Arch Enemy - Strikes Hard And Rooting Back
By: Ofir Messer
Interview With: Angela Gossow & Christopher Amott, Arch Enemy
It's not everyday that you get to talk to two members of your favorite band, but who am I to complain when that band is Arch Enemy. This Swedish band, one of the elite of melodic death metal bands in recent years continues to surprise again and again with its aggressive songs and endless energies. A serious part of that success comes from Angela Gossow, a top-notch metal vocalist from Grmany that growls for the band for more than 7 years now. She may not be the first female vocalist to growl, but she - along with her band members, is considered a breakthrough in that field, and an inspiration for many other female vocalists that were afraid to show that they too can fit in the metal world.
Guitarist Christopher Ammot is brother to Michael Ammot, the band's other guitarist and he's also one of its founders. He is not new comer in metal, and has been playing guitar for 15 years now. After a 2 year hiatus, he came back to the band exactly in time to record its new album, "Rise Of The Tyrant", which brings the band back to its roots and should turn out to be another stepping stone for it. A short time before their 4 months tour, I caught up with the two band members for a (separate) conversation about the new album, vacations, naked chicks, gigging, recording and what not. So, take a deep breathe and read away, it's going to be interesting...
Hello Angela, how are you today?
Angela: Very stressed, because I'm flying out on Sunday, and I'm going to be on the road for 4 months. So I'm trying to pack my stuff. We just shot 2 videos, from Tuesday to Thursday, and today I'm trying to get my shit ready.
Speaking of the 2 videos you've shot, what can you tell us about them?
Angela: We shot them with Patric Ullaeus, who's done videos for In Flames and Lacuna Coil, in Sweden's Gothenburg. One video we have done for "Revolution Begins", it was in an outside location, with stones and desert basically, a lot of Pyro effects. It was very cool. Dani [Erlandsson, Drums] got his hair-burned, and I got some burn marks on my arm [Laughs]... So there was a lot of fire. The other video is for "I Will Live Again" and this was done in a studio. We're going to have a side-story and a lot of effects on this one. We shot it in front of a green screen so there going to be a big story and what not.
You had 3 appearances recently in England and Germany. How does it feel to get back on stage after such a long, or actually, short break you took?
Angela: They were the first shows with Christopher and it felt good, you know, going back out and actually playing live. We have done so much promotional stuff, so it got a bit boring just talking about music. Being in a band is really about playing it live, and I think we still got the chops [Laughs] despite having a break for six months. Also, it feels that Christopher has never been out of the band, so it feels usual and very familiar.
Christopher: It feels good, we played a small show in London, in a small club, and then we did a festival, the day after. So they were my first 2 shows after my 2 years break, it was fun to be back on stage, playing metal again, because I haven't done it this past 2 years. The shows were a bit shaky for me [Laughs]... The guys haven't been playing a lot recently, so we all were kind of nervous, but I think it went pretty well. The crowd was good. We had some technical problems but you know, in general it was a success.
Christopher, didn't you prefer more intimate warm-up shows than these?
Christopher: Well the first show was pretty intimate, but you can't really choose, you have to just get in there. But it was Ok for me. it's just fun to play.
Getting to your new record, "Rise of the Tyrant", I understand there is a lot of excitement coming out of the Arch Enemy camp about it, declaring it's the "ultimate Arch Enemy album!!!"... What makes it your ultimate album so far in comparison to your previous releases?
Angela: I think that every Arch Enemy album is Arch Enemy, because we've recorded it. It's usually Magazines that give titles like this because it [The new album] gets back to the early sound of Arch Enemy, with albums like "Burning Bridges" and "Wages Of Sin". It's very complex, extremely guitar driven, there's a lot of parts in the songs and it's less over accessible than what we did on our last two ones. I guess that's what a lot of people love in Arch Enemy, and that's what I think it's about: a lot of crazy guitar parts - and there's plenty on this album, so I guess that's the true Arch Enemy sound.
Christopher: I think we really have the sound and original style on this album. We tried to experiment on the last two, but here we're really doing what we do best, a lot of harmonies and solos. Basically the songs are really good this time, because we spent a lot of time working on the arrangements and preparing. We recorded the whole album twice actually; we did a pre-production, so we were very well prepared.
Angela, from what I've read from your studio updates, you were the one who came up with the concept for "Rise of the Tyrant", both as an album, and title-track. Can you shed more light on the name and what's behind it?
Angela: Yeah, well those were the last lyrics I wrote, for the song "Rise of the Tyrant", and Michael [Amott, Guitar - Christopher's brother] just thought it was a very strong title. We were thinking about a title for a long time, and couldn't come up with something, because we like big and outstanding album titles, and we wanted the album title to give some ideas about the music and the material that's on the album. We had "Wages of Sin", "Anthems of Rebellion" and "Doomsday Machine" and look at this title - "Rise of the Tyrant" - it works on a lot of levels, it works musically and also lyrically and it sounds very big, like "that's an album that rises up, big and powerful", and that's why we decided to use it as the title track, and title the album with it. You know, it's always been themes of Arch Enemy, talking about Rebellion, Tyranny, Megalomaniacs and the abuse of power, War - we got a lot of war lyrics as well - It feels like a concept, so that's why we decided at the end to use it as album title. But [originally], I wrote it as a song title only.
How does this song ["Rise of the Tyrant"] connect to the rest of the tracks in the album, concept-wise?
Angela: Well we have put a soundtrack part at the beginning, with Caligula speaking to the Senate and declares himself as god, and there's plenty of song on the new album like "Blood on Your Hands", "In This Shallow Grave" and "The Day You Died" - Those are songs about war, and war is the ultimate abuse of power, and it kind of plays it in. You've got Caligula and you've got modern Megalomaniacs as well, up to this day - it's very old human history. But then we got songs like "Revolution Begins" which is the opposite, so it sits in with the context that Arch Enemy was always thinking about "Enemy's Threat", it goes on most songs lyrics, this underline feeling of power abuse.
You also took more direct approach with your voice this time than with what you did on "Doomsday", using only a one-vocal-track. What made you change your perspective about doubling vocals?
Angela: I've been playing around with a lot of effects, because it was very exciting getting into the studio. Pro-tools had a real strong variety and there are a lot of cool effects you can use for the voice, but ultimately I grew tired of this. That played well for me on the first 3 records of Arch Enemy because I got excited, and every time I went to the studio I was like "Oh my god, all this new stuff... I can try this and I can try that" - but now I just want to do music that would be honest and with a direct approach. I played enough with effects on the last 3 albums and this time I just wanted to have it striped down, and be me.
Also there are many people that say "I only heard the effects, and that was crap" - and I just want to shut up those people, this time it's really me [Laughs]... there are no effects and playing around. So I think it will silence a lot of people who had their doubt in the last couple of years. That's a very nice approach on this record, everything is live. I've done it all, I tried every kind of effect on my voice, and now there are no effects at all so it's cool.
Michael was actually the one who produced your vocal lines. Was it because of his familiarity with your abilities or was it for other reasons?
Angela: No, it's just that he has done it the last couple of times as well. Its the way we work in the studio, because Fredrik [Nordstrom, producer] is already there from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, and we wanted to continue working the whole evening. I'm so sure of my vocals that I don't really need a producer feeling there, I just need an engineer, and Michael is a great engineer, so when Fredrik left, he just kept on recording my vocals. So we worked until 10 in the evening, when we couldn't use the studio much more and that was really for practical reasons.
Since "Wages of Sin", you worked with such a major producer as Andy Sneap. What made you go back to Fredrik Nordstrom who worked with you on that album?
Angela: I think that we wanted to give him another chance, because we had a really bad "ending" with "Wages of Sin", since he was Anti-me as a vocalist, and he kind of let the other band members know. We haven't been in touch since then, or friends, but when we wanted to record an album, we thought who can we work with, because its bad if we work with a producer for too long, with one sound, you get tired of that. So we decided to record with Fredrik again because we had a bad ending and it would have been nice to end it on a good note instead. The material is very melodic as well, and we thought that Fredrik could be a good producer for this very melodic stuff. We kind of knew but at the same time, didn't knew, how it would work... it was too much of an extreme change as well. But yeah, we just wanted it to end on the good note.
Christopher: We had Andy Sneap, he's a great guy and he has his special sound, but we just thought that with the new album we want a change, and change of environment, so we decided to try Fredrik's new studio which is out on the country side, in Sweden. We actually lived and stayed at the studio. We were much focused; it was a good set-up to record an album. Besides, Fredrik's roots are more 80s hard rock, while Andy Sneap is more of a Thrash metal guy. It kind of shows at the way they produce, Fredrik really pushes the melody in the forefront, while Andy is more focused on the rhythms.
Angela, now that Christopher got back with Arch Enemy, how was working with him again?
Angela: It was good, because he was very positive when he rejoined the band; he was actually excited to record an album and he obviously would be, because he was eager to bring some of his stuff in it. He was very productive and rehearsing a lot, and I think he put some really good parts on the songs. He was really up for it, and that was good to get somebody in the band who was really excited... [Laughs]... to be there... Obviously, he also recorded the last album but on "Doomsday Machine" he was just leaving the band so it was bad attitude, really, he hasn't been excited the last time. But now we had good atmosphere.
Are you still in touch with Fredrik Åkesson [Who replaced Christopher on Guitar for the last 2 years]?
Angela: Of course, we are still good friends. He's got a new good band, so we don't suffer from a bad conscience anymore. He said "Whatever happens, and if you ever need a stand-in guitar player again, you just need to call me" - And we said "Of course". We're good friends, there's no bad blood at all.
Christopher, how was it, recording with your brother and the rest of the band together again in the studio?
Christopher: It's like I've never been away. They haven't done any albums without me, so that's good. It worked pretty smoothly, and I was pretty well prepared, I was very happy to be back to recording, with a lot of energy. It was a lot of fun to record this album, the solos and everything. It's great.
What have you actually been doing these past 2 years?
Christopher: I was supposed to study, but I was a music teacher for a year, studied a bit philosophy at the university, and I played. I had a trio who played 70s blues-rock covers, me, a bass player and a drummer, while I did the singing, and we played in local pubs. I did a little bit of traveling, went to Portugal, and that was fun. Basically, I was doing this and that.
Didn't you miss the thrill of performing all over the world?
Christopher: Of course, that's why I came back. I needed a break to do something else for a while, because I was fed up from touring, but then after a while I felt the itching and wanted to get back and play metal, this level which we do here, touring all over the world, hang out with the guys and playing with them. So at the beginning of this year I felt that I could return, and be 100% focused. I practiced guitar for 15 years, and I should have been out playing instead of doing something else, and that's what I'm doing.
Angela, this past year you also participated in some other projects, including the new Annihilator album, Astarte, and you're also collaborating with our own Amaseffer. First, how was doing something different than with Arch Enemy? Did recording for these bands gave you new experiences?
Angela: Not really, but because I was staying at home a lot for the last couple of months, it was good to keep on recording stuff, I like doing this. It's good for these bands since Arch Enemy and my name are quite popular so I guess it's good for the band's promotion, and for me it's just fun, to be there and help people out with their records. I just do it for fun really.
Since our Israeli friends like to keep secrets, how did you come by to collaborate with Amaseffer and how did it go for you?
Angela: Oh well it was quite simple, because they just sent me an MP3 of their material and I recorded at home - I got a little home recording studio. Obviously because they are from Israel, I never met these guys in my life. I don't know when they are going to release it because their original singer [Andy Kuntz] left during the recording, so they actually had to find a new one...
... They already did find one, Mats Levin.
Angela: Ah yeah, he sang on the Krux [One of Mats's numerous bands, with Fredrik Åkesson on guitar] albums, and he's actually from Sweden as well... Yeah, it's a small family. Well, today it's easier to contribute some death vocals; it's all over the internet [Laughs]... or by email. I think that the final result would actually turn out great... Have you heard them? They are very progressive.
Only a sample, since they keep everything secret.
Angela: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, it's top secret.
Back to "Rise of the Tyrant", from first impression I can definitely say it goes back to the days of "Wages of Sin" with many great melodic lines, but also much more aggressiveness. What made you do this sort of throw-back, rather than continue what you developed with "Anthems" and "Doomsday"?
Angela: I think it's just something we have preferred. There are so many bands looking for the modern sound and I think that people got really tired of it, of over-produced keyboard driven stuff. You know, honest Rock and Metal should be with guitars only and that’s what we wanted to bring back, that's what Arch Enemy is really about. Especially with Chris coming back, its just the brothers, a lot of guitar harmony, lots of solos and that's what makes metal cool - not all the synthesizers and new bullshit that has taken over, and especially with a lot Swedish bands trying to sound American, we're so bored with that. We just want to sound really Swedish... [Laughs]... really European, and really basic metal. That's what guitars is all about. No compromise, no stupid clean vocals and all this crap, we just want to be pure fucking metal. Fuck all this pop death metal! [Laughs]... I'm so tired of that, everybody is cutting their hair short and having this Keyboard player on stage. That's not metal.
...But on the other hand, you also used some new ideas on "Tyrant", like this old-school synthesizer atmospheric intro for "I Will Live Again" or the choir you used for "The Great Darkness" - How did those ideas come by?
Angela: We got Per Wiberg who also plays with Opeth and has been on Spiritual Beggars, Michael's other band. He got all these really old Synthesizers and instruments, and he just brought it along to the studio and played on our album. That's definitely retro, I think it's very cool, but of course he is not going to be a touring member, so that's not going to be there live. That's just to spice things up, but that's no more than a very oldschool sound that he plays. Even though he plays in Opeth now, he always comes in, because he really likes Arch Enemy. But then, that's not the key element in our songs, the key element is guitar, and I think that's never going to change...
...So no orchestral album for you?
Angela: No, no, absolutely not.
Tyrant's cover artwork seems very... disturbing and kind of organic, unlike everything you've done before, which was more futuristic and mechanic - What can you tell us on that? What was the concept behind it?
Angela: It fits the music, which is more Organic, and more back to the roots. We just thought that "Rise of the Tyrant" is a very brutal title, so we wanted to have this raw paint cover. What Niklas Sundin did, turned out great, I think it really fits together with the sound of the album and all that. We wanted to have a whole package; it's like a big artwork, it all blends together, the cover, the artwork, the booklet, the music and they way it sounds. I think the cover gives a pretty good idea about the music and represent it as well as a group of death metal on it... [Laughs]... But very honest and full of metal. It looks a little bit oldschool and that's what we wanted.
Christopher, I wanted to know how you and Michael turned out to be guitarists on a similar music area. When and how did you start playing guitar?
Christopher: Michael is older than me, so he started playing before me, naturally. When he joined Carcass, I was young back then, and I was into Carcass and liked what they were doing since he played me their stuff. When I grew-up, I borrowed one of his guitars and started playing, working on stuff of my own and playing along with albums. I'm pretty much self-taught, although I went to music school, but the things I play now, I learned on my own.
You and Daniel also play in a band called Armageddon. Why did you form it in the first place, and what is the situation with the band right now?
Christopher: Armageddon doesn't exist anymore. That was a project I had, it was something like my "solo albums" but had pretty different styles. I decided to call it Armageddon because It was easier to get a record deal, and more recognizable for the fans. If I do some solo stuff in the future, it won't be called Armageddon, I let that name go.
Do you remember the time when your former vocalist was out of the band, and the decision to recruit Angela came on board. Who suggested it and how did you feel about her voice and herself when you first met her?
Christopher: Angela sent a tape over, and she had a video tape from a live performance and a demo, and I was pretty impressed because she looked pretty cool on stage, [she was] very confident and a good front person. Her voice was very powerful so we thought it would be cool to have her singing. We really didn't think of it as having a girl, we just wanted a good front person, who wasn't famous and was not in a band, so she sounded like a good choice. We were pretty sure about what we were doing.
Angela, I guess my next question you've been asked many years ago, but since we're interviewing you for the first time, and there might be 2 readers that doesn't know you [shame on you!], can you tell us how you were recruited into Arch Enemy? If you can remember...
Angela: [Laughs]... Yeah, I haven't heard that question for a long time. Well I got in touch with Arch Enemy because I was writing for a magazine back then as well, and I interviewed them actually, during the "Burning Bridges" tour, when they played a show in the Germany. So I gave them one of the demo tapes from my old band Mistress because we were looking for a support slot, opening for bands when they come on the road - like every other underground band out there, you just pass on demo tapes, and say: "if you guys ever need an opening act, please contact us!"...[Laughs]... Yeah, so they got the demo tape, but then they were looking for a singer, since Johan ['Liiva' Axelsson, ex-Vocalist] left. They were listening to the demo tape, heard that I had an extreme voice, so they invited me for an audition to get the job. I took off to Sweden, and I met them and recorded one song with them at the studio, and they said: "It sounds great, do you want to join us?" and I was like "Ok.... Sure....." [Laughs]... But I didn't know what was in it for me, because Arch Enemy wasn't a big band back then. But they obviously became a big band when I joined, and suddenly they started touring a lot - that was a little bit frightening for me.
What do you remember from your early days as Metal Reporter? Do you miss doing it?
Angela: Well of course, a lot of my best memories were from when I interviewed Arch Enemy and also Morbid Angel - these interviews were very funny, but it also was very very nervous to me, because I was such a big fan of these guys and I was extremely nervous and excited. Now days, I understand that some people are still very nervous when they meet us, they are shaking, or they look pale, and they can hardly ask the questions, but I understand why because I felt like this as well back when I started out - I was so excited to meet my idols really, I was such a fan of these extreme bands. Oh, but the best interview was with Rockbitch, you know the band?
I'm not sure...
Angela: They are from England, 5 women that play naked - they do a whole freakish show on stage. So when I was interviewing them, they just released an album, and they were all basically naked; the singer who I was interviewing, she wore only a jacket, with no pants on and no bra... I thought it was quite funny to see all these guys, they were totally irritated because they could hardly keep their eyes straight, and they were starring at their pus** and all that... [Laughs]... That was the funniest interview I've ever done - they were a bunch of naked women....
Well, I still haven't interviewed them!
Angela: [Laughs]... Oh, well I think they are no longer active, which is a shame, because they were very interesting... [Laughs]... But definitely it was my best interview.
[Laughs]... Back to business. You [Angela] said before that making an album is just an excuse for a band to continue doing shows. Well, after conquering almost the entire world, from Japan to Ozzfest and Australia... Is there any place you would really want to visit and still haven't?
Angela: Oh yeah, there are a lot of places we missed out, especially in Europe, we haven't played in eastern Europe at all, and we've never been to Greece, which is blasphemy because we got a huge fan base over there. But actually we're going to go on the road for 4 months now and we're actually going to play Beijing, China, for the very first time, and I'm really excited about that. I've never been to China and I think it's going to be crazy. So I'm very much looking forward to that.
Christopher: Well it's not an excuse for us, I mean, that's what I enjoy the most, doing the albums, but I enjoy playing live as well. We try to make as good albums as possible and we put a lot of work in them. I actually haven't been to Australia; I'll go there later this year, during our tour. We also never played in Greece, Turkey, Israel of course, and Poland, there's a lot of countries we haven't been in.
Christopher, after all these years of playing, how do you keep on writing new material?
Christopher: its fun, you try to keep fresh ears, so I don't listen to any current Metal bands, I don't really pay attention to what they bring, and so I just write stuff that feels good to me. But it's also good to take a break sometimes, not playing a guitar.
Angela, how do you keep yourself excited each time when starting your routine of making a record, doing concerts and taking a break? Aren't you getting tired?
Angela: No.... I don't know, that's just what we do, I mean, there isn't another alternative really. When we go back home, after one week, I'm like "Ok, this is getting really boring", so I rehearse and write some new songs. I think that you're driven if you're a musician; you get bored when you can't play music, and you just want to keep on going. Yeah, of course you get tired from touring, but after a week at home, you slept enough and you just want to get out there really. Being at home gets really really boring.
But on your break, did you manage to have some free time to take a real vacation?
Angela: Yeah, but when I actually get back home from traveling, if I want to recover, I just stay home, because going on a vacation again, to travel, that's just like work for me, so I just stay home for a week and then start to do stuff again. I never travel for a vacation really, because I've been up and everywhere with the band. So when I want to chill I just stay home, where I cook and I eat a lot, but then I notice that I get fat, and I need to get out again... [Laughs]
How long do you see yourself doing it?
Angela: I don't know, as long as I'm in it, for how much that says, when I don't know if I can do it. Obviously it depends if you have health problems and you must get off the road, but I'm still very young and strict, so I think I can still do it for a while, maybe for another 10 years... I don't know... it's hard to decide since you can never know what happens tomorrow. It's just hard to plan your life ahead for this long, I think. A lot people do that, and they save a lot of money, and then they get ran over by a car the next day, and its all for nothing, so I don't really plan ahead, I just live my life at a day, and try to enjoy it every day, and try to do something fun every day. You never know, life can be shorter than what you think, so I never plan ahead.
Please bear with me for this next one... It is well known Arch Enemy has a strong fan-base, but I keep getting amazed to see how much each of you invests in it, by doing constant updates or keeping in touch on your Website or MySpace pages. And on a personal note, I wanted to know how do you manage to keep doing it while being under busy schedules or especially after a concert where you stay on stage for a couple of minutes, shaking hands, smiling, giving flowers? Do you have a supply of Energy Drinks in your pocket?
Angela: [Laughs]... No, it just takes a lot of patience. I mean, it takes up a lot of time, especially answering all my MySpace messages but its basically a very personal contact. I think it's very rewarding, because these people believe in us, and they make sure that we can live of our music, so we dedicate every free minute we have to our fans. You would think it's impossible to live from playing such an extreme music, and we always take it for granted, so we try to give back as much as we can, and we don't have any free time... [Laughs]... besides that, but I think it's very rewarding, I don't mind that really. I put every minute into the band and so do the other guys in the band - and if I'm having a free minute I'll just answer another question so... yeah I think its fun, and I think our fans deserve it.
Christopher, when you and Michael first started the band, did you expect it to become as big and as popular as it is now? Would you have taken it to other directions if you could?
Christopher: No. I think, whatever we have done, made us what we are now. Of course we didn't expect anything. It was just a project at the beginning, then we had the opportunity to go to Japan, opening for Cathedral, and it just took off from there. After we came back from Japan, we thought... Ok, we need an album, just as an excuse to go to Japan again, because that was fun. After that it sort of developed into what it is now.
Angela, do you think there are some goals you haven't achieved yet with Arch Enemy, music-wise or with your career?
Angela: Oh yeah... Get rich! [Laughs]... I don't know really. We just want to keep do what we do. It's hard because obviously the album sales drop since a lot of people download the albums, but when we go on and tour, I just hope that more people come to the show and support us this way, so we can keep on doing what we do best, which is playing metal. I just hope that people keep on liking us, and see us live.
I'm sure they will... Well, that's it for the interview. Any final words for your loyal fans in Israel?
Christopher: I hope you will check "Rise of the Tyrant", and like it. If you liked Arch Enemy before, you're definitely going to love this one, it got good guitar playing, and it's very much in our style. I hope we can get to your country one day and play a show.
Angela: I would love to play in Israel actually, since we haven't done that yet. It seems to be a bit easier now. I've seen a couple of bands that are coming over, especially Opeth, so yeah, I just really hope to play for you guys one day live, I hope we can come over.... I'm sure there's a big metal scene over there. I've never been there, and I think it's a real shame. I really hope to see your beautiful country one day, that would be fantastic... And I hope that you'll contact us when we come... [Laughs]
Be sure I will... Well thanks for your time, have a nice evening.
Christopher: Thank you very much!
Angela: Thanks for your support! Bye.