Hit The Lights: Arch Enemy: 'We're Writing A New Record For People That Want To Know'

artist: Arch Enemy date: 10/02/2009 category: interviews
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Hit The Lights: Arch Enemy: 'We're Writing A New Record For People That Want To Know'
When a new vocalist enters the ranks, performing material recorded with a past vocalist can prove quite difficult. Fans usually give such performances a lukewarm reception, feeling said material is better left not performed by a new vocalist. More notable examples within the metal realm would be when Ronnie James Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, or when Blaze Bayley replaced Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden. Dio was (and is) at his greatest when performing the likes of "Heaven And Hell", but cannot do justice to such tracks as "Iron Man". Though quite smaller in terms of notoriety, Arch Enemy have bravely cut re-recorded versions of tracks cut with a past vocalist, all with the aim of possibly re-adding such compositions to the group's live set. Whether this was worth the effort will ultimately be decided by fans, who'll waste no time in critiquing each respective re-recording. Some'll feel the re-recordings are a decent listen, while others will feel re-recording past tracks wasn't a great choice. Arch Enemy's September / October 2009 (issued in Europe on September 30th, and issued on October 6th in North America, both through Century Media Records) opus "The Root Of All Evil" is comprised of completely re-recorded tracks, the tracks originally featuring on the group's first three albums: "Black Earth" (1996), "Stigmata" (1998), and "Burning Bridges" (1999). Those three albums featured the vocals of original frontman Johan Liiva, who was dismissed in late 2000. Other erstwhile personnel include bassist Martin Bengtsson and drummer Peter Wildoer, who both played on "Stigmata". "The Root Of All Evil"'s tracks feature the vocals of Angela Gossow, who interprets compositions originally sung by Liiva. Several numbers also include bass lines from Sharlee D'Angelo for the first time, whose first record as a part of Arch Enemy was "Burning Bridges". At several different locations in Sweden, "The Root Of All Evil" was recorded and produced by Arch Enemy, with drummer Daniel Erlandsson and Richard Bengtsson handling engineering. In Derbyshire, England, Andy Sneap mixed and mastered the album. Brazilian artist Gustavo Sazes, meanwhile, was selected to design its artwork. For the track "Beast Of Man", a clip was filmed by RGKP Videoproduktion this past summer at Germany's Rock Harz festival. On August 10th at roughly 21:00 GMT, guitarist Michael Amott telephoned Hit The Lights' Robert Gray to discuss "The Root Of All Evil", amongst other topics. UG: Hello? Michael Amott: Hello. Is that Robert? Yeah, this is Robert. Robert, this is Michael Amott from Arch Enemy. How are you Michael? I'm pretty good. Would it be alright if I began the interview? Yeah, let's do the interview. Absolutely. For those who're unfamiliar with 'The Root of All Evil', could you provide some background information on that forthcoming release? Yeah (laughs). 'The Root of All Evil' is a compilation album, an album made out of three albums. Arch Enemy's first three albums featured another vocalist, so our current lineup totally re-recorded a collection of songs from those three records. 'The Root of All Evil' is kind of a new album, but features old songs. Why did Arch Enemy opt to re-record tracks from the group's first three albums? Why? Re-recording those tracks was a request from our fans, basically. Our fans kept leaving messages on our websites, saying they'd love to hear Arch Enemy's current lineup playing and performing some of those old songs. We thought that was a cool idea, and started thinking about pursuing the project roughly three years ago. In January, we finally got the time to enter the studio, and knock it out. Was the fact that Arch Enemy were so busy the reason why 'The Root of All Evil' took so long to realise? Yeah, exactly. We tour so much. We play all over the world all the time, so it's difficult to schedule studio time, rehearsal time, and all that - we fill every gap we have with work (laughs).

"Re-recording those tracks was a request from our fans, basically."

Was the fact that Arch Enemy possibly wanted to incorporate some tracks from the group's first three albums into the live set another reason? For re-recording old tracks? Yeah. That's one of the great things about 'The Root of All Evil'; we can reintroduce these songs with how we sound now, and if people get into these songs, we can have them in the live set again. People will hopefully enjoy that again. We'll actually do that in Mexico. We're flying to Mexico in a few days, and will be playing a special show there which'll feature a lot of the old songs that 'The Root of All Evil' has. Yeah, that's definitely the plan. Are there any musical differences between Arch Enemy's old tracks, and new tracks? Differences you might have noticed? Yeah. It was interesting. Some of the guitar arrangements were a little different, and we did things possibly a little different. Then, there were some licks that we played in the solos ten years ago that are not a part of our repertoire now. You think "Oh shit. That was actually a cool lick. I'll pick that up again, and start doing that again", but then again, there's licks you just thought weren't so good, and you change them into something else (laughs). It was a little different, yeah. It was definitely interesting to go back, and look at those guitar parts again. Aside from an upcoming Mexican show, are there any other special shows planned? We'll do one special show where we perform our old songs in Japan during October, but other than that, I don't know. We'll wait until 'The Root of All Evil' is out, so people can actually get into these re-recorded songs. We're touring Europe in November or December, and will be sprinkling these old songs throughout the set I think. It'll be pretty cool. Will any of these performances be filmed for bonus album material, or possible DVD content? I don't know. We haven't planned anything, but you never know. Whenever we do something special, we always try to document it so that it can be used. It's always great to at least film it, and put it online, so people everywhere can enjoy it. We'll see. How did Arch Enemy approach selecting which tracks to re-record from the group's initial three studio albums? Five of us are in Arch Enemy. Everyone's had different favourites from that era of the band, so it was a case of arguing about it (laughs). Once we got in and started rehearsing those songs, some tracks didn't really work that well anymore, and some tracks really sounded great - tracks we didn't think would possibly sound so great. It was a matter of trying those songs out in rehearsal really, and jamming on them. Some songs we've actually played live in the past with Angela, like "The Immortal", "Bridge of Destiny", and some songs like that. We knew they would be songs we wanted to perform again, and knew that they would work. Some others we had to fine tune a bit more, and find the right ones. Besides the tracks which feature on 'The Root of All Evil''s general release, were any other old Arch Enemy tracks re-recorded as bonus tracks for special editions of the album? No. Everything we recorded during that session for 'The Root of All Evil' is on that album, and then the live tracks come as an addition on the digipak I think. There's a few live tracks, but as far as all the recordings that were made, all the re-recorded Arch Enemy songs are on the regular version of 'The Root of All Evil'. How would you compare 'The Root of All Evil''s sound to the sounds on the old recordings of the tracks? There's slight differences, here and there. It's a few years later, and Arch Enemy is a different sounding band. We're so much tighter, and so much more of a unit, than what we were when we recorded those original albums back then. 'The Root of All Evil''s sound is just tighter, harder, and just more pounding and brutal. Angela's voice is a lot more brutal, and quite extreme. The album just has more impact, and the songs just kick more ass now (laughs). Then there's some changes that we made in terms of arrangement for a couple of songs, but nothing too drastic. We tried to stay pretty true to the originals. What else is there? Some of the solos are slightly different because solos are the last thing we lay down, and we just tend to improvise a few of the faster licks and all that. We just go off, and play something that's spur of the moment. That's what creates the excitement, I think. So solos are very much recorded on the fly, so to speak? Yeah, exactly. There's so many signatures, and important melodies that carry the songs. They're all in there, but we threw some new shit in there as well to keep it fresh. These songs will be interesting and fun to play, as we'll go out and play these songs live again. We wanted 'The Root of All Evil' be something cool, and something that we're into. We weren't too holy about it, and didn't enter the studio being overly respectful of the originals. You can definitely hear that on some songs. It's not crazy, or anything. Many listeners have discovered Arch Enemy since Angela Gossow has been a part of the group, so was recording 'The Root of All Evil' a way of saying "Our first three albums are quite good as well - go and check them out". Yeah, exactly. As far as I'm concerned, 'The Root of All Evil' is all about celebrating the past, and the early years of Arch Enemy. The album doesn't try to rewrite the past, or erase it, or anything like that. 'The Root of All Evil' is just a very positive thing. Those old records will always be there, so people can go and discover them. Yeah, definitely. Obviously, cynical people always exist. Some people have said 'The Root of All Evil' is a cash-in, that the album has been released to fulfil contractual obligations, and that the album has been released as Arch Enemy cannot be bothered to write new music. Do statements like that piss you off? Not really, no. I don't pay attention to stuff like that really (laughs). (Laughs) I don't blame you, to be honest. I'm always working. I'm living the dream. I'm living my dream; playing guitar for a living, and being in a metal band, writing music and performing live. It takes up a lot of my time - we're very busy. I think I'm very, very lucky, and am one of the lucky ones really. I don't spend much time reflecting on things like that. We're writing a new record for people that want to know. We have new material, but we'll take our time with that material. We'll make something special, and will work on that next year. When re-recording old Arch Enemy tracks, did you have to rediscover the mood you was in while originally recording those tracks? Yeah. It was a trip down memory lane, for sure. You just remember things from the original recording sessions, and from the tours around that time. It definitely triggered some memories, but in a good way. Apart from that, it was heads down. We just got stuck into it, really - we didn't sit there crying or anything, being sentimental. How did Angela put her own stamp on Arch Enemy's old, re-recorded songs? I think she just rages on this old material. It sounds fucking amazing to me - it's very intense, and very in your face. It sounds great. I'm really excited about it. Obviously, the biggest difference compared to the originals is that her voice is a very different voice to the original singer we had in the nineties. Obviously, Arch Enemy bassist Sharlee D'Angelo's initial album with the group was 'Burning Bridges'. Yeah. He joined for 'Burning Bridges', so I played a lot of the bass on our first two albums. I'm not a great bass player, so it's great to hear him play on those older songs as well, yeah (laughs). Finally, some decent bass playing on those. I'm assuming the bass on those respective songs sound different then, since guitarists who play bass reportedly sound different to natural bassists. Yeah, absolutely. I'm not a natural bass player (laughs). Why did Arch Enemy record 'The Root of All Evil''s tracks at several different Swedish locations, and not just one? Yeah - just logistics and scheduling. Our drummer Daniel is very much into recording, so he recorded the drums himself with a friend in his hometown. They had a room which had the right acoustics, and did the mikes together, and all that. He basically recorded his parts there, and then brought the tracks into a studio that's local and close to where I live. We did the rest of the parts there, and possibly recorded some in the rehearsal room that we have as well. It's just a matter of piecing it all together. It was relaxed doing it like that, actually, so we might work like that again in the future. We then sent the tracks over to the UK to Andy Sneap in Derbyshire, and he mixed 'The Root of All Evil' there.

"'The Root of All Evil' is a compilation album, an album made out of three albums."

How would you describe Andy Sneap's mix for 'The Root of All Evil'? I love the mix - it's great. What's so cool about 'The Root of All Evil' is that all the riffs just jump out at you, and it's just crystal clear. All the playing just really jumps out at you, and all the notes are just right there, whereas on the old, original albums, the whole sound is a bit muddy - there's not much clarity there. That's really great. Andy's great at getting everything out, and keeping everything really clear, but at the same time, very crunchy and aggressive. That's why he's one of the top guys in the business, I guess. He knows how to get that balance. Will Arch Enemy work with Andy Sneap on future material? Probably, yeah. I hope so. He's worked on a few records for us in the past. How would you describe Gustavo Sazes' artwork for 'The Root of All Evil'? Well, there you go: 'The Root of All Evil' is kind of international. We heard about Gustavo's work, and met up with him in So Paulo, Brazil while we were there on tour. We just discussed the artwork as well as the theme, and then he started sending through ideas. We sent him the titles and everything, and just did the rest online. Conceptually speaking, the album's artwork doesn't follow a theme - there is no real theme to 'The Root of All Evil' lyrically or anything as the record is a compilation of songs from three albums, so it's a little bit all over the place. We wanted something which just tied it all in together, so we used the Arch Enemy symbol, and a pretty cool screaming skull that looks metal (laughs). The artwork just doesn't have a theme like we normally have; on our albums, we have a theme that goes through the artwork, the lyrics and everything. This one is just a more generic Arch Enemy cover I think, and sums up the atmosphere of the band hopefully. How would you compare Arch Enemy in 2009 to Arch Enemy in 1999? We're a real band now. We're a touring band, and we're a hard working band. In 1999, we were just starting, and just finding our feet. Arch Enemy was always very popular in Japan, but that was the only place where we had any real fanbase. Now we have a worldwide fanbase, and basically, we're always on the road. It's just a very different life now than back then. Like I said before, I think the band is a lot tighter, has a little more energy, and is more aggressive. Only positive things, I would say. Would it be ok if we spoke about Carcass? Yeah. Shoot. A couple of questions, for sure. Thus far, how is Carcass' reunion progressing? Last year, 2008, we did a lot of shows, and very quickly, we did the shortest world tour as we called it. We were all over the place within the space of a couple of months, in all corners of the globe. We did a lot of European festivals, and things like that, but this year, there hasn't been as much. Just a few select dates, and some festivals. We're actually playing on Friday at the Bloodstock Festival in Derbyshire, and so is Arch Enemy actually. It'll be a bit of a double bill. Beyond Bloodstock Festival, are there any other Carcass plans? Just one more show this year in Moscow, Russia in September. Other than that, no. We're looking at possibly scheduling some more shows next year, but nothing's written in stone. We haven't discussed any new recording plans, or any writing plans, or anything like that. It's been a blast though, I have to say. It's been really, really cool to be reunited with those guys, and get back to that music. It's been a lot of fun, and I've enjoyed it very much. Would you personally like to record a new Carcass album? Making a new record is something different. Playing live and getting back together after all those years is one thing, but to actually get into a creative frame of mind with these guys after so many years is a different story. That would take a lot of work I think, and it would be something quite... I mean, I wouldn't be against trying, but we haven't gone there yet (laughs). So if Carcass wanted to try recording a new album, the group would enter the studio, see how writing sessions turn out, and if the written material was good, the group would proceed? But if the written material wasn't good, the group would just leave things there? Yeah, exactly. If we do try to write some new songs, we probably won't tell anyone about that until we've actually tried (laughs). So technically, Carcass could be writing new songs as we speak, and we wouldn't know (laughs). (Laughs) That's right. How do you juggle commitments with Arch Enemy and Carcass? Is Carcass more of a secondary group for you? Arch Enemy is and always will be my main thing. I formed the band, and have pursued it for all these years. Arch Enemy is very close to my heart, and is the music that I want to play with the people that I want to play it with. It's a great thing, and is something that I'm very happy about. The Carcass reunion just came out of the blue, and was an opportunity that was too cool to turn down. It was very exciting, so I made room in my schedule for that of course. I don't think it would take over from what I do with Arch Enemy. Would it be possible to arrange a tour in one given country where Arch Enemy and Carcass tour together? It would be quite effective, wouldn't it? I wouldn't have to tour as much then, and could spend more days at home (laughs). It's a good idea - I'm writing it down right now. (Laughs) Of the two albums and one EP you recorded as a part of Carcass, which is your favourite? The favourite one that I recorded with Carcass is 'Heartwork'. I just think that album still stands up today; the sound, the production of it, and the songs. 'Heartwork' just paved the way for so many other bands who got inspired by the sound of that record, so I think it's a milestone metal album in that sense. How do you look back on your time with Carcass during the nineties? I look back at that time with great fondness - it was a brilliant time. To be a part of Carcass at that time was definitely something very unique, and very exciting. The scene was really different then - the extreme metal scene was very different to what it is now. I really love where I'm at today, but I'm glad that I experienced that as well early on, having those experiences in that different environment. And Carcass was probably a very important milestone in your career. Absolutely, yeah. It was what got me started really, and what put me on this path. As you mentioned, Arch Enemy will record new material in 2010. At the moment, is any new Arch Enemy material written? Yeah. We've written riffs, melodies, and parts of songs, but nothing that we've really put together into one song. I'd say we have a lot of different ideas, but we just need to mix pieces together into real songs. We'll spend our time on that next year.

"Whenever we do something special, we always try to document it so that it can be used."

Compared to 'Rise of the Tyrant', how would you musically describe these initial ideas? These ideas are more like Lionel Ritchie / Michael Bolton, and move into that direction. I don't think so (laughs). (Laughs) I can't say. It's too early to say. The music is very heavy, with some fast parts, some slow parts, some mid-tempo parts, melodic parts, unmelodic parts - all kinds of things. It's too early to say. We always mess around with our material so much in terms of all the details, layering of ideas, and things like that. It's hard to say exactly what the material will be until it's finished. Are there any new areas you'd like to venture in with Arch Enemy? I don't know. We've covered a lot of ground so far, but I think there's room to grow as a songwriter. I still feel that I'm improving, and I think the other guys have great ideas as well. We'll put all those ideas together. That's a super exciting phase of a band, writing and piecing all the ideas together, and seeing what comes out. You put someone's idea on top of your own idea, or vice versa, you mix it all up, and it comes out as this whole different animal. I still think there's a lot of things to be done with Arch Enemy. I have ideas that I'm not going to tell you about, because I've got cool ideas that I don't think any extreme metal band has ever done before. I won't tell you what they are though, because then somebody will rip them off and use them before our next album comes out. So you'd discuss such ideas when they're released as parts of songs? Ok, yeah. I'll give you call (laughs). That sounds great - we'll do that. Though Angela handles most of Arch Enemy's lyrics, will you write any lyrics for the group's next studio album? I don't know. On 'Rise of the Tyrant', I wrote a couple: "Revolution Begins", and "In This Shallow Grave". For the most part though, it's Angela now. She writes great lyrics, and at the end of the day, she's the one who has to sing them and deliver them every night onstage with that passion that she has. I have a couple of ideas here and there, and I throw them at her. If she wants to use them, fine, but if not, I'm cool with that too. She'll be handling most of the lyrics, I think. Are any dates pencilled in for recording? No. We haven't booked anything like that, as we're just taking it easy. It'll take some time, so probably in the fall of next year. Where would you like to venture with Arch Enemy? I'm quite happy with what we're doing. We've had a very organic growth, and from album to album, we've become a little bigger. It's been a slow rise, and we're seeing some rewards with that, like a very dedicated fanbase all around the world. We can play everywhere basically, and headline, and play great shows. That's one of the biggest things about being in a band. Having that fanbase is amazing, so I'm really happy with where Arch Enemy is going, and how things are moving along. So you feel that Arch Enemy has experienced a slow but steady growth? Yeah, exactly. We're not one of these MySpace type bands that are here today, gone tomorrow. The wheels seem to turn so fast for bands that form now. I tend to feel a bit sorry for them, because not a lot of them seem to have any staying power really. I wonder how many of them are going to be here in ten years, or twenty years, making great music and having a fanbase. We'll see. Obviously, time will tell (laughs). Do you have a message for the fans of Arch Enemy? I'll see you out there on the road very soon. Keep on shredding (laughs). (Laughs) Thanks for the interview Michael. Ok, cheers. All the best, and take care. Ok. You too, man. Bye. Bye. Interview by Robert Gray Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2009
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