July 9, 2014 Interview – Michael Amott of Arch Enemy
Extreme heavy metal was reborn in the earlier part of the millennium with blazing guitar riffs, pulsing double bass drum techniques, and blistering vocals. Leading the way for a new generation was Sweden’s Arch Enemy. Begun by former Carcass guitarist Michael Amott as a new venture into dominating death metal roughness with melodic ecstasy, Arch Enemy began raising attention with, at the time, unknown vocalist Angela Gossow and the gargantuan 2001 album Wages of Sin. With more and more listeners wise to what Arch Enemy was all about, the popularity of the band and their music gradually progressed from album to album, making them one of the most powerful metal bands in the world. Now in 2014, Arch Enemy are turning the page with a new vocalist in Alissa White-Gluz and their sights on sustaining their command of extreme metal. Recently we sat down with founding guitarist and songwriter Michael Amott for a deeper look into the history behind Arch Enemy, his life long commitment to music, the changes surrounding the lineup, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Arch Enemy has become known as a leader in melodic death metal over the past eighteen years. The band began after your departure from Carcass. Looking back now could you ever imagined the success Arch Enemy has achieved over the years?
Michael Amott – No, who looks that far ahead, certainly not me. I just was doing it album by album and tour by tour, never looking further than one year ahead really. It has been a fantastic journey for sure. You just take it step by step, of course when you put out an album you have a touring cycle. As the band got bigger, the touring cycles have gotten longer. I always treat every album as if it could be the last one, because you never know.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. It is important to try and live in the moment and take everything as it comes. The band has always stayed true to melodic heavy guitar-driven music while progressing from album to album. As a guitarist, how important is it for you to continue to challenge yourself and keep composing music fresh?
Michael Amott – Progressing is really important of course. I feel like there is a sound that we have established with Arch Enemy that needs to be maintained and I respect and love that sound. My style of writing, how it all comes together, and how we all play our instruments, it really sounds like Arch Enemy and I love that. At the same time there also has to be some sort of progression and new ideas that happen, otherwise it becomes a bit stagnant and can be boring. There has to be forward motion into new territory. This time around we have new elements in the band that throw us into a new area without even having to think about it too much. Working with a new singer and new guitar player, there are a lot of things happening. It has also affected the music and I am really happy about it, I think it sounds really fresh and exciting. I think that is important to every musician and songwriter, to keep it fresh and exciting, not only for the fans but for yourself as well.
CrypticRock.com – You want to make it fresh and exciting, otherwise what is the point of making music if you cannot keep progressing.
Michael Amott – Exactly and every album that I have done, I always thought six months down the line after releasing an album I think already I can write songs with production, stronger melodies, etc etc. I think you are trying to outdo yourself all the time. You are always trying to raise the bar. We have had some excellent albums in the past with some excellent production and songs that the fans love. I do not sit around worshiping my music too much because I always am thinking about the future and the next song I want to write. For me, it is more fun to think about what is laying ahead.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense. Now the topic of conversation on everyone’s mind lately is the recent departure of Angela after fourteen amazing years with the band. Many would say she is a pioneer for women in the extreme metal scene. The band has sustained vocalist changes in the past with Johan back in 2000. How do you and the rest of the band approach the transition of Arch Enemy into the band’s next chapter together?
Michael Amott – We changed singers once before, but those were very different circumstances. The band was very small then compared to what it has become over the past ten years. It is a whole different scenario in a way for us. The band is much more established with a massive fan base worldwide now. So of course it will have a bigger impact. For us it is an adjusting phase. We worked with Alissa on the new album. We had a lot of fun working on the new music with her, recording her, and it really clicked on every level with the music. We created a good bond there, we just tried to make her feel welcome. Now we are in the preparation phase for touring. The next thing coming up for us is touring all over the world again. The main part is thinking about the songs to play and all that kind of stuff. Alissa is very professional as well and she has been doing this for a while. It feels natural. We started our tour over in Europe on May 23rd. It was quite exciting backstage those minutes before we got up there and started playing.
CrypticRock.com – It is very exciting and everything is like new all over again. New vocalist Alissa is a seasoned performer who had a great career with The Agonist, now she is leading the way for Arch Enemy. How excited is the band to work with her?
Michael Amott – We are very excited for her being a part of it. We have been fans of hers for a while and she has been a long time fan of the band. She told me that Wages of Sin (2001) was the first metal CD she ever purchased as well, talk about coming full circle her, it must be very exciting for her as well. We rehearsed with her quite a lot and we rehearsed a lot of the catalog so we heard her sing “Nemesis”, “Ravenous”, “Dead Eyes See No Future”, “My Apocalypse” , and “Yesterday is Dead and Gone”. I heard her sing all these songs countless times in the rehearsal room and it sounded fucking incredible. There has just been a lot of excitement in the air.
CrypticRock.com – It has to be an exciting time for the band. The band’s new album, War Eternal, was released in June and it is the band’s first album in three years, the first with Nick Cordle, and the first with Alissa on vocals. That is a lot of changes since many have heard Arch Enemy. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
Michael Amott – It was actually a really smooth process. We never had this much time for the pre-production and writing. We were so well-prepared this time. I started in early March of 2013 in Virginia with Nick working on new music in his home studio. I was there for a couple of weeks, I think I did not see daylight for two weeks. We just ran for some groceries and we spent the rest of the time drinking beer and creating metal music. That was the starting point of writing for the album. I came back home to Sweden with five finished songs. We continued writing in Sweden and Nick came over as well, I was working with Daniel on new music. We had everything mapped out in detail. We were more well-prepared than we ever had been before. I think one, because we wanted to make sure everything was right with the delicate shift in the lineup and two, because we had all this time on our hands because we had a whole year off. We have never had a year off to write and record an album before. We always had come straight from the road into the studio to record a new album and finish up the songs in the studio. There was none of that this time. In that way it was a very smooth recording process. We produced the album ourselves. We tracked the drums in a nice big studio and got some great sounds. Then we went into a smaller studio and recorded guitars, vocals, and bass.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a very natural process. Sometimes, after years of constant touring and producing new music, you need to recharge yourselves. Anyone needs that time to recharge themselves.
Michael Amott – Oh yea. I never really thought about it. We have always been kind of heads down and forced ahead; next tour, next album. It was an interesting last year for sure. In some ways it was the worst year of my life and some ways it was the best year of my life; it was a real roller coaster. Not only for me but for a few of us in the band. I think once you stop you realize there is a lot of things that have happened, and maybe there are a lot of things that have not gone in the right direction. At the same time it was a very positive year because we created new music. I think the album and putting the band back together was a good focus for us.
CrypticRock.com – The two first singles “War Eternal” and “As The Pages Burn” are both very strong songs. For those who have not heard the album yet, what can fans expect from the rest of the album?
Michael Amott – It is definitely an intense album. The album features the real trademark sounds of the band with the type of songwriting and guitar playing that fans have come to appreciate in Arch Enemy. It also features some new aspects with Alissa on vocals; she co-wrote five of the songs on the album and those songs have a very different approach lyrically. The other five song’s lyrics were written by me, which fans have heard before on our older albums. The album also features one of the fastest songs we ever recorded and it also features the slowest song we ever recorded. We went extreme there in the dynamics. It is a very melodic album; melody has always been an important part of the band. When I founded the band I wanted to create the heaviest melodic band of all-time. I wanted to be melodic with a lot of harmonies and catchy guitar parts. That is something I really have focused on and what the band is known for. We worked with an orchestral arranger as well. There are three songs, and also the intro, which has real strings on there. That is the first time I ever worked with an arranger and real strings. It is not really symphonic metal though, the songs were clearly written on guitar, but the strings and orchestra add a lot of drama, suspense, and real deep sound in those songs. I am really happy with those collaborations as well.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music for a long time now and gained vast experience from your time in Carcass, to Arch Enemy, to Spiritual Beggars. What are some of the most important things you have learned along the way?
Michael Amott – I have learned so much. All my life experiences are basically from being part of a band. From touring, to recording, to interacting with other people, from learning about business, to developing as a musician, songwriter, arranger, a producer, studios, equipment, guitars, and guitar playing. Everything I know is about music, I never really had another job. I learned a lot along the way. I started playing in bands when I was around thirteen years old and I started touring professionally when I was twenty years old. You can say I have been really lucky, but I have also worked really hard (laughs). It has been a combination of hard work and a little bit of luck I guess. The best thing you can do is stay true to yourself and play the music you want to play. There was a long time in the mid to the end of the 1990’s where playing the music I wanted to play was completely frowned upon. Having guitar solos, having duel guitar solos in songs; people did not understand it. We had very little exposure for the band then. That is why I started touring a lot in Asia, they still had a love for the guitar as an instrument. It has been an interesting journey, but I think the most important thing is stay true to the music and follow your heart. Hopefully people will realize that and come around (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – The best advice ever is to follow your heart. That makes the best music. What are some of your most significant musical influences?
Michael Amott – I grew up with my mother interested in music. She has a lot of jazz records and classic music. I grew up around that a lot, some of my earliest memories are of classic music. As soon as I could make up my own mind I started gravitating to rock-n-roll with bands like Kiss. A few years later I got into punk and hardcore, then thrash and speed metal with bands like Metallica. When it comes to metal, I love Judas Priest and classic metal like Scorpions and Michael Schenker. I love real melodic stuff, but I love some pounding extreme stuff as well. I was into death metal for a few years. I loved Altars of Madness (1989) by Morbid Angel and an album like Leprous (1987) from Death was a big album for me. I guess for the most part, where you can balance a lot of melody with heaviness. If it does not have melody, I do not stay interested for very long. I love heaviness as well, if it is only melodic and not heavy enough than I do not stay interested either. I need that combination, I guess that is what I am trying to achieve with writing for Arch Enemy.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, melody is vital for metal along with the heaviness. My last question for you is pertaining to films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. If you are a fan of horror films, what are some of your favorite horror films?
Michael Amott – I am not a huge fan of horror films. I am more into early 1960’s and 1970’s sci-fiction films. I guess it depends on what you mean by horror, The Shining (1980) is one of my favorites. I think the human mind is the scariest thing, scarier than monsters if you will. I like all kinds of films. As long as it is well-written and good. The Shining affected me and really freaked me out.
Catch Arch Enemy on tour on the following dates:
7/9 RockMaraton, Pecs, Hungary
7/11 – Rock Harz Open Air, Ballenstedt, Germany
7/12 – Masters Of Rock, Vizovice, Czech Republic
7/13 – Seven Festival, Wegorzewo, Poland
7/19 – Dong Open Air, Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany
8/2 – Wacken Open Air, Wacken, Germany
8/7 – Getaway Rock, Gävle, Sweden
8/8 – Leyendas Del Rock, Alicante, Spain
8/9 – Alcatraz Metal Festival, Kortrijk, Belgium
8/14 – Summer Breeze, Dinkelsbühl, Germany
8/17 – Alt-Fest, Kettering, UK
9/17 – Kerubi, Joensuu, Finland
9/18 – Pakkahuone, Tampere, Finland
9/19 -The Circus, Helsinki, Finland
9/20 – Luakko, Jyväskylä, Finland
9/22 – Re:Republic, Minsk, Belarus
9/23 – Yunost’, Kiev, Ukraine
9/25 – Arena Hall, Krasnodar, Russia
9/27 – Glav Club, Moscow, Russia
9/28 – Zal Ozhidaniya, Saint Petersburg, Russia
9/30 – Otdykh Club, Novosibirsk, Russia
10/1 – Angar Club, Omsk, Russia
10/3 – Tele Club, Yekaterinburg, Russia
W/ Kreator, Huntress, & Starkill
10/23 – Baltimore, Md. — Baltimore Soundstage
10/24 – New York, N.Y. — Best Buy Theater*
10/25 – Worcester, Mass. — The Palladium
10/26 – Clifton Park, N.Y. — Upstate Concert Hall
10/27 – Montreal, Quebec — Metropolis
10/28 – Quebec City, Quebec — Imperial Theater
10/29 – Toronto, Ontario — The Opera House
11/1 – Winnipeg, Manitoba — The Garrick Centre*
11/2 – Regina, Saskatchewan — Riddell Centre*
11/3 – Calgary, Alberta — Macewan Hall Ballroom*
11/4 – Edmonton, Alberta — Union Hall*
11/6 – Vancouver, British Columbia — Commodore Ballroom*
11/7 – Seattle, Wash. — Studio Seven*
11/8 – Portland, Ore. — Hawthorne Theater *
11/10 – San Francisco, Calif. — Regency Center
11/11 – West Hollywood, Calif. — House of Blues
11/12 – Anaheim, Calif. — House of Blues
11/14 – Tempe, Ariz. — The Marquee
11/15 – Albuquerque, N.M. — Sunshine Theater *
11/16 – Denver, Colo. — Ogden Theatre
11/18 – Minneapolis, Minn. — Mill City Nights*
11/19 – Joliet, Ill. — Mojoes
11/20 – Grand Rapids, Mich. — The Intersection
11/21 – Detroit, Mich. — Majestic Theatre
11/22 – Cincinnati, Ohio –Bogarts
11/23 – Cleveland, Ohio — House of Blues
Read the review of War Eternal on CrypticRock here