Former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett has never been one to hide his love of heavy metal. Over the years Barnett has extolled heavy metal’s virtues, and among his favorite bands is one he’s spoken of to MMAWeekly.com of in the past, Swedish viking metal stalwarts Amon Amarth.
Upon the release of Amon Amarth’s most recent album, Berserker, Barnett has appeared in the music video for the album’s track “Mjolner, Hammer of Thor”, which completes a trilogy of videos the band had started on their previous album, Jomsviking.
Speaking to MMAWeekly.com following the band’s recent run on the European festival circuit, Amon Amarth vocalist Johan Hegg discussed Barnett’s connection with the band, his own combat sports training experience, and what MMA fans can expect from Berserker.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Johan, tell us how Josh Barnett got involved with being in the video for “Mjolner, Hammer of Thor”. Was it the plan to feature Josh all a long or did it just sort of happen?
Johan Hegg: Well, we’ve known Josh quite a long time now, and actually he helped us out with a promo video for our previous album, so when the idea came around to do the video trilogy featuring the berserker from the cover of the new album, we thought the obvious choice to play the berserker would be Josh. So we asked him if he wanted to do it, and of course he said yes.
MMAWeekly.com: What did you think when you got to see the final edit of the video? How does it feel to have the trilogy of videos complete and have fans get to experience it in its complete form?
Johan Hegg: I think all the three videos are awesome! Josh does a great job, as well as Erick Rowan who plays Thor, Shanie Rusth who plays the shield maiden, Kenny Leath who plays Oden, and of course Tess Kielhamer who is absolutely amazing as the demon boss. I must admit I wasn’t sure about the trilogy idea from the start, but now that I’ve seen the final result I think it’s fantastic, and I think our fans love them as well.
MMAWeekly.com: Tell us how you got into combat sports. What drew you to it? What made you want to start training yourself?
Johan Hegg: Actually it was my wife, Maria, who introduced me to combat sports. She’s done some boxing in the past and is currently a yoga teacher and has developed a special kind of yoga for athletes. Currently she’s working with a couple of MMA fighters, Örebro Hockey, the local Swedish Hockey League team in our hometown, and a couple of other hockey players in Sweden.
A few years back my wife and I were in New York when I was promoting our previous album, Jomsviking, and there we met Josh and his girlfriend at the time, Colleen (Schneider), at a dinner. The day after, we met up with them at a gym, and they tried yoga with my wife, and in exchange they offered to train MMA with us the next time we were in LA. So next time we were there we met up with them and trained, and I had a blast!
I’ve played hockey and soccer, but honestly this is perhaps the most fun I’ve had training. I was never really into fighting or martial arts before. I mean, I had seen MMA fights and all, but I honestly wasn’t that interested, but training with Josh changed all that, and I’ve been training ever since. Now I follow both UFC and Bellator, as well as watch other organizations like Cage Warriors if there is an interesting fight.
When it comes to my own training, the only problem for me is that it’s hard to get a continuous training schedule going as I’m on the road a lot, but I train at home together with my wife and at the local MMA gym, HILTI Akademi Nord in Örebro, Sweden. But I’ve also gone to different gyms to train in my travels. For instance, my wife and I have trained at SBG in Dublin, together with Richie Smullens, and at Mjolnir MMA in Reykjavik, together with Sunna Tsunami and Julius Bernsdorf. We also went down to San Diego and trained with Angie Hill and her husband Adam last year, and when I was in LA to record the latest album I trained at Haystan MMA in North Hollywood with sensei Gokor Chivachyan for about a month.
MMAWeekly.com: Let’s say life took you down another path, what kind of fighter do you think you would be? Are you more of a technical guy or brawling berserker?
Johan Hegg: I wish I could say I’m a brawling berserker, ‘cause that’s the name of the new album, ha-ha-ha, but in fact I actually try to be as technical as I can. I’m still very much an amateur, and I’m still learning, but I’m always working on the technique, even though it would be easy to use my physical size to my advantage. But I am an older guy, you know, so if you have technique you don’t have to work so hard. Work smarter, not harder… so to speak.
MMAWeekly.com: Do the other guys in the band fight fans or train? Did Jocke Wallgren have to prove his worth on the mat before he could become the new drummer of the band?
Johan Hegg: Ha-ha-ha, yeah, Jocke had to last two five minute rounds with me before he got the job… No, but seriously, the only two who have any interest for combat sports are (bassist) Ted (Lundström), who is a fan of MMA, and (guitarist) Johan Soederberg who likes boxing, but none of them train fighting. I’ve tried to lure them into the training with me, but I’ve had no success at all.
But I’ve just bought a heavy bag that I’m going to hang up in the back of the truck when we tour, and I think Ted was into trying that out at least though I believe it when I see it… Maybe I’ll have to ask Josh to come train with us and force him to try it out, ‘cause no one says no to the “Warmaster”! Ha-ha-ha!
MMAWeekly.com: How would you say the excitement and action of a big fight show would compare to what you do on stage with the band?
Johan Hegg: Wow, that is a tough question. I mean, I can only talk from my own experience, and going to a metal show definitely gets the adrenalin pumping, and so does of course watching a big fight show, but it’s very different emotions anyways. We in Amon Amarth have always seen it like it’s us and the audience who create the experience together, but in a big fight show I the fighters need to focus and block out the audience around them, so there’s not much interaction. Not until after the fight at least.
MMAWeekly.com: Speaking of being on stage, how has touring for the new album been going? Have you had much opportunity to train while you’re on the road?
Johan Hegg: The touring has been great. We’ve done one leg in the US supporting Slayer on their final world tour, and currently we’re on the end of a summer festival run in Europe, and it has been a blast. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to train fighting as much as I would have liked, but I’ve done a little bit, especially when my wife came out for a week here in Europe. Otherwise I’ve mainly done weight training, running, and of course yoga.
MMAWeekly.com: As for the new album, Berserker, tell our readers about it a bit and if they’ve never heard the band before what would draw a fight fan to the kind of music that’s on the album?
Johan Hegg: Amon Amarth is a Swedish melodic death metal band with a lot of old school heavy metal influences. We are powerful and brutal, but with a certain touch of elegance if you will, ha-ha-ha.
The new album, Berserker, features more melodies and harmonies and with the help of producer Jay Ruston we’ve experimented quite a lot with our sound, well, a lot to be us anyways. Personally I think that this album is our most diverse ever, and I think every song on this album could have easily been a single in its own right.
Our previous album, Jomsviking, was a concept album, with a story that went through all the songs, but for Berserker we wanted to step away from that and make a classic metal album, and I think that, in a way, that contributed to making this an amazing album because we could really let our creativity flow free and not feel that we had to follow a story musically or lyrically.
Lyrically we’ve always written our songs about Norse history and mythology, in other words, vikings, and on this particular album I think the title track, “The Berserker at Stamford Bridge”, is a perfect song for a fight fan because of the story behind it. I’m not going to go into it too much, but it is a historically accurate event about a lone viking holding off the entire English army of 15000 men, all on his own, killing between 40 and 70 people before he fell. But there are other songs as well of course. All in all I think this is our best album to date.
MMAWeekly.com: If a fighter needed some crushing music for their walk to the cage, what Amon Amarth song/songs would you suggest to them to get into the right mood for battle?
Johan Hegg: Well, I think there are a number of songs that would work very well for this, but the first ones that comes to mind is “Shieldwall” or “The Berserker at Stamford Bridge” from the latest album. Those songs really pump me up at least!
MMAWeekly.com: Thank you for taking time out for us, Johan. Is there anything you would like to say to our readers in closing?
Johan Hegg: Thanks for having me. I hope all who are into metal will come out and see us when we return to North America in September/October for a headline tour, supported by Arch Enemy, At the Gates and Grand Magus. It’s an all Swedish bill, and it will be an awesome show! Check out our
website, www.AmonAmarth.com, for tickets and VIP packages. See you guys on the road!