, he has a love-to-hate relationship with the streaming services. Since you're one of the few exceptions that has pointed out that there's some good things among the bad there, I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on that.

First of all, I understand exactly what Dani means. You know, he was a hero of mine when I was 14 years old; back in the day, when they released the first I don't know five or six Cradle Of Filth albums, they were a very popular band, and they still are, so they probably made a of money. Back then, when your album came out, the first royalty check came in and it was like 'I can buy a house' or 'I can buy a car'. The income from CDs especially was obviously good, because there was no other option to get the music, there was no streaming and especially before any illegal downloading, in the 90s let's say, but the fact of the matter is...

If I was David Lee Roth or David Coverdale, I would miss the $20 million paychecks

Let's take Cradle Of Filth as an example, and I mean this in the best way possible, the kind of contracts they would sign back in the 90s were adapted to making a lot of money and get one big payout. That was the same thing with Whitesnake or Metallica or whatever. Your percentage would have been really small but these contracts are still probably running and if you have that percentage for streaming you're not going to make any money at all. Obviously, I can't talk about the business or any figures, but I would say that the if the division was like this is for the band [draws a big figure in the air] and this is for record label [small figure], that's how it used to be, but there was so much money from CDs that this [label's figure] was a lot and the record labels got really rich, which is why they build skyscrapers and shit.

These days it tends to be like this is for the band this is for the record label [draws two equal figures in the air], so the deals have gotten a lot better and it depends on where you are in your career; but if you have this [points to the band figure] out of what you're streaming on Spotify, essentially what you get is you get paid several times a year and you get paid over a long period of time. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that if you put all the payments that you're getting together from, let's say that an album is out and streaming for 20 years or 30 years, you have to count back 30 years instead of the first paycheck, and if you release a lot of albums and you get fairly popular, you can actually plan your economy.

Back in the day, when you were a 24 year old musician and you got a million dollars in one check, instead of planning you'd just buy stupid shit and be out of money before you know it, so I actually like this new model a bit more. Having said that, there's obviously some shit with it; Spotify could pay better, naturally, but what I'm seeing in Sweden is that there's a bunch of bands, not huge in the festival running orders or whatever, that have gotten a bit of momentum and get to make a living full-time, especially newer bands like Nils' band Dynazty. On the other hand, if I was David Lee Roth or David Coverdale, I would miss the $20 million paychecks I got back in the 80s. [Laughs loudly] I suppose it was different for Dani, but it's fucking – sorry for my French - it really sucks that bands that are a little bit older used to make good money and now they don't.

Every time you perform the song on stage, it's new in a way

Back to your stuff - having released so much music, I'm sure picking up a setlist can be a bit of a challenge. If you were to choose three songs that have to be there, whether it's fan favourites or songs the band loves, and three deeper cuts you'd like to perform more often, which ones would you go with?

Ah, it's exactly like this! It's literally what I was doing the other day, trying to put the final set together. To answer the first part, I would say "Drop Dead Cynical", best streaming song, always works good live, and it's now 10 years old but feels new to me. Then, "Amanthine" from the first album, which is kind of the same thing... you know, maybe 20 years ago, I saw that Metallica had played "For Whom the Bell Tolls" live 2,000 times and I was like 'I would be so sick of it', and I love that song so much by the way, but turns out it's a different thing when you're performing; it's like every time you perform the song on stage, it's new in a way, it's being created in the moment. And last one, "Archangel" that we already mentioned.

For the second part, songs that are a little bit forgotten... I would say the very first song on "The Nexus" album from 2013, is a song called "Afterlife". We kind of recently put it back into the set, when we played two shows in Finland in December, and it was it was so good! Really funny and uptempo, less people knew it so less sing along, but I think people can see when a band is really enjoying it. Another one of those that are a little bit more obscure, from the "Massive Addictive" album, there's a song called "Trinity" and it's just one of my favorites, it's got a damn great chorus, this is Elize's so I can say that without bragging. [Laughs]

The last one, we have this song called "Boom!", which was kind of specifically written for Henrik, our growler at the time, and then Elize came to me a couple of weeks ago like, 'it would be cool to do like one number with only the guys and I just go off stage so the dynamics change, and then I come back and maybe I sing a ballad or you know by myself the first minute or so' and I didn't even think about it, so after she mentioned it I was like 'well, we have a new growler, we should ask him', so we just wrote him in messenger, you know like you do these days, and he was like 'no problem!', so that's probably going to be part of the live set as well.


Great picks, I think our time is coming to an end though...

If you want, we can run over for a couple of minutes!

Oh, I wouldn't! Just have to through a request though, especially in case the road brings you to Greece; please, consider "Infinity"!

That's a good suggestion! Funny enough, an hour and a half ago I was just jamming on my guitar and I was jamming that solo, it's one of my favorites, if I can say about my own solos. [Laughs] But it really is, there's something about it, and I think Nils mentioned it maybe like a year ago! And man, regarding Greece, we need to come and play in there, soon. It's a little difficult, you know, because you have to drive much further away, you'd need to do something like Romania-Bulgaria and then it'd make sense, but I've already told the agent and the promoters, and also a couple of times we talked to some festivals, I won't mention any names, but that we should try to make this work. I spent a lot of time in Greece playing in Nightrage, you know off and on to both Athens and Tessaloniki, so it's about time!