In March 2014, fans of Swedish melodic death metal act Arch Enemy were dealt an unexpected blow when the band announced that long-running vocalist Angela Gossow was stepping down to focus on management of the band, a secondary role that she had been performing quietly since 2008.
“It was a very tough and emotional experience,” founding guitarist Michael Amott says of Gossow’s departure.
“It took a while to decide if we were just going to stop the band. But we realized that we still love playing and have a lot of music in us. But where would we go singer-wise?”
The answer arrived in the form of Alissa White-Gluz. Not only had she proved to be a capable performer as the frontwoman for Canadian extreme metallers the Agonist, she also was a close friend of Gossow’s.
In the following interview, Amott discusses how Arch Enemy survived the depature of Gossow, embraced Alissa White-Gluz and came to create their new record, War Eternal.
GUITAR WORLD: The new single "War Eternal" rips. I have to say, I wasn't sure what to expect when I heard Angela had left the band.
Oh cool, thanks. It’s hard for us to pick one song that's representative how the whole album sounds because there’s quite a lot of variety on the album. But we went for something that was kind of very typical of Arch Enemy that had all those classic things we’ve done in the past but with a new twist. You don’t want to shock people too much. Because we have a new singer and all that, so everything is pretty crazy.
Were you worried at all that fans would reject Alissa? Angela had become such a symbol of the band.
I was worried more last year. Back when we were putting it all together and I was sort of like, Okay, it’s not going to be Angela singing. It’s going to be this new girl. Alissa's really great, but still it’s somebody different. Metal fans don’t really take to change that well.
You know, I’m the same. I knew it had to be really good. We had to step it up and deliver something really special this time. So I put a lot of work into the album and the writing process. It was very very rigorous and went on for much longer than what we usually do. We did a lot of preproduction and demos.
So I think at some point last year, I was thinking more like, Hmm, I wonder how people are going to react to this. But once we’d done it and we’d completed the album and filmed the video and we did all the stuff, I was just ready to get the news out there. I was kind of over it. When it’s done it’s done...and I’m really proud of it. And the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive so far. I was expecting it to be more like 50/50, but it’s been a lot more positive. [laughs]
This is also the first Arch Enemy record without your brother [guitarist Christopher Amott]. Can you talk about what the songwriting process looked like this time around working with new guitarist Nick Cordle?
Well, it really started with me and Daniel [Erlandsson], the drummer, just sort of bashing out ideas in the rehearsal room, and doing little demos and drum machine stuff on the road.
So, I already had a bunch of ideas and then Nick joined, and that was a lot of fun because we started jamming with him as well. And then exactly a year ago, I went over to Virginia and brought my ideas over to Nick’s home studio. That was a lot of fun. I was there for two weeks and we were just jamming guitar every day and recording. That was with a drum machine, just knocking some songs together. And I think we came out of those sessions with like five songs, and a bunch of other loose bits and pieces too. One of those five songs was the single, “War Eternal.”
Seems like a very productive collaboration.
Definitely. We’ve really been collaborating. I mean I’ve always written the lion’s share of the music. But I do like to spice the dish with everybody’s ideas. There are some collaborations on there for sure on the album. There’s a lot of Nick. But there’s also arrangement stuff that we worked on together, and it’s quite intricate. There’s a lot of guitar stuff going on. For sure, it’s a different flavor with Nick because Nick is from a different school than my brother. That was just like a breath of fresh air. It took my song ideas in a different direction. It sounds different in a way, although familiar.
There's definitely some great interplay between your guitar parts on the album, especially on the solos.
Yeah, I mean it’s been my ambition from day one to write really quality guitar parts, with themes and melodies weaving in and out of each other and harmonized leads. It’s like classic metal stuff, I guess. Hard rock and metal, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Stuff like that is a big influence, of course, on those parts.
I like to use technicality like one of the colors we use. I like to have a dash of that, just throw in some face melting riffage or soloing or something like that. But it’s not something I want to do all the time. We play around with time signatures and stuff like that as well, but we always try to do it in a way that is still catchy. I don’t want it to distract from the song. I’ve always liked a lot of melody.
There is a song called “No More Regrets.” We shot a video for that one as well, which has some very fast guitar playing. And then there’s another single we put out called “You Will Know My Name.” That’s one of the songs where I collaborated with an arranger and a conductor as well.
To step back for a minute and provide some context, could you describe what led Angela to leave her role as singer and focus on the band’s management?
Well, she’s been managing the band since 2008. It’s worked out very, very well for us. It’s been a lot more successful than when we were with a professional, sort of big management company. Suddenly we were making money and everything was working out for us. She’s definitely really good at that and it’s something she really enjoys doing as well. As far as the actual singing part, I don’t think it was an easy decision for her.
Were you surprised when she eventually delivered the news to the band?
It wasn’t such a big surprise really when she said she finally wanted to bow out as a front person for the band and singer, because the writing has been on the wall within in our camp. But, you know, the fans really idolize her and she was a very iconic front figure and she was like the first woman in a successful metal band doing it at the level that we’ve done it.
But it took a while for us to get our heads around what we were going to do, like, Were we going to stop the band? But then we realized we actually love playing and we’ve still got a lot of music in us. But where would we go singer-wise? All these songs are written for a woman to sing. And are there any other woman out there who are really strong, and Alissa was the first one we thought of. But I didn’t know if she’d be up for it or that she’d be interested, but when we found out that she was, that all sort of happened as well. She came over here and we did some demos with her as well and stuff like that. I have to say the first rehearsal with Alissa was really strange.
What was odd about those first rehearsals with Alissa?
She sounded so awesome, but I was thinking, like, you know, I wrote this song for Angela and now somebody else is singing it, and it just felt weird. But she sounded great. But it felt, I don’t know, weird. And then I called the other guys later that evening, the other guys, original guys, Sharlee the bass player and Daniel the drummer. They brought it up as well that it felt so weird. It took some getting used to. So I can understand for fans it’s gonna take time for some people to get into this.
The bottom line is that I think the album is fantastic and she is – it was either continue with a new singer — and luckily we found someone totally awesome or stop the band. And I guess we just wanted to keep playing really.
Photo: Patrik Ullaeus