Arch Enemy interview (10/2003)
|With:||Michael Ammott [guitars]|
After leaving Carcass in 1994, guitarist Michael Amott (Who appeared on 1991's 'Necroticism - Descanting The Insalubrious', 1992's 'Tools Of The Trade' and 1993's 'Heartwork') wasted little time assembling a new group that would take his talents beyond the sound that typified Carcass' grindcore foundation.
With his guitarist brother Christopher Amott in tow, drummer Daniel Erlandsson and vocalist/bassist Johan Liiva soon joined the newly founded group Arch Enemy with Michael.
Their 1996 debut album 'Black Earth' was something of a cult favourite in the underground metal circles, while 1998's follow up 'Stigmata' helped propel the band closer to the centre stage spotlight.
1999 saw the introduction of Mercyful Fate bassist Sharlee D'Angelo into the fold, and also saw the release of 'Burning Bridges' (And 'Burning Japan Live 1999'). The album truly established the name Arch Enemy, with both fans and critics alike placing the album high within the years 'Album Of The Year' polls.
No sooner had Arch Enemy reached an all time high, it was decided Liiva needed to be removed from the equation.
While speculation grew as to who would be an ideal replacement, the group surprised and shocked many with the introduction of unknown German vocalist Angela Gossow in 2001. The album 'Wages Of Sin', released the same year, was hailed as the group's finest effort to date, and surpassed all expectation from detractors and fans alike.
After several tours over the last couple of years, Arch Enemy have released their fifth, and most experimental studio release to date in 'Anthems Of Rebellion'.
In what is supposed to be a leisurely week off, I managed to catch up with the extremely busy Michael Amott at home in Sweden to talk up the new Arch Enemy album 'Anthems Of Rebellion'.
"There has been a long line of people wanting to speak to us in regards to 'Anthems Of Rebellion', but that's a good thing I guess. Put it this way, we're not complaining. I would say the promotion and interest behind 'Anthems Of Rebellion' is well beyond the interest we had with 'Wages Of Sin'. It's been great. I think we established ourselves with 'Wages Of Sin'. There was a greater awareness of the band, which in turn has led to a high anticipation of this album. It's all part of the plan I guess! (Laughs)"
'Wages Of Sin' certainly put the name Arch Enemy onto the metal map, but one has to wonder if there was and pressure from Century Media Records or from themselves to follow up with something even more astounding.
"No, not really. It wasn't really like that. I think that most of the pressure comes from ourselves, because we're always trying to raise the bar musically, lyrically, as well when it comes to production values. I think everybody knows that we have a lot of quality control within the band. We were just left to our own devices to come up with a really good album. The way that we write the music just kind of flows out of jam sessions. It's not really a premeditated or contrived process. It's more like a free kind of process really. It comes together very easily. We're just making metal the way we think it ought to be. It shouldn't be about high-pitched vocals singing about killing dragons, or nu-metal's speeches about a shitty childhood. We play metal the way we perceive real metal should sound like in the new millennium! (Laughs) This is our mission. I'm not about to say we're right or wrong, but this is what we feel is right, and I think we do it well."
Century Media Records are certainly happy with the reaction to Arch Enemy's 'Anthems Of Rebellion'. Rather than just becoming a big seller, the album has proven to be the fastest selling title the label has ever released to date!
"(Laughs) I don't know what that means, butů It's a great feeling of course. To have that kind of fan base, the kind that rushes out to have the album as soon as it's released is great. We have a very loyal fan base, and we try to look after them as much as possible. Hopefully we'll be meeting our Australian fans next year."
'Anthems Of Rebellion' can hardly be labelled as a 'Wages Of Sin' sequel. Instead the band has progressed, not only their song writing, but also with a distinctly crisper production and vocal delivery from Angela Gossow.
"That's right. I think we tried to bring out more clarity in her vocals. It just came naturally to begin with. After touring with us for the whole of last year, you find that you don't have that clarity in the live setting. It's a bit messier within the live situation. We didn't really know just how much she had progressed until we started tracking the vocals for this new album. You can really hear everything she's saying, even though it's that kind of a growling type of voice. There's still some clarity there. We just tried to enhance that and bring that out even more. I think that's a really good thing. If you can hear the words, it takes it to the next level! (Laughs) I guess you could also say that the difference between Angela's vocals between the two albums also comes down to a production thing. We tried to keep the whole thing pretty clean, with a lot less effects on the vocals. Reverb, in particular. We tried to make it sit more with the music, rather than having it rest somewhere in the background. I think that's a normal extreme metal thing to do. The vocals are more like an instrument, like any other instrument in the band. On this album, we wanted to do more that just make it an instrument. We wanted to make this more like a classic album, where the vocals are like the main focus of the album, and the words are really in your face. That was the concept behind the album really."
While it's obvious, there also subtle changes to Arch Enemy's lyrical approach to 'Anthems Of Rebellion'.
"I think when we started writing and compiling the lyrics, both Angela and myself were writing separately. We were both in completely different headspaces when writing our own words. When we started compiling it all, we found that the theme that ran through a lot of the songs was kind of pro-individualistic, a sort of anti-conformist type vibe to them. That's when we thought that the tracks that didn't fall into the same theme needed to be pushed a little more into that direction, so that way there's a thread that runs through the album. I wouldn't call it a concept album, because I think that's kind of pretentious. We're not ready to take it to the full Spinal Tap version of Arch Enemy yet! (Laughs) I don't think people are quite ready for that yet! (Laughs) There's definitely a thread that runs through the album. I think the lyrics are a little more rooted in personal and real sort of issues, rather than last time around. I think that comes from a lot of the travel and experiences we've had as a band over the last couple of years."
When I mentioned that the lyrical stance that the band has made on this album is perhaps a little more straight forward and understandable than ever before in the past, Michael agreed to some extent.
"I don't know if that is a good or a bad thing, but it's simply the way it has come out. We didn't really plan it that way. I like it though. I like keeping the lyrics simple. I wanted them to be sort of reflective of the mood of the music, that way people will be able to understand them. When you look at the lyrics on a lot of metal albums, the bands have obviously been going through the rhyming dictionary and come up with the toughest words to use. They're generally words that you wouldn't normally otherwise use because they're not only long, but also complicated. Lyrics like that can be cool as well, but I would rather have a message that simple, as well as moving and emotional."
The lyrical stance on 'Anthems Of Rebellion' also tries in nicely with the cover artwork of the individual trying to break free from the pack.
"A lot of the lyrics deal with a faceless sort of person that is thinking very much within the box, and the whole booklet kind of follows within that certain mould. There's a song on the album called 'Dead Eyes See No Future', which is basically about the atrocities of war I guess. But I tried to write it from the perspective of soldiers being sent home in body bags. It's about going out there to fight when you thought joining the army was just a career or a job. Suddenly they're put into a real war situation and you're not really sure what it's all about. It's not anti-war based. It's just simply describing that situation of not really knowing why you're doing it in the first place. That's a pretty extreme situation of not knowing why you're there."
As with all Arch Enemy albums, 'Anthems Of Rebellion' also features the short instrumental numbers 'Marching On A Dead End Road' and 'Anthem'.
"We've always had a few things like that on the albums in the past. I've always liked the short kind of interludes. Maybe they're not that popular these days, but if you look at old Black Sabbath albums, they always had little things like that on them. I've always liked that kind of atmosphere. In a band like Arch Enemy, we obviously don't have the dynamics or impact of the big ballad! (Laughs) We work within a very extreme music format, and having these little instrumental moments kind of brings things down and adds dynamics and drama to the album. Then we can pick things up and hit people over the head again! (Laughs)"
Another almost instrumental piece is the albums opening chant 'Tear Down The Walls'.
"That turned out really cool. I had that rhythm for some time, and when we laid it down for the album, we were never really sure if it was going to work in the end. As it turned out, it worked really well. Basically it sounded just like I wanted it to. It sounds like a mass of people chanting away! (Laughs) We also recently remixed it, and we're using it as a live into to our shows. So that's working out really cool as well."
Although 'Anthems Of Rebellion' is a highly regarded album from most critics, there's a certain contingent that seem to be dismayed at Christopher's melodic vocal presence of two of the albums obvious controversial tracks, 'End Of The Line' and 'Dehumanization'.
"We decided to add Christopher's vocal in a couple of songs just to add a different flavour. And when we realised that he could sing in that style, we ended up thinking that we had another instrument within the band. It all came about from some recordings that Chris had been making on his own. I don't thing Christopher even realised before making those recordings on his own that he could sing. He just tried it, and it sounded really cool. That's how we found out. It was a bit of a shock to everyone really. We decided to add it in a couple of places, but it really isn't the main focus of the album. The main vocals will always be Angela's brutal vocal style. It's primarily there to mix things up a little."
Some people have suggested that it could be a sign of things to come later down the track for Arch Enemy, with both the said songs being on the tail end of the album. Michael is quick to disregard the comments and speculation.
"Well, I couldn't really tell you if that would be the case or not. We certainly don't know what is going to happen in the future, so people shouldn't be concerned about that either."
One of the albums rather nifty additions is the inclusion of a bonus audio D.V.D. component featuring three live tracks recorded on last years 'Wages Of Sin Campaign' tour, and three of the albums tracks ('Exist To Exit', 'Leader Of The Rats' and 'Dead Eyes See No Future') mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes.
"That was actually an idea our producer Andy Sneap came up with. He was actually mixing a live D.V.D. for some band whose name escapes me, and he had recently acquired the technology equipment to do that surround sound mixes. So anyway, he pitched the idea if we were interested in doing surround sound mixes on some of our studio material. We said sure, and that's as simple as it was. I think it turned out quite cool. Obviously it's not something for everybody, because not everybody has the facility to truly enjoy the full experience. But for those that can, I think it's a cool bonus."
As you would expect, touring plans for Arch Enemy will be extensive off the back of 'Anthems Of Rebellion'. Although it's primarily on been pencilled in so far, a tour of Australia is on the cards sometime in the future.
"We just did two weeks in America right on top of the albums release. We did a headlining tour, even if it was a short one. That was exciting, and great to play out there again for our hard-core fan base with a new album behind us. We're just about to head out for Europe for three weeks with Nevermore. They're good friends of ours, and we really like the music they make, so that's going to be a lot of fun. And straight after that, we return to America for another seven weeks with Slayer. That's going to be huge for us! (Laughs) I don't know how the crowd will react to us, but it will certainly be interesting. I think it will freak some of those people out, especially those who don't know we have Angela in the band. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. And I think musically we are right in the pocket. We have a lot of brutality and speed. As for Australia, it will happen sometime in the near future. We get e-mails every day from people who hassle us to come down. We aim to please, so it's definitely part of the plan."
I would like to thank Michael Amott for his generous time, and for Andrew Haug at Century Media Records for making the interview possible.
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