Amon Amarth vs Grand Magus: who are the ultimate Vikings?

A photograph of Amon Amarth and Grand Magus playfighting

What would your Viking name be?

Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth): “Grim. It’s a good Viking name in general. Apart from the obvious English translation, it’s a strong Viking name and means ‘mask’ in Old Norse. In a sense, it’s kind of what you do when you’re an artist – you put on a mask to deliver a show. So it’s a fitting name for me. It’s not very funny, I’m afraid.”

JB Christoffersson (Grand Magus): “My first and last names – Janne and Christoffersson – are Christian, but my middle name is Ivar. My father’s name was Birger, so my Viking name would be Ivar Birgersson. The best one was a guy called Gange-Rolf, a huge Viking. ‘Gange’ means ‘a guy who walks’ – he was so big, no horse could carry him, so he was Walking Rolf, ha ha!”

VERDICT: An easy win for Johan, because Grim sounds more metal than Ivar. (1-0)

The Vikings raided towns and monasteries, but what would you most like to pillage?

Johan: “That sounds like fun! I would like to pillage all the banks and all those bastards that make us save their arses when they’re in economic trouble. That would make me a pretty penny, but I guess we’d end up bailing them out again. That’s the problem! I would sell the bankers as slaves to make them pay back all the money they owe us.”

JB: “Probably some really fancy, good restaurants. I’d get some decent food! I know you have some really posh ones in London, so it would be great to pull out a sword and tell them to make the best food they can. And then we’d trash the place, of course.”

VERDICT: We love a good meal, but Johan sneaks this for sticking it to The Man. (2-0)

Have you ever hunted an animal?

Johan: “No, I have not, because I don’t have a hunting licence. I wouldn’t say it appeals to me. I could potentially do it, but apart from fishing I’ve never really done it. Fishing is very Viking indeed! It’s a good hobby, but a lot of people overdo it. If you want to have dinner, catch a fish. But to catch a fish and release it back into the water seems kinda dumb to me.”

JB: “Yes, I have. It was a rabbit or rabbits, to be more accurate. I used a bow and arrow. I was a lot younger than I am now. It was bloody difficult to get them, I must admit. They’re very fast! But if they’re startled, they stand still for a while, so that’s when you get them. And I did eat them afterwards. Hunting for sport is just wrong. The Vikings didn’t do that, as far as I know.”

VERDICT: Sorry, Johan, Fishing doesn’t count. An easy win for ‘Bunny Killer’ Christoffersson. (2-1)

Johan Hegg and JB Christoffersson: true Viking warriors

Johan Hegg and JB Christoffersson: true Viking warriors

Can you read runes?

Johan: “Yes, partially. It depends on the alphabet. There are different runic alphabets, and there’s one that I know fairly well. All the stuff that’s written in runes is in Old Norse, but I don’t really know that. There was a time when I’d read anything and everything about Vikings, including books on runic magic, which is probably a bunch of nonsense, but it was interesting!”

JB: “There are runes that I know the words for, so to speak, but if you put me in front of a rune stone I’d have a hard time. I haven’t really studied them that thoroughly. That’s the honest answer! A lot of the runes are not easily translated into our Latin alphabet, so it really requires dedication.”

VERDICT: Johan edges this one, but full marks to both for effort. (3-1)

What would you eat and drink at your ideal victory feast?

Johan: “Wild boar. There is a place where I buy boar meat that actually has been hunted, but not by me. It’s always absolutely fantastic and super-nice to barbecue. It’s beautiful; a great meat. So boar would be a good choice, and I would drink large quantities of quality beer. Obviously.”

JB: “I’m very fond of lamb, so I would probably roast a whole lamb, or maybe a goat. Goat is more metal, I guess, so I’d roast a goat with rosemary and thyme and bit of honey, and I would drink beer. I’m very fond of a pint of bitter, so I’ll go with that. Twenty pints of bitter, in fact.”

VERDICT: Both feasts sound delicious, but JB is plainly the better cook. (3-2)

Can you tell us how to construct a Longship?

Johan: “Well, I could tell you how it was done, but I probably couldn’t do it myself. Basically, you really need to have the right timber. Oak is preferred, because it’s flexible and very strong. Then you have to split the wood, the heart of the trunk, and you put the split planks one on top of the other, so you build from the keel upwards. That makes it very flexible for when you sail on rough seas. It means you can handle really strong waves. When you make the oars, you need strong wood, too. So I know the basics!”

JB: “I probably couldn’t direct someone to make it, but I know some of the techniques that they used. The Viking ships were very flexible. If you shook one end of the ship, the whole thing would flex and move. That’s how they got across the Atlantic, because the timber was so flexible that it didn’t get smashed by the waves. Instead of using ordinary planks, they split the wood many times so the planks were whole pieces of the trunk. They used chisels to split the wood and that made the planks stronger and more flexible than if they’d been cut with a saw. But the short answer to your question is, ‘No!’ Ha ha ha!”

VERDICT: Bloody hell. Pair of show-offs. It’s a draw. One point each. (4-3)

Vikings had to die in battle to be worthy of Valhalla… Why would you be worthy?

Johan: “Well, it’s hard to know, because I haven’t died yet! Technically, half of the men that died in battle went to Valhalla and the other half went to Fólkvangr, which is the hall of the goddess Freya. Maybe I would get into Valhalla because I’m a skald, which is a highly appreciated poet or storyteller. That was very popular in Viking days. Maybe I just need to fall over onstage and bang my little toe or something?”

JB: “We wrote a song about this – Every Day There’s A Battle To Fight. For some people it’s actual war, but for others it’s sickness or whatever it might be. To earn your place in Valhalla you have to keep an Iron Will, as it were, to fight until the end. That will certainly increase your chances of ending up in Valhalla. Never give up!”

VERDICT: A close one, but JB gets the point for sneaking two Grand Magus songs into his answer. (4-4)

Could you perform a blood eagle execution?

Johan: “Technically, yes, I could. It’s basically just cutting the back open, breaking the ribs, and pulling the lungs out onto the back. It’s a very nice way of treating someone who’s been very bad. I’m not a psychopath and I don’t think I’d have the stomach for it, unless someone made me mad enough. I usually get insanely angry for 10 seconds and then I’m fine, so I think I’d need more anger to do this properly.”

JB: “If I had enough time and was pissed off enough, yes! It certainly requires some work to open the ribcage and pull out the lungs. It’s not a very nice thing to do to someone, but if I had a grudge that was deep enough and I had a few hours, I could probably do it. I’m not at all squeamish, so that would help.”

VERDICT: Frankly we’re a little bit scared of JB now, so he can have the point for this one. (4-5)

What’s the most obscure Viking fact that you know?

Johan: “Almost all Viking facts are obscure, ha ha ha! They accomplished so many strange things. I know that a lot of long houses on Iceland were built with walls of peat, for some reason. I also know that there is Viking graffiti in the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, and it says, ‘Halvdan carved this’!”

JB: “It’s not really that obscure, but the Byzantine Empire hired the Vikings to act as bodyguards, like a Royal Guard. So they travelled all the way from Sweden and Denmark down to where Greece is today, and they worked for the Byzantine Empire. That’s pretty mind-boggling.”

VERDICT: Excellent work by both men. A point apiece. (5-6)

Who’s your favourite character in the TV show Vikings?

Johan: “I really like Ragnar, but I also really like Rollo. He’s the epitome of a berserker. But I also like Lagertha, because she shows the complexity of the Viking society. It wasn’t a patriarchal society as such. Women had a strong position, stronger than they did after Scandinavia was christened. That’s pretty cool.”

JB: “I’ve only seen a few episodes, so I’m not really capable of answering this… but since I mentioned Walking Rolf, his other name was actually Rollo, so I would have to pick the character Rollo from Vikings. He seems like a mean guy.”

VERDICT: Astonishing scenes. Johan bags the final point for knowing more about the show, and it’s only a sodding draw! Anyone fancy a rematch? (6-6)

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.