The demise of CARCASS in the mid-nineties spawned a metal beast known then by only the most dedicated underground metal fans in ARCH ENEMY. Fast forward to 2008, ARCH ENEMY are one of the most popular and well-recognized bands of metal today. Powered by the band’s unwavering work ethic, not to mention the guitar wizardy of brothers Michael and Chris Amott, and the prowess of singer Angela Gossow, ARCH ENEMY have birthed their latest (and perhaps finest hour), Rise of the Tyrant. APESHIT caught up with Michael Amott on the last night of their Fall U.S. tour with MACHINE HEAD to examine the band’s rise to the top and dissect the secret to their success.
APESHIT: How’s the tour going?
Michael: This is the last show of the U.S. part. We started five or six weeks ago, and it’s been great. We’ve gotten along great with MACHINE HEAD, THROWDOWN, and SANCTITY. Nice friendly atmosphere and great shows, good crowds. It’s been a pretty good tour…a nice way for us to kick off the album. The album wasn’t out for the first three weeks we were over here but then it dropped. So it’s cool to be here working it out every night now that the album is out.
APESHIT: The tour got off to bad start when the House of Blues (Anaheim) show got moved to a different venue because of a last minute cancellation due to phasing out metal acts by Disney, right?
Michael: That didn’t really affect us. It was still a sold out show. Yeah, it was fucked up what happened, but it didn’t really affect us.
APESHIT: The new album is one of your best. You really went for the jugular. What was your approach in writing this album?
Michael: We wanted to make it faster, a little bit more intricate…overall faster. We wanted dynamics on the album as well…some slow stuff, whatever. But, we wanted to make it overall more action-packed, more aggressive, more melody as well…kind of what we did when we started out. I don’t know…just more intricate arrangements and stuff like that. We just wanted to make a cool, intense metal album.
APESHIT: This is the fourth album with singer, Angela Gossow, in the band. How has the songwriting process evolved since she first joined the band?
Michael: Well, every album is a little bit different…every engineer, every producer. You put yourself in a different situation when you make a different album, like at a different studio like we did this time. You go through different phases, a couple years between every album. You kind of change a little bit. You grow up a little bit. You just kind of mature. I’d like to think that I’m getting better at what I do, you know?
APESHIT: The big news with the new album is having your brother and original member, Chris Amott, back in the band. How does it feel to have him back in the band?
Michael: It’s very awesome. It’s such a natural thing for us to be on stage together and write music together. It’s what we’ve been doing for so long. Like I said, it’s a very natural feeling. It doesn’t feel strange. It’s like he was never gone.
APESHIT: When he decided that he wanted to leave, did you think it was going to be it without him?
Michael: Yeah, I thought he was going to quit for good. He was determined to quit, so I was kind of hurt emotionally. I was also kind of offended by it. We had a few arguments initially about it. But you know, with brothers it’s going to get a little heated at times. But then everything was good. After a while, when he was out of the band and we were out touring a lot with other guitar players, it was good. We were still friends, still brothers.
APESHIT: You guys are one of the best guitar duos in metal. It’s obvious that you work well together. Did you guys jam a lot growing up together?
Michael: Yeah, we did. We lock in very well. We have the same feel, so when we lock in on harmonies it’s very tight.
APESHIT: Is Wages of Sin the first album you guys tuned your guitars to C?
APESHIT: So have you been tuned to C since then?
Michael: Yeah. Well a majority of the songs. Some songs we tune down very low. But we haven’t done that for a couple albums either. We did that on Wages and Anthems of Rebellion. Songs like “Savage Messiah” and “Behind the Smile”…those all have really low tunings. But overall we tune to C, standard tuning. We don’t do any dropped-D tuning. Just standard tuning; we drop it down to C. We wanted a bit more clarity, especially live. Because a lot of it is intricate and “shreddy.” The notes come out better and we felt like we got better sustain with the solos. So, yeah, that was a decision we made.
APESHIT: You guys worked with Fredrik Norstrom again for this album. What made you decide to work with him again for Rise of the Tyrant?
Michael: Something different. It seemed like a good idea. We wanted to do it in Sweden. We heard some stuff that he’d done recently that sounded really cool. So we wanted to make another record with him.
APESHIT: To see ARCH ENEMY, a death metal band, break out with Wages of Sin and your rise through now has been pretty amazing. What do you attribute to your success?
Michael: Talent (laughs). There’s that and a lot of luck. We’ve had some great tours. We’ve toured with SLAYER, we’ve toured with MEGADETH, we’ve toured with IRON MAIDEN over here in the U.S. We’ve done a lot of cool stuff, now with MACHINE HEAD…a lot of cool opportunities. We’ve put the band in front of a lot of different kind of audiences. Ozzfest as well, that was a huge tour for us as well. It got us a lot of new fans. We can entertain the IRON MAIDEN crowd, the SLAYER crowd, the MEGADETH crowd, the Ozzfest crowd. We can do these different types of shows and do our headlining stuff as well to our core fan base. It just keeps growing over time. It’s been nice. It’s been a nice steady growth, very organic. We don’t have any hits. We’re not a radio band. We’re so extreme with the vocals being of the extreme nature. It’s very full-on music. It’s not something people want to listen to on the radio. We don’t have “singles” in the true sense of the word. We don’t have a lot of MTV stuff so it’s been mostly building fans from the live shows. And the internet of course helps a lot too.
APESHIT: I want to play devil’s advocate for a moment. How much of your success do you attribute to Angela being the frontwoman?
Michael: Everybody asks us that. Every band that has become really big has had a really strong front person in classic metal. Like IRON MAIDEN has Bruce Dickinson, and JUDAS PRIEST has Rob Halford, and SLAYER. Something about the front person that is very interesting and captures peoples’ imagination and makes people want to get into it. It’s what every band needs. We found our person in Angela.
APESHIT: Since the begining, ARCH ENEMY has enjoyed a lot of success in Japan and other Asian countries. What do you think it is about ARCH ENEMY that Asian fans are crazy about?
Michael: Well, in Japan they have a great sense of tradition, even in metal. They know a lot about the melodic metal stuff. They love the combination of what we do, which is kind of the thrash, death stuff, combined with the Michael Schenker type stuff…a lot of classic guitar work. They love that combination, and that’s the combination that we love too. It wasn’t premeditated. We basically made the first album, and boom, we got a fan base in Japan. The first album did very well. We toured over there for the first album. It just kind of blew up out of nothing, out of nowhere. We were like, “Why do you like it so much? No body else likes us, why do you guys like us?” And they were like, “We love the combination of the melody on the guitars.” They like good guitar work, and we like to think that we have that.
APESHIT: You are a veteran of the death metal scene. You’ve been around for a long time. Your experience and success has pre-dated most of the Swedish bands that are well-known today. How does it feel to be a veteran among all these younger bands?
Michael: When we did CARNAGE, I was in that band for three years. It just happened. That was not planned, but we were just 19, 20 years old. That just happened. It was cool then. By the time I was 23, I was out of the band because I was over it. So I started a new band. I guess I have a lot of experience. I have seen a lot of trends come and go. I’ve seen rap-metal come and go. I’ve just been kind of doing my thing. Sometimes to not very much applause, and sometimes it’s like now where a lot of people are into it. But you got to play what’s in your heart, and what’s in my heart, this is the music. I haven’t jumped on any trends, yet (laughs). But I’m too old for that.
APESHIT: The media has a tendency to put labels on music and you guys have been lumped into “Swedish melodic death metal.” How do you feel about being labelled as such?
Michael: I don’t know. I’ve seen that more before, but less and less now. Because yeah, I don’t really view us as death metal. Yeah, I’ve played in a death metal band before, but I don’t see ARCH ENEMY as a death metal band. We are an extreme metal band. We have elements of death metal, but also thrash metal, classic metal, more traditional melodic metal. I think in our songs we can have everything like a little QUEENSRYCHE lick to a SLAYER lick and everything in between. We are just celebrating the music that we love. When we write music, it comes out like this. We love all these different kinds of music, and it all comes together.
APESHIT: It’s very cool that ARCH ENEMY is not one dimensional. There’s variety in the riffing.
Michael: The variety sometimes set us back a little because people are like, they don’t like us because we are too melodic or too aggressive. But for me, the combination is what it’s all about. Having Angela’s vocals be extreme is important and having the guitars be melodic behind it is equally important. I think it’s some kind of magic when we get it right.
APESHIT: So, tell us about the upcoming CARCASS reunion.
Michael: Bascially Jeff Walker, the singer and bass player, finally managed to get everyone on the same page to do a few shows next year. But, that will be it. It’s not going to be like we’re starting up the band again. We’re just getting together to rehearse and do a few shows just to celebrate the music, and then move on.
APESHIT: Is it weird to see how legendary those albums, Necroticism and Heartwork, have become?
Michael: Yeah, definitely because we weren’t thinking about that. We were just trying to become better. That band made very big jumps between every album because we were so young. From the band’s third album that I was on, Necroticism to Heartwork, it was a huge jump. Things were moving very fast, and it was great making good records.
APESHIT: ARCH ENEMY’s Daniel Erlandsson is going to play drums for the CARCASS reunion. Was he the first choice to fill in for Ken Owen?
Michael: No, there were a few drummers. I think Jeff had a few drummers that were up for it. I recommended Daniel because I knew he could do it very well. He has the abilities to make it sound awesome, but also the ability to play exactly what Ken did. He doesn’t have an ego where he has to play his own style. We wanted someone who could reproduce the parts very basically. We rehearsed last year with Jeff, Bill Steer, Daniel, and myself. Bill and Jeff were like “he’s the guy.”
APESHIT: Any chance of a U.S. show at all?
Michael: I have no idea.