Wizard of shred Michael Amott found himself in uncharted waters following a near 500 show run beginning with Arch Enemy's War Eternal release in 2014 and ending on December 15, 2019 at the culmination of the Will to Power album cycle.
For one of the first times in nearly three decades, Amott had time. Time to dive into the melodic death metal masters 11th album (Deceivers drops July 29 through Century Media Records), and thanks to the global pandemic, excess time to recharge from the life of a tapping, slashing and shredding road-warrior.
As Arch Enemy returns to the stage alongside Behemoth, Napalm Death and Unto Others, Amott sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into the making of Deceivers, the pains of being in a long-distance band, his continued love of heavy metal, memories of his time in Carcass, the status of his hard rock project Spiritual Beggars and much more!
Can you kind of sum up just how bizarre this recording process was in comparison to the ten records that preceded it? This is kind of uncharted territory for the entire music industry.
Of course, yes. I mean, it affected us like everybody else, I guess. It was just a strange time. But you know, it started off really well for us. We ended the touring cycle on the Will to Power album. We put that out in 2017 and we kept going for over two years and we kind of wrapped all that up in Europe. We were out with Amon Amarth, and we played our last show on December 15, 2019. And then we said we're going to take a year off. We've been in everybody's face for a long time and just going to chill out and write and start recording maybe a new album, or at least writing.
So that's what we did. We all went home, we all went our separate ways. And then of course, in early 2020, the world changed for a while. We have the advantage that we were not getting ready to go on the road, building a new album, or a new stage production or anything like that. We were kind of lucky in that sense, you know? But it did catch up with us in the end, of course. It's been frustrating for everybody.
There's no silver linings that can come from this pandemic, but the fact you guys had the opportunity to regroup after a massive tour must have been appreciated. You were going to take this time off for the record, though I'm sure it dragged on longer than you would have liked.
At first it was like, "OK, this is so unexpected," but I certainly didn't foresee it taking this long until things got worked out. It's been … I don't know what to say. For us, I think the last year really, we've been kind of itching to get back out there and play again, but the first year off was planned for us, so that's why I said we were a little bit lucky, you know? But then after that we've been in the same boat as everybody else, kind of like waiting and then getting psyched for something, but then you've got to move those dates and all that stuff. But I feel like the pandemic thing affected so many people in a really bad way and I don't want to complain about it.
We didn't get to play shows. Of course, I've been doing this for a long time, I've been playing shows for like 30 years. I started thinking, Hey, it was a great party and I was invited for a lot of it, and maybe it's over [laughs]. You know, it's not really how I imagined things to come to an end. But now it looks like it's finally going to fire up again. "Hey, it's back on!" I think a lot of countries just can't afford to keep this going anymore. People just want to get moving and get past this now. It sure is an interesting time to live through.
Being a long distance band, for lack of a better term…
It just turned out to be the worst idea ever to have an international lineup [laughs]. I mean, usually it's fine, in normal times, it's just very straightforward. We have now kind of a base in Germany where we store our gear and we rehearse there when needed. I mean, that's been a while since we did that. We all fly into Germany in Europe and that's where we do it now. That's where we kind of prepare ourselves for tours and stuff. Most of our road crew is from Germany, our management is in Germany, our tour buses. We do a lot of work in Europe, as you're probably aware of. Compared to what we do in North America, our presence is more here, I guess, in Europe. Usually it works out very well.
It's a very complicated thing to get people over here and we managed to get Alissa over here, which was great. She recorded her vocals in Denmark with producer Jacob Hansen in his studio. That was fantastic. I think she was here for like two months working on the Arch Enemy album. And then this time we wanted to get Jeff over to do his guitar parts and solos and stuff. He tried to board a flight and it didn't work. He had all the right documents, but the airline didn't want to take that risk of having a problem at the other end when he reached Europe. So that was a bummer, because just recording face to face is kind of so much better than critiquing somebody's work that they sent over that they've recorded remotely. You know what I mean? It just slowed everything down a lot.
But I mean, of course he did great. He did it in a studio in Seattle, and he ended up having to do his parts in Seattle where he lives. But I thought that was a bit sad because on Will to Power he came over to Europe and it was just a lot more fun because you could come up with ideas on the spot. "Hey there's a gap here, why don't you do something there?" Coming up with ideas on the fly is fun and you get ideas when somebody plays something right in front of you, you think "Wow, that's cool, why don't you do that again?" So we didn't have the luxury of that, but I think everything else worked out pretty well.
In Sweden, where we tracked bass and all my guitars, they didn't have these restrictions and stuff. It was like a very unique place, and I don't know if you heard about that. So we were kind of free to work on the album as we wished and we could be all together, like me, Sharlee and Daniel. The three of us could work together without any problems. It was more getting the North Americans in.
You kick off the new record with "Handshake With Hell", which is a massive performance from Alissa, balancing clean and rough vocals. Did you see this as a statement piece? Obviously incorporating clean vocals can be controversial for a lot of fans.
We had a song ["Reason to Believe"] on the previous album Will to Power that kind of had a bit of a ballad feel. It was heavy as well, but it mixed clean and her screams and growls … That was kind of stuck and tucked away in the back of the album. This one, I thought "why not just bring it out to the front?"
It was the third single, the latest single we've released. I guess, like you said, we're 11 albums in. You got to kind of provoke a reaction somehow because people do think they know where they've got us and what we are and everything. So it's kind of fun to bring something like that out that shows a different side to the band and shows that we've got the balls to do something like that I guess. I don't know, to me it's all metal. This whole thing with clean vocals, I've never viewed Arch Enemy really as a pure death metal band, you know? I've played in death metal bands in the past, prior to Arch Enemy.
There's a lot of traditional metal and a lot of old school heavy metal, thrash metal, speed metal, whatever you want to call it, and stuff from the death metal era, I guess, and whatever we do with it. After a few albums we found our sound, established a sound. Of course, with the vocalists that we had prior to Alissa, they didn't really have that toolbox with the voice. We couldn't really go there to do things that we can do now. It's kind of fun to play around with that. It's one song on the album really that features clean vocals this way, in a very in your face way like it is on "Handshake With Hell". The only difference is really that we've just put it right in the front end of the record. I guess it's a statement piece.
I remember in that 2014 period when Alissa came in, and for a while it was like there were two camps. Those who loved her in The Agonist and her work on War Eternal, but then, of course, Angela had such a mark on the band. What's your thoughts on the back and forth between diehard and new fans of the band, and maybe that adjustment period for Alissa? Because she's more than cemented herself as the vocalist now.
Yeah, I agree with you. I really think she has. I mean, of course we've been through a lot, myself, Daniel and Sharlee as well. We have the seniority in a way that we did all those years leading up to Alissa joining. There's always going to be that, of course, but it's less and less of that. We don't really think about that too much. It's more like we are a unit. It's what's going on now that's important. We just did, in a small way, celebrate our 25th anniversary as a band. I wrote some stuff for social media and I was listening to the old records and kind of talking about each album, and we celebrated each album a little bit with a merch drop and stuff like that. But you know, it's fun to look back, but you just don't want to look back too much. You know what I mean?
You can easily just get buried in nostalgia. Nostalgia is very attractive, it's a good feeling. I'm kind of a nostalgic person when it comes to other bands I like. I like to just go back and listen to the old records that I grew up with and stuff. I think everybody's like that. I'm not always going forward, but you know when you're actually writing music yourself or doing something creative, I think it's very important to look forward as well. But we're coming off this weird time now. There's a lot of question marks about the future of the music business and the future of concerts. There was a lot of dramatic sort of things being said, but now I'm happy to be here talking to you about a new record in 2022. It's great. We have a tour and it looks like it's actually going to happen, so it's pretty exciting.
Yeah, it's really nice. We have the same tour in Europe later this year, but it's with Carcass instead of Napalm Death … Behemoth are a powerhouse band, and a force to be reckoned with and Unto Others is a band that I really like, when they were called Idle Hands a few years ago. I got turned onto them a few years ago, three or four years ago, and I really got into their earlier stuff, and now they've got a new album out and it's great.
Yeah, that's actually a band I really like and I kind of wanted them on the tour and luckily other people thought that was a good idea as well. And I like that it's a tour that not every band is in the same style. But it still kind of fits, I think. I don't know. I mean, if you're a diehard of Arch Enemy, probably you want it to be three other Scandinavian metal bands. I don't know, but it gets a bit boring for us.
Do you consider yourself to still be a big heavy metal fan? Are you still seeking out new music or being turned on to new stuff? Or are you pretty rooted in the classics?
It's a combination, really. I mean, I'm definitely very much still into heavy music. I think that somehow separates me from a lot of other musicians, I noticed, because a lot of other musicians are really not into the heavy stuff that they play. They're going into other areas. And I've listened to a lot of music. I've grown up with lots of different kinds of music, but I still really favor guitar music and metal music. That's really what I'm into, I guess.
But I'm really picky though. I've been listening to it for so long and being a fan even before I started playing myself. I've done so much myself as well, 30 albums or whatever it is I've been a part of. It's hard to listen to newer metal bands, and then you hear new metal productions and I can kind of hear what they're doing and how they did it. You're listening with your musician ears. I try to not do that, but of course that creeps in.
We mentioned Carcass a while back, and sometimes I think because you're so prolific with Arch Enemy people forget you were (a part of Carcass) for a pretty fascinating time. Heartwork has its 30th anniversary next year, which is one of my favorite albums top to back. Any prevailing thoughts on your time with Carcass?
It wasn't actually that long. I mean, it was 1990 to 1993. I toured with them when they had their second album out, and I joined them as a second guitar player to make it a four piece. And so that was Symphony is a Sickness. We did a lot of touring in 1990 on that. You know, so many things. All my first time sort of really awesome experiences were with them really, because before that I had bands in Sweden, but I was not in touring bands. And I was a huge fan of Carcass and when I got the opportunity and when they asked me to to play with them I had to sort of let go of the [other[ band.
I had just recorded an album with my own band, but for various reasons that was kind of not going the way I wanted it to at the time. The lineup changed dramatically in a really short space of time and it was a bit chaotic. But I just got this opportunity to play with [Carcass]. A lot of my first experiences were with Carcass. So I mean, I owe a lot to them. I came over to America in 1990 and opened for Death on the Spiritual Healing tour and just stuff like that. Just incredible, hanging out with those guys. It's just unbelievable stuff, really. Heavy metal dreams do come true sometimes.
I've always loved Spiritual Beggars. I've never seen any statement saying the band is over or on hiatus. Do you consider the band still active? Or did they just quietly go away?
That's a good question, because I was just thinking about that today. I was looking at our Instagram. We never really announced if we're still going on. We haven't done anything in six years. It was six years ago since we released our last album. It's like, "damn, six years, that's a long time to be inactive," but I think it's just a combination of things. I was really into and I still enjoy, '70s hard rock and like the roots of heavy metal and that really bluesy sort of hard rock stuff. I still like that a lot, but we did nine albums of that kind of music. I don't know, I haven't written anything like that in the last six years. It's not really naturally come out of me. So I would say for now it's kind of done, I guess, but I don't really know. That's difficult to say, isn't it? I could wake up tomorrow and feel inspired to do something.
We were always touring a lot, but when Alissa joined and we did the War Eternal album, I think we did over 300 shows in that tour cycle and then straight into the Will to Power, which is not quite as many shows, but almost. So you're talking over 500 shows right there or something. And it's just a lot of time away, and I guess I'm slowing down a bit as well. I mean, I used to do both bands. I used to run several bands simultaneously. I think I just became a bit more serious with Arch Enemy. It took up a lot more of my time. And when I do have three weeks off maybe I just want to take those three weeks off and not rush into pre-production with another project. And that's what I used to do. I used to just relentlessly work on stuff all the time.
Right now I'm practicing guitar again. I know a lot of people were like woodshedding and getting better at guitar during the pandemic. I mean, I wrote and recorded that record with Arch Enemy. But other than that I haven't played a lot of guitar, really. Since we recorded I haven't played that much, I should say. And that recording was done over a year ago. So I've just been catching up now. I pick up the guitar and play the riffs. Now it looks like actually this tour is happening. So I was like "Oh shit. Got to play through 'Nemesis' actually at speed!" you know the actual tempos and stuff. Then it's like that was a bit of a surprise for my right arm. It actually took a couple of weeks to build up the stamina.
Do you find after 30 plus years the dexterity is still there? Are there any issues playing, physically?
Physically, no, I've been really lucky. I mean, I'm good friends with Gary Holt from Exodus, and he speaks quite openly that he's got problems with his elbows and arms and back issues and stuff. I've been very lucky so far. It's probably just around the corner waiting for me, those problems. Hopefully not, you know? It's a very weird thing to do. It's like anything that you do that's very specific like that. You just grip that little guitar pick very tightly and you hold it at this weird angle. It's not really a natural thing for the body to do, I guess.
Wrapping up, I know folks are stoked to see you guys back on the road after two and a half years, and that feeling has to be mutual.
I'm going to be nervous. A few people ask do you get nervous before a show? The last 10 years it's really no, not really. It just became such a normal thing for me. I'm always playing shows, but now being away from it for two and a half years, I think when I hear the intro tape rolling I'm going to be a little bit shaky.
Deceivers drops July 29 through Century Media Records. Catch Arch Enemy on tour at one of the dates below with Behemoth, Napalm Death and Unto Others.
4/19 – Dallas, TX @ Amplified Live [Tickets]
4/21 – St Petersburg, FL @ Jannus Live [Tickets]
4/22 – Atlanta, GA @ The Eastern [Tickets]
4/23 – Charlotte. NC @ The Fillmore Charlotte [Tickets]
4/25 – Toronto, ON @ Rebel [Tickets]
4/26 – Montreal, QC @ Mtelus [Tickets]
4/28 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5 [Tickets]
4/29 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore Philadelphia [Tickets]
4/30 – Worcester, MA @ Palladium [Tickets]
5/2 – Chicago, IL @ The Riviera Theatre [Tickets]
5/4 – Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre [Tickets]
5/7 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot [Tickets]
5/9 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox SoDo [Tickets]
5/10 – Vancouver, BC @ Vogue Theatre [Tickets]
5/11 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater [Tickets]
5/13 – Berkeley, CA @ The UC Theatre [Tickets]
5/15 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Hollywood Palladium [Tickets]