Arch Enemy Casts Aside “Deceivers” and Dominates (Interview)
Sweden's Arch Enemy has been a massive force in the melodic death metal universe for more than a quarter of a century. Collectively, Arch Enemy's history has had three distinctive eras leading up to the band’s latest and 11th full-length album Deceivers.
Formed in 1995 by guitarist Michael Amott with original vocalist Johan Liiva, Arch Enemy went on to produce three albums. However, the band never really took hold in the States or Europe until they recruited powerhouse vocalist Angela Gossow in 2000. With Gossow in tow, the band went on to release five albums and practically revolutionized extreme metal with her powerful pipes front and center.
In 2014, Gossow stepped down from the vocal position to become the band’s manager — a position that she still holds today — to make room for former The Agonist vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. Since White-Gluz’s indoctrination into the band, Arch Enemy has taken on a whole new identity and have gone on to conquer the world. Armed with their trademark melodic arrangements, killer guitar solos and vicious vocals, the band has defined extreme melodic death metal over the years.
Deceivers was originally slated for a July 29th release, but now it has been pushed back to August 12th due to unforeseen circumstances. During the following interview, guitarist and founder Michael Amott talked about the band’s early days, the new album, his time spent in Carcass, what the future holds for Arch Enemy, and more.
When Angela Gossow left Arch Enemy, some fans might have thought the band would be finished. However, with the recruitment of vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, the band really took off and has now become a whole new entity. Were you apprehensive at first in continuing the band until you found Alissa?
It was a bit daunting. Angela was already well established as the front person/singer of this band. I remember we had a band meeting with me, Daniel (Erlandsson), and Sharlee [D’Angelo], our drummer and bass player of the band who’s been with me forever. And I remember talking about what we should do, and we decided we had some new songs, and we thought why not give it another shot? Angela actually recommended Alissa. We flew her over and the rest is history. It kind of blew me away how well it went. I knew it was good what we were doing. I believed that the album that we made and everything, the songs were killer. I thought the fans would be more apprehensive. But it just took off like you said. It was really cool.
Angela remains the band’s manager to this day. How important are her decisions or contributions to the band’s day to day operations?
She was managing our business affairs even when she was singing in the band for a few years. We parted ways with our management that we had; we parted ways with them in 2008 and then Angela took over the business side of things. So she was both singing and fronting the band and managing it. So that was big. That was a bit much, maybe. But then we thought it's kind of a very customized management that we have. She's been in this band and she knows what we want, how we want things done, and how we like to operate. It worked very well. We’re supposed to be enemies; we’re supposed to be talking shit about each other on Blabbermouth! (laughs) But instead, we still remain great friends and business partners. It's really great. So I can't really complain about all of that.
I recently revisited 1999’s Burning Bridges with original vocalist Johan Liiva, who was in the band for the first three albums. The band’s sound was more aggressive with not as much melody on the vocal harmonies or anthemic choruses or hooks that are present within the band now. There was some good music on those CDs, but it seemed like it didn’t really click for the band until Angela joined.
It was a slow build. We just didn't really go anywhere on those three albums in Europe and America. But in Japan on the other hand, we were very popular on those. They were really big albums for us over there, especially Burning Bridges was massive. We went there on the Black Earth first album and toured. We were the first melodic death metal band to “tour in Japan'' as well. We laid the foundation for that market over there, on those albums, but everywhere else was just kind of little bit (slow). It was kind of a weird time for metal as well. People forget that now but it was a different time. It was all about industrial metal, nü metal or DJs, and metal and turntables. We just kind of soldiered on, did our thing. We did a few small tours; we did a European tour with In Flames. We did a little US run with Nevermore. We played our own little runs in Europe back then as well with Johan, but it was super small; playing to a couple of hundred people. And then we'd go and play these big concert halls in Japan. And then we'd have to figure out how to have a stage production and do all this stuff, play long shows. There was a bit of imbalance there at the time, and then that kind of evened itself out. After a few albums, things started swinging the other way. Every chapter of this band has been interesting. It was definitely not an overnight success.
Deceivers contains all of the band’s musical trademarks. However, did you want to try and experiment with anything different this time around?
Oh, yeah. For me, it's always like a journey. I'm a self-taught musician, we’re all actually self-taught musicians in the band. We’re always growing I think and learning new things. Applying new little ideas, little things we picked up along the way. What do people want from us? Except that we invented hyper melodic death metal. There's been growth in the band all the way. We're not the kind of band that we break away and we get involved if we hear something like a new trend or that we change our sound to do that instead for an album and then we go back to our old style. It’s always just kind of sticking with pretty heavy, aggressive, yet melodic (music). I like to write good songs, and that's what I do within this style.
Is it more challenging to come up with something new for each album?
There's always new ideas that pop into my head. Sometimes of course it's scary when you have no new songs and you have penciled in a new album project and you're thinking, “I don't really have anything.” But then one melody pops into your head, turns into one song, a few riffs combined turns into one song. Then before you know it, you’ve got six-seven songs; you're on your way. So somehow, they always turn up these ideas. Thank you, Satan! [laughs]
Speaking of trying something new… opener “Handshake With Hell” has a bit different Arch Enemy formula, decorated with clean vocals, which throws the listener a nice little curve ball. What were you trying to achieve with this track?
Exactly that, to throw the listener for a nice little curveball; that’s perfect. We're on our 11th studio album, and we were into a hell of a lot of songs, put a lot of music out there. It's cool to just surprise some people, if they can be surprised. Why not? And also, I didn't write an intro for this album. I usually like to have an intro on the albums, like an instrumental, but I didn't have anything for this record that I thought was really appropriate. But then this song, it's a longer song, I think it's over six minutes long. It's got this instrumental build up, then she (Alissa) rips into the first scream and you land in Hell. Then it’s all metal from there on out. It's something different. It's never ending… you talk about inspiration or things, writing songs. There's always something that we haven't tried, or something that we haven't done. Like “Sunset Over The Empire,” the latest single that we have out starts with the bass, and then the vocals and guitars join in and then the drums, and then everything kicks off a bit later. This is certainly a different way to start a song for us. So there's always little ideas like that are cool to try.
Lyrically, what were some of the themes or subject matter did you want to explore at this point in time of the band’s career?
First and foremost we write the music. We split up pretty much down the half with Alissa doing 50 percent and me doing 50 percent of the songs, lyrically. So, I sent her a few songs that I think will be appropriate for her and she sees if she vibes off those, and then she'll do demos at home and send those over. And then for me, when I wrote lyrics, I'm just vibing off the music, I just tried to get in that zone. I just let the music dictate where the lyrics are going to go for me. It can be whatever; it's stuff that's in my head or stuff that I've read about or seen. I don't really set any goals of what I'm going to talk about lyrically on an album. Songwriting is difficult to explain. It's one of those things, it's more fun to do it than to talk about, like sex or something like that. I know it's part of the gig to talk about it, but it's a little bit difficult to explain how that works.
Getting Jeff (Loomis, ex-Nevermore) in the band was a great move on your part, was he more involved in the writing process for this album?
I've always written most of the music, and I continue to do so. I work very closely with our drummer Daniel, who’s been with me since the first album, and we sort of put the songs together on the instrumental side. Live, Jeff is a great asset, he’s a killer player and a great friend. I've known him for well over 20 years. Just being able to hang is as important. The time that you're not playing or on the road, you spend a lot of time together, it's got to be with people who you can tolerate each other and have a good laugh; just spend time together. That's equally as important as what you do on stage or in the studio. That's something that you learn later on when you have bands. Social skills are as important as anything else. It's pretty intense. Especially when you're a band like Arch Enemy, we tour relentlessly all over the world in all kinds of conditions. We take the show everywhere, all corners of the world. A lot of travel, a lot of being tired and stuff, but still having to deliver 666%.
For the production, you worked with Jacob Hanson (Pyramaze, Aborted, Destruction) for the first time, who has a great reputation in the industry. What were you trying to achieve sonically?
I can't remember which albums we'd heard, but me and Daniel, we usually shoot links back and forth between each other, like stuff that we've heard; mixes or new albums or new songs. And his name would come back; we'd look it up. Sometimes it'd be his name and we're like, okay, he seems to be doing really great sounding things. So we thought, why not try that? And we contacted him, and he was into working with us as well. We've never met him before, but I've been in touch with him in the late ’80s when we used to write letters, physical letters to each other and send our demos to each other. So it's kind of cool to meet him in person finally after all these years. He's had this formidable career and has worked with a lot of big bands. I like how he makes the drums sound real lively and real open-sounding with the whole thing, it just sounds huge to me. It's very deep sounding. A lot of metal of course sounds very tight and very precise, but the mix is a little bit dull and they don't really have that depth or that attitude. Getting that balance is so difficult. There's so much going on in this kind of music, everybody's playing a lot of stuff and singing a lot of stuff. There's a lot of details in there. It's difficult to get all that out and then still have a kick ass energy in the mix. And I think he got that.
On a personal note, Carcass’ Heartwork is one of my favorite albums and I saw the band live in 1994. How do you look back on your time in Carcass?
It was killer. That was my first time of doing a lot of things; first time being on tour, first time recording in a professional studio, going traveling with a band. Being in America being on tour with bands like Death was pretty sick. Those were great of course, I was like 20 years old. It was amazing.
Lastly, is there anything left that you still hope to achieve or accomplish with Arch Enemy?
There's been so many plateaus that we've reached already. It's been an incredible ride. I've done just unbelievable things; toured with all my heroes. We’ve toured with Maiden, we’ve toured with Megadeth, we’ve toured with Slayer. All that kind of music that I grew up on. I’ve played on records with some of my favorite people. For Arch Enemy, I would like to just keep going. It's not really about a specific goal or something like that. I think the goal is just to keep on rocking; keep on playing metal. You hear about people who retire and then six months later they die. I don't know if that's really healthy, it’s probably better to just keep on playing. Keep on doing what you love. It's a passion for me and I think I can speak for all of us in the band, is this is a hobby and a passion that turned into a career that turned into this whole other thing that I've never really dreamt about. Because when I started, I was just interested in very extreme, underground music. It was cassettes and demos. There were even bands like Morbid Angel who didn't even have an album out at that point. It was just super underground. So that was never really my dream. I never really thought that this would be a career or anything. I always thought I'd have to work a regular job and do my music as a hobby, but then that just took off. It just kind of exploded, the scene, and I happened to be there at that moment when it happened. I got lucky in that way, I guess.
Deceivers will be released on August 12th, 2022 via Century Media Records. Pick up a copy on limited color vinyl.