Arch Enemy Bassist Discusses Latest Album ‘Khaos Legions’ and More
Swedish metal outfit Arch Enemy returned to the scene earlier this year with their much anticipated eighth studio album, ‘Khaos Legions,’ and the band has been supporting the disc by touring the globe.
Led by the savage vocal prowess of Angela Gossow paired with the skillful guitar duo of brothers Michael and Christoper Amott, rounded out by Sharlee D’Angelo on bass and Daniel Erlandsson on drums, Arch Enemy deliver a collection of memorable metal tunes combining elements of thrash and death with a priority on melodic riffs and a more slowed down approach to the new songs than we’ve come to expect from the quintet.
Having just finished up their ‘American Khaos’ tour run before returning to Europe, gregarious bassist Sharlee D'Angelo took some time to talk to us about ‘Khaos Legions,’ the band’s ever-present social conscience and what it's like to stand on stage in front of 60,000 metal fans.
Now that ‘Khaos Legions’ has been out for a few months, when you reflect on it, do you feel like you made the album that you set out to make?
I think so, for the most part. I haven’t listened to it for awhile because you listen to it a whole bunch of times when it’s first released but now that it’s done and we’re out playing the new songs, I don’t listen to it as much. As far as I remember, it’s a good album!
Certain things change, you might have loved one song from the demo because it had a certain vibe but once you officially record it with a completely different sound and mix certain things might not hit you as hard as it did with the rawer version, things always change around. The favorites that I had before the record was recorded are different from my favorites now because with the vocals and all the added bits and pieces the songs transform so much.
Your sound has a lot of layers to it so do the songs from demo to final version go through a lot of changes, sometimes turn into an entirely different song?
Sometimes it does; the demo version may be a song in its crudest form with two guitars, bass, and drums. The vocals may be beginning to take shape but aren’t really there yet. Then there may be songs where maybe the riff isn’t too exciting, you might think it’s too simple when you just listen to it as an instrumental, but then Angela [Gossow] will come up with a vocal line for it and that may be the catchiest thing on earth. It can change the whole song.
On ‘Khaos Legions’ I’m hearing so many new elements, including a lot more thrash than we’ve heard from Arch Enemy in the past; did you find yourself experimenting with different styles more this time around?
Not really so much style wise. I think every new album is a reflection of what you’ve been listening to during the time period right before you write and record the songs. For some reason, there’s a lot of thrash elements on this album but there are a lot of other elements as well. There are more death metal elements and just anything we came up with that sounded good to us. There are elements on the album that we haven’t dabbled with too much before but it’s nothing majorly ground-breaking, we move within our little world and the different sounds within that realm, it’s not a drastic change like collaboration with a DJ or anything.
You mentioned the death metal elements and a lot of people call Arch Enemy a death metal band, but the band doesn’t seem to agree?
A lot of people do call us death metal, I think mainly because of the vocals and that sometimes parts are fast and brutal and a bit tuned down but I wouldn’t call us death metal by any stretch. There are death metal elements within our music, there might be some old school Morbid Angel type riffs or things like that but I definitely would never call us death metal. There are definitely roots to the genre within the band, especially with Michael [Amott] and his time spent in Carcass. There are two reasons you might hear it a little bit more on this album and one is of course Michael having recently gone through the Carcass reunion in the past two years and also us re-recording some of our older material for ‘The Root of All Evil’. Especially for Michael, he may have revisited some old playing techniques that he doesn’t necessary utilize that much these days. I think that’s influenced the writing process, as well.
The album starts off with an instrumental in the form of ‘Khaos Overture,’ was the intent to set the tone with that track?
It is sort of like an introduction, a ‘welcome to our album, this is what you’re going to get’ overture. We wanted something that sounds chaotic and right out of the gutter that serves as a welcome to the uprising. I like little introductions like that, musical pieces that settle you into the mood of the album. For example, Queensryche’s ‘Operation Mindcrime’ opens with ‘Anarchy-X’, it’s a fantastic away of opening the album.
You used the word ‘uprising’ and this album certainly has a political vibe to it. We can all draw some positive messages from it, but do you feel like there’s one theme you’re promoting?
It’s not completely thematical, but it is a subject that we’re dealing with quite a bit for the past three albums. It got a little more refined on this album. We always wanted to relay the message of personal freedom and especially now. When Angela started to write some of the lyrics for this album, things just started to happen around the world, particularly in North Africa. It was a bit strange that it fell into line with exactly what we were writing about at the time. She actually did go back and rewrite some of the lyrics because it all became extremely real, thereby, this is our most current album ever.
You mentioned personal freedoms and I know you had Amnesty International out at all of your shows on this tour, why as it important for you to bring them out?
We have a pretty good soapbox to stand on. Metal people in general are good in the sense that they usually practice what they preach. We have a lot of young people coming to our shows who might not be familiar with Amnesty International so it’s good to have them out. They are set up out by merch so kids can go out and get informed about it and help out if they want to, it’s not an aggressive message, it’s just informing people on how they can make a difference if they choose to. It’s a good thing to have them out, and also Doris from Chtonic, she’s worked with them before as well, so she was a great help in hooking us up with them.
In our home country we hooked up with Animal Rights Sweden and made a t-shirt for a festival in Gothenburg and they got 200 new members, so it’s subjects that are close to our hearts. We want to share our views with people but we’re not telling anyone what to do – we’re just offering an alternative.
So what is the writing process for the band, do you all write together?
We usually start off writing by ourselves to come up with bits and ideas and start to half-way map out potential songs but then we get together in one room and basically jam it out. It’s an old-school, organic process as opposed to a lot of bands we know, for practical reasons, they sit at home and record and send files back and forth. That can work fine but I think you get a bit more input from everybody and it’s a quicker process when everyone is in the same room at the same time because you’re able to bounce ideas back and forth and you get instant responses from 3-4 people. I like it better that way, I can see why some bands can’t do it. Some bands just have one or two guys that write everything anyway so it doesn’t really matter but for us everybody throws in their ideas left and right trying to hit the bucket so to speak.
Rather than relying on software to achieve particular sounds on ‘Khaos Legions,’ you focused more on vintage instruments. Can you tell us a bit about that?
It wasn’t just instruments, especially with amplifiers; instead of using plug-in effects with a computer we just used old school things. We’d find an old echo thing from the late ‘60s that would sound just awesome. We try to do that a lot more and record with whatever effects we thought were needed and running them through amplifiers rather than just adding in the end in the mix. These days with ProTools it’s easy to do that in the end, and sometimes it sounds good but all of the old school effects have their own little quirks that are very hard to mimic by just using software.
I was watching the video of the live clips that was put together for ‘Bloodstained Cross’ from some of your recent festival stops – some of those crowds are just massive. Do you feel like audiences in the U.S. are as voracious for metal as Europe?
People are different all over the world, and also in the way that they respond to music that they like. Japanese people, for example, they like to listen whereas here in America, this is the country where the mosh pit was invented. They want to physically be involved. That’s the response here. In Europe, there is a lot of spill over with stage-diving and moshing and the wall of death. Traditionally most of the European countries are like fist-banging and head-banging. If you go to South America, people sing. The football (Soccer) culture where they have all different chants, they practice the very same thing at shows, singing along at shows to every little piece, that’s their way of showing their appreciation.
People are equally passionate about the music wherever they go; it just comes out in different ways, that’s the beauty of being able to travel around the world and meeting different audiences. We get to see their personal takes on it, that’s one of the things that keeps it interesting.
What’s it like to get on stage at one of those festivals and look out into a sea of 50-60 thousand people, is it a bit surreal?
It’s great, it’s fantastic just to have people in front of you that enjoy the music as much as you do. Anytime you’re throwing a party with 50,000 people, that’s not a bad thing, as long as it’s not at your house – it can get a bit rowdy.
You put a lot of work into making your live show a visually experience in addition to the music, was that something you put a lot of forethought into?
Absolutely, the music obviously comes first but we’ve all grown up with bands that think a lot about the visual aspect of their music as well. We’re not Slipknot or anything but a little bit goes a long way so that’s why we decided to the video projections this time around. We always make sure that we have a really good lighting guy and the whole thing. It’s not just about getting up there and playing a bunch of songs, it should be a whole experience I think. I grew up with bands like that and you got the full visual impact even if they didn’t have that many special effects, what you see and what you hear, if that clicks it makes it ten times better.
You’ve been out on the U.S. leg of the ‘American Khaos’ tour since early September, what can you tell us about the experience?
It’s been very good. We started out on the East Coast and went into Canada for a few weeks. Canadians love their metal, that’s something that we learned. Now we’re going down the West Coast. The North American continent is a little bit like a mini world in a sense, because people are different depending on where you go. You might think of it as one big country but it really is a bunch of different states and each one is like a little country in and of itself. The ball is definitely rolling…we have new songs to play to people and we’re enjoying life.