With his long black hair covering his eyes and much of his face, Arch Enemy founder Michael Amott sports a wide grin that belies the savagery of the band’s melodic death metal as he saws into his white blood-spattered Dean Tyrant Bloodstorm signature guitar.
Whether rooted in place next to vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, swaying along with fellow Swedish extreme metal veteran, bassist Sharlee D’Angelo, or playing back to back with guitarist Jeff Loomis, Amott unfurls rapid-fire riffs and sky-piecing solos with equal finesse, delighted to be onstage again in front of thousands of fans.
This particular gig, August 14 at the Alcatraz Festival in Kortrijk, Belgium, comes two days after Arch Enemy released their 11th studio album, Deceivers, one of the band’s strongest and most eclectic offerings – which is saying a lot.
Since he formed Arch Enemy in 1995, Amott has been the primary writer for the band’s 11 consistently high-caliber albums, and the architect behind nine other records by his and D’Angelo’s soulful stoner metal supergroup, Spiritual Beggars.
Working with such a diverse range of rock has kept Amott creatively sated and helped him to weather various storms: stressful lineup and label shifts, shifting industry trends and, most recently, the Covid pandemic that prevented Loomis, the band’s lead guitarist, from joining Arch Enemy in the studio.
“I don’t like all the complications, of course, but writing a new album is super fun for me every time, no matter what,” says Amott from his home in Sweden. “And I enjoy it so much, so there’s never any lack of interest or ideas.”
Amott’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his abundant energy – at age 53 – resounds through Deceivers, the band’s first album since 2017’s Will to Power. Deceivers capitalizes on Arch Enemy’s greatest strengths – crushing riffs, hooky guitar licks and an abundance of crafty rhythmic shifts, atmospheric arpeggios and multifaceted vocal cadences that create a striking balance of euphoric energy and unrelenting aggression.
As soon as it was released, Deceivers was greeted with universal praise and continues to enthrall listeners, whose devotion has turned Arch Enemy into one of the most popular extreme metal bands.
Deceiver, Deceiver has been streamed almost 7.5 million times on Spotify, and two other songs from Deceivers, Handshake with Hell and House of Mirrors each have accrued more than five million streams. For Amott, the goal wasn’t to increase the band’s profile or craft Arch Enemy’s raison d’etre, but simply to use familiar elements to create a new batch of great authentic songs.
“We still have the same team and it’s the same chefs in the kitchen,” Amott says with confidence. “We all know what we can make, so we just said, ‘Okay, let’s come up with a new menu for this season.’ And then you try to use all your ingredients in the best way possible.”
In addition to talking to Guitar World about the excitement that fueled the creation of Deceivers, Amott addressed the challenges of being unable to get Loomis into the studio, Arch Enemy’s unique approach to writing and recording, and whether there’s any life left in Spiritual Beggars.
Five years have passed since you released Will to Power. Were you itching to put out a new record?
“Absolutely. This has always been my passion. It used to be a hobby and then it became a career, so I’m really lucky. But I’ve always really enjoyed making new music, whatever I’m working on.”
Were there any challenges you faced in creating the songs for Deceivers?
“The only time it’s a little bit daunting is in the very beginning when I have no ideas and it’s just like I’m staring at a blank piece of paper. But then before you know it, you have half a song together. Soon after, you have two or three songs. And then you’ve done six or seven and you think, ‘Okay, shit, we’re halfway there.’ And you keep on going.”
What effect did the pandemic have on Arch Enemy?
“We were not so badly affected. We ended our tour for Will to Power on December 15, 2019, and we always planned to take a year off and write an album, so we were not going to play any shows during that time anyway. I guess we got away easy in the beginning. Then, of course, moving into 2021, it became more of a problem for everybody.”
You and drummer Daniel Erlandsson started working on new songs in January 2020. Did you finish writing the album before Covid shut down the music business?
“We accumulated a bunch of riffs and fragments of songs, and over the beginning of the year we put most of the songs together before we got stuck in Sweden. But Sweden didn’t have a lockdown the way the rest of the world did, so me and Daniel could still meet up and work on the demos. We did that through the summer and then we got over to Denmark and recorded the drums. Then, of course, I did my guitars, and we did the bass and vocals.”
Why didn’t Jeff Loomis join you in the studio to record his parts?
“We tried to get him over. We had the correct paperwork, and everyone was tested, but Jeff was not allowed to board the plane. We booked three different flights for him, but it was at a time when everything was shut down and they wouldn’t let him fly to Denmark.”
Did you and Jeff send files back and forth or work over the internet?
“I sent him the parts where I wanted him to record a solo, and then we worked remotely on them. I prefer to record face to face, of course, because in person you can see exactly what’s happening and give immediate feedback based on what you both just experienced in the room.
“When someone’s in America and you’re in Sweden and he’s uploading solos while you’re sleeping and then overnighting them, you don’t have that kind of feedback. When we’re all together, maybe I get inspired by the last part by something he plays. And I’ll go, ‘Well, fuck it. Why don’t you do something at the end of the song as well as an outro. You can just let it fly.’
“That doesn’t work as well when you’re not both there. We tried and did our best and I think his solos on the record are great, but I missed the vibe of recording together.”
You both play solos on the record. How would you compare your styles?
“We have very different, contrasting styles, and I’ve always loved that. It’s like in Iron Maiden. I’ve always liked Adrian Smith’s style compared to Dave Murray’s. Sure, I like Dave Murray, too, but I enjoyed Adrian’s more hard rock, blues style compared to Dave’s legato stuff. I always make sure Jeff has a whammy bar to play with, so we have a lot of Floyd Rose dives.
“I don’t do that, but I like to hear it in the music. He’s in a category of his own, but it comes more from the ’80s shredders. And then, I have the wah pedal, which fits nicely with my sound because my main influences are the classic hard rock guys like Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, Gary Moore and Frank Marino.”
For your rhythms, you draw from classic thrash in addition to Swedish death metal.
“I think my main influences rhythmically are thrash people like James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine and Slayer. That’s the stuff I grew up on and I love that intensity and that very speedy riffing style. But I also really like Florida death metal guys like Chuck Schuldiner [Death] and Trey Azagthoth [Morbid Angel].
“I’m also influenced by a lot of Judas Priest, Saxon and the other New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, plus the first few Motörhead records and Accept guitarist Wolf Hoffman. I love a lot of kinds of metal, and I think it all finds its way into the sound of Arch Enemy.”
Did Jeff record any of the rhythm tracks on Deceivers or is that all you?
“I always do them all. I think it works for straight-ahead rock bands to have both guitarists play the rhythms, but this isn’t the Rolling Stones. There’s not that playful interplay between guitarists. It’s more about getting everything really tight. And since I’m writing it, I know exactly how I want it played and sometimes it’s hard to teach that to someone else so it’s as precise as it needs to be on the album.”
Do you write songs one at a time or do you work on multiple pieces simultaneously?
“I always find it really easy to start a song, and then it’s more difficult to wrap it up. You have to come up with the right middle eight, the solo sections, the outro. That’s a lot of stuff that’s got to work together. We usually go into the verse, the pre-chorus, and the chorus and that happens quickly. And we often write a bunch of those before we decide what other parts work in the song. It’s a very emotional process. It’s from-the-heart songwriting. It can’t be a methodical or mechanical thing. For me it’s got to be instinctive and mean something.”
When you hit a creative obstacle, did you ever dip into the riff vault for inspiration?
“No, it was all fresh from the ground up on this record. Daniel also writes music so there are always ideas going around. And I never get tired of playing and playing until something strikes me, so there’s never a shortage of riffs.”
What was the hardest song to play?
“In Sunset Over the Empire, the riff on the verse is a bit demanding. There’s a rapid pattern, and you need a bit of stamina to keep that going.”
Is it ever hard to replicate something onstage that you recorded?
“That happens a lot. I write this stuff and then when we’re rehearsing for the tour, it’s just, ‘Holy shit. What have I done?’ In the studio, I’m sitting down and playing, and it’s very comfortable for me. There’s no pressure. If I make a mistake, I can start again. But then you’ve got to pull all that stuff off live in one take and you’ve got to try to look cool doing it. You can’t look lost or flustered.”
There are more soaring clean vocals and beautiful melodic passages on Deceivers than there were on Will to Power. Is there ever a point where you’re resistant to toning something down too much, or do you like the way the softer parts contrast with the heavier passages?
“I’m very die-hard. I want to keep that metal edge and that heavy vibe, so we don’t experiment with electronic beats and samples and we’re not going to work with pop singers. We don’t hear new bands and get influenced by them to do something more modern.
“When I formed Arch Enemy in 1995, I knew what I wanted to do. There was always an agenda and we’re still on the same path, so the basic formula is the same. The goal now is just to write great songs within the framework of extreme metal and have a lot of melody present, especially in the guitars.”
You were in Carcass in 1993 when the band recorded Heartwork, which is widely considered a breakthrough in melodic death metal.
“I was right there when there was a movement to make death metal more melodic. I’m still proud of what we did on that album and I’m still that simple, stubborn son of a bitch that’s happy doing what I do. I like Depeche Mode, but I don’t ever want Arch Enemy to sound anything like them. I love Jimmy Page, but I don’t want to play like him. I’m pretty happy being me.”
When you worked on Heartwork, did it feel like you were breaking new ground?
“When I was writing This Mortal Coil and Heartwork with [Carcass guitarist] Bill Steer I remember thinking, ‘Shit, Carcass is such a brutal band. I wonder how people are gonna react to this.’ I had never heard any death metal that was that melodic before.
“On Heartwork, we had guitars playing all the harmonies. That had never been done before. Now, it’s commonplace but somebody had to be the first and I think, maybe, that was one of those very first times when that happened. It was pretty cool to be a part of that. Of course, a lot of people who liked early Carcass couldn’t stand that record. They said I ruined the band.”
With Arch Enemy back at full tilt, have you and Sharlee considered working on a new Spiritual Beggars album?
“No, not really. We did our last record, Sunrise to Sundown, in 2016 and right now we have nothing planned. To be honest, it just kind of ran its course. Maybe we haven’t officially split up or anything, but I haven’t really felt inspired to write anything in that style in a long time.”
It sounds like there was a point where you lost interest. Did something happen internally with the band?
“I think it has a lot more to do with Arch Enemy. If I can blame anything for the end of Spiritual Beggars, it’s probably our busy schedule. Arch Enemy has become a much bigger band than it was before. It takes a lot to keep it going and I can’t physically be doing multiple bands anymore.
“But that’s a good thing. I’m not a frustrated guitarist who dreams of doing a solo album so everybody can hear the real me. Because what I do in Arch Enemy is who I am. I get all my energies out with the band. So, this is my real journey.”
- Deceivers is out now via Century Media.