Latest release: Khaos Legions (Century Media/EMI)
“Religion always gets a good bashing from Arch Enemy,” says band leader Michael Amott down the line from his home. The amiable and pleasantly-spoken guitarist is doing a round of interviews ahead of more gruelling touring that will see them on a whirlwind Australian visit at the end of April. That statement has never been more true than when applied to Arch Enemy’s latest album, Khaos Legions, that plays almost like a guidebook for godlessness and self-empowerment.
“I think we just took things to the extreme lyrically on this album. Angela was just on a whole godless trip on this album,” he explains. “She’d read a bunch of books around that time and there was also the whole thing with the uprisings in North Africa going on – in the Middle East and North Africa. There was just a lot of interesting things going on in the world.”
While Khaos Legions is hardly a concept album, but with a string of tracks like “No Gods, No Masters”, “Bloodstained Cross” and “We Are Godless Entity”, it’s apparent that there is something of a recurring theme running through it.
“We always like to try to have a thread running through every album, like a bit of a concept,” Amott says. “We don’t like to call them concept albums, but there’s always some sort of concept. When we make records, we figure out an idea we wanna go with lyrically and musically and then we piece it all together meticulously. It takes us a while. I think that’s just what I grew up listening to. My favourite albums had that kind of feel. I don’t know, I just like to have everything fit together.”
The influence from old school metal is another thing that has always been a very deliberate aspect of Arch Enemy’s music, and Khaos Legions certainly highlighted that facet of their sound.
“My idea when I started Arch Enemy was to have that fusion between extreme, death metal and thrash and then, with the vocals and the drumming especially, to have that kind of very evil, aggressive vocal approach,” the guitarist explains. “But then also have, with the guitars, have a local of melodies and probably more influence from classic metal: Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, stuff like that. We’re probably just getting better at doing that and fine-tuning that whole thing.”
Like any band, Arch Enemy has faced their fair share of criticism as opinions vary over the merits of each album of the catalogue. Some are still deeply enamoured with the Johan Liiva albums, and you only have to visit any metal-based web forum to find lengthy discussions about which of the Angela Gossow-fronted releases are the best. Arguments aside, it would be simply unfair to accuse Arch Enemy of anything less than a remarkable level of consistency.
“Consistency. It’s kind of like poo!” Amott says with a chuckle. “I’d like to think we’ve been fairly consistent. It’s always hard. You aim to make that perfect masterpiece every time. Sometimes you miss the mark, sometimes you hit it straight bang on. I think we try to write the best music we can, of course. We put a lot of work into it, and I think we are known for our quality.”
Part of their secret might lay in their preparedness when it comes to the recording process. While there are many bands even at Arch Enemy’s level that don’t begin writing songs until they head into the studio to begin a new album, Amott prefers to have everything already mapped out by that time.
“I like us to be very well prepared. Actually [producer] Andy Sneap, who works on a lot of our records, says we’re one of the most well prepared bands he’s ever worked with. We kind of have every detail worked out, and we like to do demos of our stuff as well. Our drummer Daniel is very much into recording as well, so we have that advantage of being able to produce quality demos of all our stuff. We don’t want to do demos and be prepared to the point where you kind of kill the material, you know, but we like to be prepared and know what we’re doing. Certainly in the past we’ve found ourselves thinking, ‘Oh shit, we’ve run out of lyrics’, or ‘We’ve got to write another song’ or something on the spot. We’ve done that, but it’s best to be prepared. For us, anyway.”
The song writing process begins for Amott as soon as the previous album is done. Khaos Legions is barely a year old and he already has a ton of ideas for the follow-up.
“Khaos Legions… I put that one to bed a long time ago. That was finished when I delivered it to the label. You know, you slave over something, and really pour everything you have into something, a project, and it’s quite draining… a lot of work… many, many hours. But once you deliver it to the label, and it’s out for the fans to enjoy – or not enjoy, whatever – as artists we’re on to the next thing.”
Prolificacy has long been a Michael Amott trait. By his own admission, he’s a guitar nerd is always coming up with something – a run, a riff or snatches of a melody that he can store away until it’s required.
“It’s not like I’m forcing myself,” he says. “It’s a natural process. I play guitar for hours every day. I guess I’m slightly retarded in that sense. Playing guitar all the time, and when I’m on the road I have even more time to play guitar, because you know you sit around in hotel rooms or backstage most of the time. I just play guitar really, and ideas will come out of that. And it’s so easy to capture your ideas now these days. You used to stick them on cassettes, but now you can put them on the phone or laptop, whatever is convenient. And you just kind of build up an arsenal of killer riffs and melodies, ideas and bits and pieces. And then it’s great to go back to that later when you’re putting together a new album and have that there to pull from.”
Arch Enemy will be in Australia once again very soon. This time however, the visit will only be a whistle-stop two-date outing in Melbourne and Sydney at the tail-end of their Asian tour.
“We’re sort of at the end of a run down in Asia,” Amott says. “We start in Japan, we’re gonna do a full tour down there and then we’re playing Singapore and the Phillipines, places like that. We had the opportunity to have some Australian shows at the end. Unfortunately it means only two shows this time around, so maybe next time. “
When it is suggested they might want to come back as part of a festival like Soundwave in the future, Amott laughs very loudly.
“Ahh. Well, we’ve never been invited by the organisers so… we gotta do our own shows!”
Notoriously hard-touring, if Arch Enemy’s ultimate goal is to play everywhere imaginable, they’re well on the
way to achieving that feat. No place is apparently too remote or inaccessible for these Swedish road-dogs. From South East Asia to Indian Ocean islands, Arch Enemy has played them all.
“We’ve just seen a lot of markets open up for us. In South America, there’s a lot of places there, and some places in Africa like Morocco. We actually started the whole Khaos Legions tour in Morocco: Casablanca. It was kind of exotic. It was good. It’s out of the way; they’re seeing us for the first time so if we fuck up the new songs then maybe not many would notice,” Amott says with a laugh.
“We just had this crazy little run in January where we fly around, we don’t even have our own equipment. We just bring guitars and stuff and the necessary bits and pieces that we need and we hit a bunch of places that we can’t get to normally. We played Israel, Tel Aviv, places like that.”
Going on tour with little more than guitars and a snare drum and hiring or even borrowing gear out on the road isn’t uncommon, but these days it’s usually the domain of deep underground cult acts, not big name bands like Arch Enemy. Michael Amott is keen to point out that his band is willing to “do what it takes” to get to places where people want to see them. Things may not run as smoothly in developing markets as they do elsewhere, but that’s part of the adventure.
“It’s more work for our crew than it is for us,” Amott says. “We have a great road crew working for us. They turn up and they have to basically re-wire the whole PA because maybe there’s not the local expertise that you’d like. For us as performers it’s always great, and the fans are amazing. I think that when you play somewhere like that, that isn’t spoiled with live shows and seeing their favourite bands or the bands they listen to every day – they’re not used to having them come through – it just becomes like a very very cool event. And the anarchy that they bring, the audience, it just inspires us and takes it to the next level. We were the first international metal band to play in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. That was two years ago now. It was just insane. Those kind of things are just special moments, for sure. It’s very interesting taking metal to some of these places.”
NOTE: This interview was completed before the announcement that Chris Amott had left the band.
Arch Enemy play in Australia on the following dates:
30/4: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW (+ As Silence Breaks + Datura Curse)
1/5: Billboard, Melbourne VIC (+ Teramaze + Elysian)