Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott Talks Lineup Changes, ‘War Eternal,’ North American Tour + More
A new Arch Enemy album always draws attention from the metal community, but their latest effort ‘War Eternal’ has taken the usual scrutiny to a new level. That’s because longtime vocalist Angela Gossow has departed, replaced by Alissa White-Gluz (The Agonist). In addition, this is also the first Arch Enemy album to feature guitarist Nick Cordle (Arsis), who replaced Christopher Amott a couple of years ago.
Loudwire caught up with band founder and guitarist Michael Amott for a wide-ranging conversation about the lineup changes, the new album, tour plans, his other band Spiritual Beggars, his former group Carcass and other subjects.
A couple of years ago, Chris (Amott) departed again and you brought Nick Cordle aboard. What led you to him?
Nick was in a band called Arsis, an American band. They opened up for Arch Enemy on a U.S. tour, I think it was in 2010. I noticed him on that tour, watching their show, and just put him somewhere in the back of my mind as a great guitar player and a really cool guy as well. When Chris left the band again, his name just popped up. That's how that worked.
At what point were you made aware that Angela decided that she was going to leave the band?
That was last year, 2013. That was a gradual process happening with her. We've seen it coming for a while, to be honest. It wasn't a huge surprise. Of course, when she gave us the final notice, it put us in a difficult position because we built up the band for 13 years with her as a front person and singer, established the band with her, really, to what it is today.
Her leaving put us in a difficult spot. We were faced with these two paths. We could fold the band and just call it quits and say that we had a nice run, that was great, but now it's over; or we could try and find a new singer and move forward with new music. We were already writing a new album at that point. It felt like, let’s give it a shot. Luckily, we came across Alissa very quickly, as well. Everything just snowballed from there. It's been an interesting year.
When you knew that you had to get a new singer, were you going to consider both male and female, or did you want to get another female lead?
I get asked that question a lot. I didn't even think about that. Alissa's name came up so quickly, literally in the same meeting when Angela told us. When Angela gave us her final notice, she urged us to continue. She knows how much we love the band, how much it means to us, how much we musically had, and that there's so much life left in this band. She knew all that. She just knew that it wasn't for her anymore. She urged us to continue. She herself suggested Alissa.
Alissa's name was just thrown in the mix right from the beginning. We said, yeah, that could possibly work. We knew her as a great singer and a great performer, and really didn't consider anybody else. It all happened very quickly. Alissa, I contacted her, and she was into the idea of coming over to Sweden, just trying it. She liked the idea. We both agreed that she just try this as soon as possible and get in the rehearsal room and jam on the old stuff, see what it sounds like with her voice on Arch Enemy's catalog stuff.
Also, we wrote some new music together. We jammed on stuff in the studio together when she was over in Sweden. It just all worked out very, very well. We thought Alissa makes a lot of sense on paper, let's try it. It worked out.
The word didn't get out that you had a new vocalist until you actually had the album in the can. How did you manage to keep all this under wraps for that whole time?
That was pretty crazy. Usually, you do so many updates on the studio. You take selfies as you're recording guitar solos in the studio. We just kept it very, very private. People have asked us, was it difficult keeping it a secret? I usually say, the best way to keep a secret is just not tell anybody. It actually worked.
We were recording videos, taking photo shoots. We did all kinds of stuff. We obviously were getting other people involved. We worked in studios and stuff like that as well. I thought it was going to leak, but it didn't. It's awesome that we kept control of that information in this day and age.
Was your songwriting process for ‘War Eternal’ pretty typical for an Arch Enemy album, or was anything different this time around?
It was actually quite different. Typically I write the lion's share of the music, but then we all work on it together. We collaborated as well. Definitely collaborated with Nick, the new guitar player. I went off to America in March last year and spent two weeks in the U.S. with Nick at his home studio, and came back home from that with five songs. That was the starting point of the new album, I guess. ‘War Eternal’ was one of the songs that came out of that.
I collaborated with Daniel, our drummer, as well. He's also a pretty solid guitar player himself. I like to put myself in different situations, working with different people.
Alissa is able to scream and sing. Was there any thought of incorporating more of the singing part of things, or do you want to stick to the screaming vocals?
I'd be lying if I say we didn't consider and talk to her about that. Just because you can do a few different things doesn't mean that you have to do it all the time. Arch Enemy has such an established style of having almost the guitars doing the singing and the vocals are heavy. Most of the melody comes from the guitar. It's overkill if you have additional melodies on vocal singing over it. We have an established style, I think.
Alissa obviously will continue to have those abilities to sing with different voices. I think she will continue to do so in other projects. Singing vocals are not really happening on ‘War Eternal.’ Who knows in the future where we go musically?
I try to be very open-minded about music. I don't like to be put in a box. I don't like rules. At the same time, I know what I like. We know what we like. We like to keep things very heavy and aggressive on the vocal side of things. ‘War Eternal’ is a very, very musical and intricate album, and a very interesting record. I think there's a lot going on, anyway.
One of the editions of the album has the Mike Oldfield song ‘Shadow on the Wall,’ which is probably not a song most metal fans are aware of. How did you guys decide to cover it?
I'm a big Mike Oldfield fan, and so is our bass player Sharlee. He had a lot of hits in Europe in the ‘80s when we grew up. He's got a very, very special and unique sound as a guitar player and a producer and a songwriter. He's done very long, epic works as well like ‘Tubular Bells,’ which most people know from ‘The Exorcist’ soundtrack. That was in the ‘70s. He wrote more pop/rock stuff as well in the ‘80s. I'd just always been a fan. He's a very, very special artist.
The way we like to do covers is, we took that song and totally took it apart and just looked at all the individual vocal lines, guitar lines, drum patterns. We tried to re-imagine it like these are riffs that we’ve come up with, and we’re just writing a new Arch Enemy song with these parts. That's why it sounds so different than the original. It's a complete abomination or genius, I don't know.
You've been playing some live shows. Are you playing any of your material from the new album yet?
Yes, three new songs in the set to start with. We'll take it from there. I'd like to play all of them at some point. I really like all of them at the moment.
When it comes to the older material, are you bringing in different songs to fit Alissa's style a little bit more?
We've actually got a very greatest hits-type set list right now because we're playing at a lot of festivals in Europe right now. We want to go in and present and show people that this is still Arch Enemy. We have a set of songs that we have to play, our standards, our hits. We're playing three new ones.
Both Alissa and Nick have their favorites. They've been growing up as fans of the band. Alissa's first metal CD that she bought was ‘Wages of Sin’ all those years ago. She has her favorites of our catalog. She's like, ‘Can we play this song or that song?’ We're like, ‘Yeah!’ It could be songs that we've never played live, ever. I think we're going to do more of that after we get into our headline tours.
In addition to the European festivals and shows, will you be coming to North America this year?
Yes. We're coming in October-November. It's a killer, killer package that I think will excite everybody who's into metal. The special guest slot [Kreator] is a band that I grew up listening to; influenced me in my early formative years.
Editor's Note: Shortly after this interview was conducted, Arch Enemy announced a North American tour with Kreator, Huntress and Starkill.
Last year, you released a new Spiritual Beggars album, ‘Earth Blues.’ What was the response to that?
It was better than expected. That band operates in a completely different level than Arch Enemy. It's a much, much smaller band, of course. It's something that I really, really enjoy. Our bass player in Arch Enemy plays in that as well, Sharlee. There's Apollo (Papathanasio, ex-Firewind) on vocals. It's just a great rock genre.
It allows me to write and perform in a totally different style, which is more like heavy rock-type stuff. It gets more ‘70s oriented. That's also something I really love. I like writing and performing in that style.
The reaction to the new album was very, very good actually. We've never done anything stateside. It's just more of a European thing. We also go to Japan and play shows with our band. We did a couple of smaller European tours and two visits to Japan. We also played a show in Mexico City. That's the closest we get to you.
You were back with Carcass for the reunion tours for a couple of years, but have since exited. Was it just time constraints with Arch Enemy that you couldn't be in two bands that size?
Yes. Arch Enemy is my vehicle for writing and performing, really. That's where I express myself musically. Carcass already has a main songwriter in Bill Steer. I see Arch Enemy as my future.
It's nice to see those guys have success with ‘Surgical Steel.'
Absolutely, yeah. I have not actually heard the album, but I know it's probably very, very good. I wish them nothing but the best.
Do you guys have anything else going on that you need to talk about?
Just that we’re definitely coming to the U.S. Looking forward to it. We haven't been in the U.S. since 2011. We toured in Europe and Japan and South Americain 2012. We took 2013 off, made a new album, and now we're back. It's already been three years. It's crazy. We are definitely looking forward to that.
Watch Arch Enemy's 'War Eternal' Video: