By David E. Gehlke
The faction of ARCH ENEMY fans who forever swore by original vocalist Johan Liiva was rewarded in 2016 with BLACK EARTH, the spin-off band featuring Liiva and the lineup for 1999's indispensable "Burning Bridges". Sure, the band only played shows in Japan and cut just two new songs in the process, but it allowed ARCH ENEMY to acknowledge their past and make amends with Liiva, who was unceremoniously dropped in 2000 in favor of Angela Gossow. Better yet, it permanently laid to rest debate on who should be fronting ARCH ENEMY. Longtime fans of the band can now have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.
Gossow gave way to Alissa White-Gluz in 2014, continuing the unlikely habit of ARCH ENEMY gaining in popularity with each successive singer switch. The trend has carried into 2022. ARCH ENEMY recently completed a tour of North America with BEHEMOTH and NAPALM DEATH in front of packed houses, all the while the pre-release singles for their upcoming "Deceivers" studio album have generated plenty of eyeballs on YouTube and spins on streaming services. ARCH ENEMY's continued staying power has surprised founding member and guitarist Michael Amott, who connected with BLABBERMOUTH.NET to get up to speed.
Blabbermouth: Do you consider ARCH ENEMY lucky to have dodged the pandemic bullet since you had a built-in break after the touring for "Will To Power" concluded?
Michael: "Absolutely. We had friends in other bands that built huge stage productions that were ready to roll in early 2020 and invested a lot of money. They launched their new albums and then it's not happening, or you have to go home in the middle of it. That was just brutal. We didn't have that. We had that built-in year where management's word was, 'Take a year off and write a new record and start recording it.' That's what we did. At the same time, the atmosphere was weird. [Laughs] You saw everything going on, but at the same time, we were not affected by it in a business sense. Of course, moving into 2021, it started affecting us a little more because we had plans and those plans did not happen. I don't like to complain about it because a lot of fellow artists were hit a lot worse by it. Also, a lot of people were affected a lot more by it than me personally."
Blabbermouth: You're truly an international band, so was that your big logistical issue?
Michael: "Sure. That proved to be the worst time ever to have an international lineup. You couldn't just jump on a flight and work on stuff. If you could, you had to quarantine for two weeks before you made some noise together. It was a lot more complicated, a lot more paperwork and testing; it was a lot more expensive as well, to be honest, to put this album together based on how things work. But we got it done in the end. We had a lot of time to make this record. I've always dreamt of this, 'Go, Michael. Go and write your masterpiece. Take as long as you want!' [Laughs] We were afforded a lot more time this time and it sucked. I'd rather prefer to work to a straight deadline. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Are you a workaholic? Do you like taking time off?
Michael: "I do like to work. It's just so strange in this profession because my hobby, my passion, my whole teenage life became my career and my work. I'm still that kid inside. That's still my hobby. I never developed a hobby; I never started golfing. [Laughs] I listen to fucking thrash metal, speed metal records on vinyl and play guitar. It's what I do. I never really grew out of it. It's a bit of a sad story, really. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: What's that cheesy saying? If you like what you do, you never work a day in your life?
Michael: "It's a little bit like that: 'Go, take a year off.' When management says that, they really mean, 'Go away and write a record.' That's the time off. [Laughs] But I like to take a few months off here and there. You have to decompress and get out of the touring thing and all that and relax into another routine. At some point, riffs start coming and you start humming little ideas to yourself and rushing into the music room to get them down. That's how it works for me."
Blabbermouth: The album is not due until the end of July, yet you've already released four singles. Has your thinking toward album releases evolved? [Editor's note: "Deceivers" has since been bumped to August.]
Michael: "It certainly has this time. The Century Media and Sony team in Europe said, 'We want to do it like this. We want to try this approach in releasing a lot of singles far in advance of the album's release.' That was a new way of approaching it, certainly for me. The old-school way was two singles, then, boom, the album is out and we tour and that's that. That's how we've always done it these last 15 years. This time was different. They wanted to try something different; they were very adamant about it. They really believed we were the right band to do it this way. We shot a lot of content, a lot of videos, prepared a lot of singles and artwork. We've been doing great with this, but somebody had a good idea — it wasn't my idea. It's worked out really well. We've been killing it with views on YouTube and the numbers on all the streaming services have been fantastic for us. When we went on tour in the States and Canada, we could tell that people knew the three singles. Those songs were 'real' songs that people knew — they were singing along and reacting to them. That was proof that it worked. It's not so much my view on releasing albums. It's how the audience's listening habits have changed. I'm still a person that listens to a whole record. If I go on Apple Music or Spotify, I don't jump around with playlists. I'm not that kind of listener, but a lot of people are and most people are nowadays and that's the reality of it. If you think it sucks or good, that's neither here nor there. That's how it is. We've been doing it this way, and they decided to do it this way."
Blabbermouth: You sound like you were uneasy with the idea at first. Were you?
Michael: Yeah. I thought it was more of a mainstream music idea. It was back in the '50s or early '60s when they put out a bunch of singles and compiled it as an album. I don't know…that's what I know from what I read how it used to be for a long time. Then, the album format came in the late '60s and into the '70s and '80s, the album format dominated. That's how I grew up listening to music — the album format. We do both. I was a little apprehensive about it, like, 'Is this a good idea?' I thought people would be annoyed with a song here and there, but the reaction has been super good. We do both. We do vinyl, seven inches; we do all that stuff. We put together an album that has an 'album' feel with the ebb and flow and highs and lows and all that stuff. [Laughs] It's got that journey. We had to think about the A and B sides with the track listing for vinyl. We do all that and put a ton of energy into creating amazing packaging for the fans to enjoy. Then, we also do this more recent stuff with playlists and all that."
Blabbermouth: You mentioned in the bio that you thought ARCH ENEMY would take a step backward when Alissa replaced Angela eight years ago. The opposite has happened. Were you resting on the idea that it's hard to change singers so deep into your career?
Michael: "Absolutely. When Bruce Dickinson took over for [Paul] Di'Anno [in IRON MAIDEN], I was a little skeptical and I think a lot of my friends were. It was a different mindset back then. I think people nowadays are used to faster news. Things become old news pretty fast compared to back then. My generation's way of thinking was, 'We got a big hurdle. We have to prove ourselves all over again,' which I do love, the feeling of being the underdog. It's always easier to strike from that position. I enjoy that. I was looking forward to that, but instead, it rocketed to this whole new level for us. I was like, 'Oh!' Then people are asking me, 'How did you do it?' I don't know! It's chemistry, isn't it? We have really strong musicians in the band. We have a great lineup and added Alissa to it. It just took off. It's really cool."
Blabbermouth: In your original defense, you could argue that an entire generation of ARCH ENEMY fans grew up with Angela and only identified with her.
Michael: "Oh yeah. There are still people who prefer the Johan era of the band and that original era in the '90s or the 2000s with Angela. That's normal. I don't really mind. I usually say, 'I don't care. I wrote or co-wrote all those songs, so I'm happy.' [Laughs] I am happy to be part of the whole journey, or if people prefer another band I used to do, it doesn't matter to me. If they enjoyed something I did, I'm happy. You don't have to follow a band religiously the whole time. People come and go. People come back after a while and go, 'Oh, shit, I missed a few albums here, but this song turned me back to you guys.' That's how I am as well as a music listener. I go, 'Oh, shit. I had no idea these guys are that great.'"
Blabbermouth: You have 11 ARCH ENEMY albums under your belt. Where do you stand in sticking with your core sound and trying new things? Is it more of a balancing act now than ever?
Michael: "I've never had a formula. Like Elvis [Presley] said, 'I don't know anything about music. In my line, you don't have to.' I'm a self-taught musician. I don't have a formula or way of working. I just rely on my inspiration and imagination. Every time is a little bit different. There are so many different ways that songs come together. It can be a riff or a melody. I don't know how it is to be another person or songwriter. I don't know how they work. It's definitely something I rely on for inspiration. I don't have a method, basically. I just play guitar every day and things come out. I don't know where they're coming from. It's really quite something. That's my little gift. I don't have a lot of solid life skills, but I'm really good at this. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: You hit 25 years as a band during the pandemic. Did that extra downtime allow you to reflect upon your achievements more than a normal situation?
Michael: "For sure. Rarely have we looked in the rearview mirror. There's so much going on. Even now, I'll see, 'Oh, shit. It's been 25 years since we released that album, but today we're releasing a new single and it's going to blow up and I need to focus on that.' We're in this very fortunate position as a band that our new music now, 25 years later, is the biggest and most successful we've had. It's not like we're looking back on albums of past glories in that way. It's really an amazing position to be in. I realize that. At the same time, the pandemic, for sure, the last year gave us time to where I could write those pieces or do focused merch drops, like retro merch. If we had been allowed to go out and play, we might have done some 'back to the old-school' live sets. That would have been fun, too. We have to wait for the 30th anniversary for that. [Laughs]"