Arch Enemy will release their eleventh studio album, Deceivers, on the 12 August via Century Media. MetalTalk’s Dany Jones caught up with guitarist and founding member Michael Amott.
Amott is in London, mid-way through a brief promotional stint, having recently played a US Arch Enemy tour. “Yesterday we were in Berlin,” he says, “and tomorrow we’re in Paris. So it’s one of those whirlwind promo trips, but that’s cool. It’s exciting now, after everything that’s been happening in the last couple of years, being out meeting people. We just came back from North America. We did the tour. We played concerts for the first time in two and a half years. So it’s all back, and we feel great.”
Amott is half-British, with a sexy accent. “I have British and Swedish passports,” he says. “I grew up in Sweden for the most part. We spoke English at home, and then I spoke Swedish at school and with my friends. I think that was a good idea.”
A very skilled guitarist, Amott has a career of 30 years, and with Arch Enemy, they are celebrating a 25th anniversary. He was placed at number 74 on Guitar Worlds Top 100 Guitarist list.
“I’ve been decorated with a few awards,” he says. “I’ve won best guitar player of the year and things like that, and have a few of those from Japan. It’s cool to get these things, you know. It’s not the reason why I do this, though. I have had a passion since thirteen years old to play the guitar, and I never really developed any other hobbies along the way. I would ride my bicycle to the rehearsal room with a guitar gig bag on my back. It just kind of went from there. In many ways, I’m still that same person. Now I’m flying around the world or getting on a tour bus doing the same kind of thing. It’s just been a great journey, really. Music is still my passion and the self-expression part of it, with the guitar playing and the songwriting.”
Michael says there have been moments when he has felt like he had finally arrived, but he is a grounded man. “It’s easy to get spooked if you work yourself up too much. You can let nerves take over and get a bit anxious about playing certain big shows or things like that. I’ve had those moments where I look up from the stage, and I’m like, ‘wow.’ I’ve seen an ocean of people, and it’s being broadcast live on tv in Germany, and you realize that’s actually a pretty big moment. I try not to focus on that, though. Every show is kind of the same in a way, if it’s 300 people, or 30,000 or, in some cases, over 100,000 people at some of these festivals. My eyesight is not that great, so I can only see the first few rows. Then it’s all a blur.”
Arch Enemy were formed in 1995 by former Carnage members Amott and Johan Liiva, and while it might originally have been seen as a one-off project, it certainly exploded.
“I didn’t really know what it was going to become,” Amott says. “We made those choices, we found the band name, but we didn’t think that 25 plus years later, we would still be talking about this.”
The first album was Black Earth, released in ’96. “It came out on a very small label of a friend who, at the time, put it out in Sweden. But what happened was that he got it licensed to a Japanese label, and that label really built up the band there. We started touring there. We were the first Melodic Death Metal band that played in Japan. We became the biggest and remained the biggest band of that style over there. It’s been a very long relationship in that territory.”
The rest of the world did catch up, though. “It took a while,” Michael laughs. “In the beginning, in the ’90s, we’d play like quite large shows and concerts in Japan. Then we came back and played little basement venues in Germany, something at a youth centre or something with a couple of hundred people. Balancing that in those first few years was a bit weird.”
Michael still talks fondly about the Metal family in Japan. “I would say Japan is very dear to our hearts, and we owe them a lot. We’ve been worldwide for many years, but it’s always nice when somebody is going to give you that first chance, right? It just happened to be over there, so it’s cool.”
I describe Michael as a man of the pentatonic scale, particularly the Aeolian mode. “One of my favourite bands is UFO, and Michael Schenker uses a lot of that. My ears are tuned to that. I’m a self-taught musician, a self-taught guitar player, and I try to be very melodic. But, I like all kinds of music, and I love all kinds of players.”
In terms of style, there was a distinct plan for Arch Enemy from the very beginning. “I came from a more of a Death Metal background, when I formed Arch Enemy. I wanted to have those very high tempos, the double bass drum, very fast drumming, screaming vocals, lowered tuning of the guitars, and all the heaviness. But I also wanted to have high-quality guitar parts with melodies and harmonies and push that to the forefront.”
But with the balance and attention to great songwriting. “I wanted to write really great songs within that style of music, instead of just trying to impress people with how fast or how low and heavy you could be,” he says. “I wanted it also to be about good songs, and I think that’s what we continue to do to this day, just trying to write great songs.”
This is something I can totally relate to. Michael’s technique and ability are undeniable, but ultimately, people want to hear songs. They want to hear something that is memorable. With Deceivers, Arch Enemy will show the world that memorable songwriting is still in their lockers, as repeated listens show how crucial this is, as the album is absolutely excellent.
“Thank you, that’s cool,” Michael says. “I mean, that’s what we do. Songwriting is really my main interest nowadays, more so maybe than being a lead guitarist. It’s become more and more important to me, songwriting.”
Possibly this is the head of experience. “I’m really trying to be very minimalist,” Michael says. “I come from a background of, always in the past, trying to create very, you know, tricky and complicated guitar parts that other guitar players would be impressed by. I found myself moving away from that a little bit. I mean, we do have moments of that, which I think is also cool for the energy. You sometimes need really mind-blowing guitar things going on. But for the most part of it, I’m more interested in something that’s going to connect with people on an emotional level and usually, that’s something quite primal actually.”
At the turn of the century, vocalist Johan Liiva left Arch Enemy and was replaced by Angela Gossow. Was Michael concerned that it might have been a risk?
“At the time when Angela joined, it was not like a template for success,” he says. “It was not a recipe for having people liking your band or something like that. It was a little bit of a risk at the time, I guess, but it felt very exciting at the same time, too, because I knew what she could do. We were a much smaller band at the time, so we were just prepared to take that risk.”
But that is not just in the sense of replacing a male vocalist with a female one. “Changing a singer at any point in your career in a Metal band is a big thing, and at the time, there were not that many female singers doing it with that extreme vocal style. It was something different for sure,
but I think that was a big plus as well.”
Although there were challenges to overcome. “Some people didn’t like us because of that,” Michael says. “There are a lot of people that would never listen to Arch Enemy because we have a female singer still to this day. That’s just how it is, you know. I don’t really care about those kinds of things, [laughs]. In music, I don’t think it matters. I think it’s great. We have always been very open-minded about that. I think we all have in the band. It’s been a challenge in a way sometimes to deal with those issues. There were a lot of people who were kind of shocked in the beginning when Angela joined. But at the same time, we enjoyed it. We had fun with it.”
Angela Gossow certainly has a huge personality and a huge voice to back that up, and in my times as a DJ, Nemesis was one of my playlist staples.
“I never liked it when people saw it as a gimmick,” Michael says. “Sometimes you see bands, and they have [women] almost like models as the front person, but they’re not all successful anyway because the music maybe isn’t that great. You’ve got to have great songs, a great band and a great singer and a great, great total team. The full picture has to be great. I think at the heart of it, every position has to be a killer.”
2014, and Angela decided to take a step back from touring while remaining as the band’s manager, cherry-picking Alissa White-Gluz as her replacement.
“It was a very difficult time for us,” Michael says. “Angela had been in the band for over 12 years at that point, was very well established as the front person of the band and was the face of the band in many ways.”
Amott, drummer Daniel Erlandsson and bassist Sharlee D’Angelo met to discuss if they should fold the band. The consistent theme was that they all still wanted to play together. “Angela didn’t want us to quit,” Michael says. “She thought that Alissa would be a good replacement.”
Michael had been working on material for a new album, the follow-up to Khaos Legions.
“Alissa came over to Sweden,” Michael says. “I tried recording a little bit with her, some new demos. We wrote a little bit with her. She came to the rehearsal room that we had and sang the old material with us, and it just sounded great. Every aspect of it was really good. So that gave us the confidence to move forward, and then we went into the production of what became the War Eternal album.”
Amott spoke about his expectations for War Eternal. “I’ve said this in many interviews, but I personally thought that our popularity would drop for a little bit,” he says. “But I really believed in the album and the new lineup. I thought slowly, but surely we will pick up and kind of come back to where we were. But what happened was the opposite, basically. It just took off like a rocket into the sky, and the band became more popular than ever. It just goes to show that you never can tell what’s going to happen. The chemistry was right, the album was right, and the time was right, I guess.”
Alissa was no shrinking violet. A huge personality, stunning and with an amazing stage presence and such versatility in her vocals, from the melodic through to the death growls, you can easily experience why the performances would be so appealing to so many fans. As a band, it has been great.
“But, as a songwriter as well, it has been great,” Michael says. “To have that in the toolbox, with all the different voices that she can do, that is so great. Our main focus, I think, will always be on the heavier side of things, that’s just the natural sound for us to go to as about as a group, but to have these other tones and atmospheres that we can put into the music now… like in the first song on the new album, Handshake With Hell, we can use different parts, a completely different atmosphere and then bring it back to the heaviness. I think it’s cool. It’s a great dynamic to have.”
Deceivers, the third album with Alissa, is not a concept album but a consistent theme developed. “We noticed, when we were putting the record together, a few songs had this commonality,” Michael says. “Lyrics about masks and betrayal and stuff like that. So we just thought, why not? It sounds pretty good, I think.”
The Deceiver might be someone who presents a false image of themselves on social media or some politicians, and this is a theme which seems to run through today’s society. People who are “out for themselves or have their own agenda,” Michael says.
The creative process is interesting, with Michael and Daniel building up songs in Daniel’s home studio. “We then have a meeting, where we say ‘yes’ to every idea, even if it’s something different for us. Later we sift through everything and make some more difficult decisions. Putting it together musically is super fun and creative. We get a little bit more serious later on when turning it into real songs.”
Alissa worked on her demos in Canada, and then the band met together to fine-tune the vocal arrangements before entering the studio.
Michael has spoken before about how he shuts the world out and enters a deep artistic zone during the writing process. “This time, it was almost crucial for my mental health because, when we were making this album, there was so much negativity and uncertainty in the world. I really needed something to focus on, and I just stopped watching the news. It just seemed so hopeless. I think we all needed this project.”
The Sony music team in Berlin loved the new album, and four singles have been released, “a foreign concept to me to do this in Metal,” says Michael.
But, he has now changed his mind. “It’s been a very positive experience,” he says. “People have been more inclined to check out the songs on a deeper level than if they get everything at once. We certainly noticed it when we played in North America. We were playing Deceiver, Deceiver, Handshake With Hell, and House Of Mirrors, and people were singing along in the mosh pits. The recognition for those songs was huge.”
Arch Enemy play six festivals this year, and after the album is out, dates with Carcass follow. “I just saw Carcass play in California,” Michael says. “I’m still good friends with them. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
For now, with gigs, it feels like things are almost back to normal, with Amott back again standing up to play guitar. “I hadn’t been standing up playing guitar for a long time. I had been sitting down at the studio at home practising.”
Even the touring is a joy again. “I loved the social aspect as well,” Michael says, “you know, hanging out with my bandmates, with our crew or with the other groups and meeting the fans again. It was a readjustment to being such a social creature again, but I liked it. We had a great time and we feel very energized and ready to move forward.”
Arch Enemy will now release Deceivers on 12 August 2022.
Arch Enemy 2022 festival dates
Aug. 6, 2022 – Wacken, DE @ Wacken Open Air
Aug. 9, 2022 – Tel Aviv @ Bside Club
Aug. 12, 2022 – Turku, FI @ Knotfest
Aug. 14, 2022 – Kortrijk, BE @ Alcatraz Festival
Aug. 18, 2022 – Dinkelsbuehl, DE @ Summer Breeze Festival
Aug. 20, 2022 – Sulingen, DE @ Reload Festival
The European Siege 2022
Oct. 4, 2022 – Paris, FR @ Le Zénith
Oct. 5, 2022 – Toulouse, FR @ Le Bikini
Oct. 7, 2022 – Lisbon, PT @ Coliseu de Lisboa
Oct. 8, 2022 – Madrid, ES @ Palacio Vistalegre
Oct. 9, 2022 – Barcelona, ES @ Palau Sant Jordi
Oct. 11, 2022 – Lyon, FR @ Le Radiant
Oct. 12, 2022 – Milano, IT @ Alcatraz
Oct. 14, 2022 – Berlin, DE @ Columbiahalle
Oct. 15, 2022 – Prague, CZ @ Tipsport Arena
Oct. 16, 2022 – Budapest, HU @ Barba Negra
Oct. 18, 2022 – Vienna, AT @ Gasometer
Oct. 19, 2022 – Katowice, PL @ Spodek
Oct. 21, 2022 – Ludwigsburg, DE @ MHP Arena
Oct. 22, 2022 – Den Bosch, NL @ Mainstage Brabanthallen
Oct. 24, 2022 – Saarbruecken, DE @ Saarlandhalle
Oct. 25, 2022 – Zurich, CH @ Samsung Hall
Oct. 26, 2022 – Frankfurt, DE @ Jahrhunderthalle
Oct. 28, 2022 – Munich, DE @ Zenith
Oct. 29, 2022 – Düsseldorf, DE @ Mitsubishi Electric Halle
Oct. 30, 2022 – Hamburg, DE @ edel-optics.de Arena
Oct. 31, 2022 – Gothenburg, SE @ Partille Arena
Nov. 2, 2022 – Helsinki, FI @ Ice Hall
Nov. 4, 2022 – Stockholm, SE @ Annexet
Nov. 5, 2022 – Copenhagen, DK @ Forum
Nov. 6, 2022 – Oslo, NO @ Sentrum Scene