ARCH ENEMY – Under Black Flags They March
It was confirmed on March 5th, 2012 that guitarist Christopher Amott (Armageddon) had amicably parted ways with Swedish / German extreme metallers Arch Enemy, his membership having spanned across two tenures: 1996 to June 2005 and March 2007 to March 2012 respectively. Christopher cited his wish to pursue a solo career as the reason behind his departure, while Arch Enemy’s official statement on the matter reckoned that he ‘simply isn’t into playing extreme metal anymore.’ The longtime member tendered his resignation in October 2011, but committed to touring until late January.
“That gave us plenty of time to find a new guitar player and rehearse with the new guitar player, and all that kind of stuff,” appreciates Michael Amott, guitarist and founder of Arch Enemy. “I think he’s into other styles of music, as we all are. We all listen to a wide variety of music, but when we come together and create music together it sounds like Arch Enemy. You should ask him why he left Arch Enemy though, really. I don’t really know (laughs). We talked about it. It’d been quite obvious for a while that he hadn’t been at his happiest playing with Arch Enemy, and he wasn’t as into it as the rest of us are. He was out of the band between 2005 and 2007, so it didn’t come as a great shock to us when he told us. He wanted to leave and pursue other interests. It wasn’t shocking to us or anything; we were kind of expecting it.”
The axeman enjoys a normal brotherly relationship with his younger sibling. “It’s certainly very straightforward, yeah,” he agrees. “We’re friends and everything, but we probably won’t be making music together anymore. We’re still gonna be brothers though. If he ever needs any help, I’m here.”
The same date Christopher’s departure was verified, Nick Cordle – a member of Virginia death metal outfit Arsis from 2008 until 2012 – was revealed to be his replacement. “Nick was a guitar player who I’d seen play before,” Michael recalls. “He’d toured with us when he was a member of Arsis. We did a headlining tour in 2010, maybe 2009 – I can’t remember – and they were one of the opening acts when we toured in America. I just noticed him, and thought he was a great guitar player and a nice guy. That was about it really. He was in the back of my mind as somebody who could possibly be interesting for Arch Enemy if Chris left the band again, so I kind of knew about him. I didn’t stay in touch with him, but I had his contact info.
“I just gave him a call back in October, and asked him if he would be interested in learning some of our songs and sending videos of himself playing our songs. I told him we’d fly him over for rehearsals to try it out, and see what the chemistry was like. That’s what we did, and the chemistry was great. He learnt between 35 to 40 songs, so he became too prepared – he was more than prepared. He learnt a lot more material than we’d asked him to learn. I think that told us that he was very into it, and very enthusiastic.”
Suffice to say, the Arch Enemy mainman is enamoured with Nick’s playing abilities. “I think he’s very good,” he enthuses. “He’s technically great, and he can play our stuff. He basically slots right into that position next to me. If you’re gonna play in Arch Enemy you’ve gotta be able to play my riffs, and also play the solos that are on the albums which Chris recorded. He can do that, but he also adds his own flair – his own touch – to it. He’s got maybe a slightly more modern style than myself or Chris, and some different techniques. He’s got the same kinds of influences as we do, but I think he just uses different techniques to achieve that sound. He’s a great guitar player, and it’s a lot of fun playing with him. We just finished our first tour with Nick, which was in Asia and Australia. That went really well, so it felt great being onstage with him and having him onstage with us and everything. It was a good atmosphere.”
Geographically located in another continent, this might cause logistical problems. “So far, it hasn’t,” Michael insists. “He’s staying in Sweden here and there. We flew him in for the tour, and he rehearsed with us for a week. We then flew out to go on tour, but if we get longer breaks in between tours and shows he will go back to his home in America. Other than that though, he’s staying in Sweden here with us. We all live apart anyway; we don’t live in the same town, and we only rehearse really intensively before a tour or recordings. It’s not like we always meet up once a week or twice a week. It more depends on what’s scheduled.”
The majority of Arch Enemy’s material is penned by the guitarist himself. “I do that together with our drummer Daniel (Erlandsson) in the rehearsal room,” he explains. “I demo up some stuff with him, and knock around ideas. I then just have the other guys come in and add their parts, and that’s usually how it works. We just meet up for a couple of weeks, and rehearse every day or whatever and work on stuff. It’s like most other bands I guess, and not different to most bands I think. We use a lot of other people’s ideas; Daniel has riffs on Khaos Legions, Sharlee’s (D’Angelo, bass) got a couple of riffs on Khaos Legions, and so has Chris. I just tend to write more than everybody else I guess. I usually start the initial idea of a song, and then the other guys will embellish that with their ideas. They might have another guitar part in addition to what I have that will work really well. It’s just that I usually initiate it. I usually have an idea in my head of what I want. I started the band, and have always written the bulk of the material.”
Directed by Patric Ullaeus of Revolver Film Company (who has helmed videos for groups such as Dimmu Borgir, Lacuna Coil, In Flames, Sonic Syndicate, and Kamelot), a music video was filmed for the track ‘Under Black Flags We March’. “Patric’s great,” Michael beams. “He edits, and everything. He’s just a great guy to work with; he’s very straightforward, and he makes us look good which is no mean feat (laughs). ‘Under Black Flags We March’ is the fourth video he’s put together for us. We knew we were gonna shoot this video, so we just thought it’d be cool to have Nick do a little solo. There were a couple of things from the original album mix that we thought could be improved upon. We thought ‘If we’re gonna do that, why don’t we have Nick throw on a little short solo and just introduce him in a way to the fans?’ We thought it’d be something different, something interesting.
“I had the idea for the song itself back in 2006, 2007. I had most of ‘Under Black Flags We March’, except the middle part with the big harmony guitar part. I just didn’t finish it in time for the Rise Of The Tyrant album, which we put out in 2007. We didn’t have time to finish it, but we had plenty of material anyway. I just put that aside, and then I just picked it up again when we started putting together material for Khaos Legions a year and a half ago. That was one of the first songs I started working on again. It was easy to work on something that was almost completed, and just see if we could finish it up. We did, and I think it came together really easily actually. It’s a different song for Arch Enemy; it’s more mid-paced, and almost has a classic metal, Judas Priest type of feel I think. It’s slightly different, but it adds to the overall dynamic of the album I think.”
Whether ‘Under Black Flags We March’’s music video will be the final clip to be filmed from May 2011 full-length Khaos Legions is yet to be decided. “We decide that ourselves,” the founder informs. “We’re self-managed, and do everything ourselves really. It’s whatever we wanna do, whatever we feel like doing really. We did ‘Yesterday Is Dead And Gone’, ‘Bloodstained Cross’, and now ‘Under Black Flags We March’. I think we might do another one actually, though I’m not sure. I hope so. There’s one called ‘No Gods, No Masters’ and another song called ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ we might wanna do.”
Weighing Khaos Legions against the rest of Arch Enemy’s back catalogue is a difficult task, Michael finds. “I don’t really have that perspective,” he confesses. “I like all the albums we’ve made, really. It’s very varied, covering a wide spectrum of influences – there’s a lot of different things on there. We poured everything we had at the time into it. Of course, I’m never 100% happy. I kind of like all our albums and what they represent in our history, but I’m never 100% happy. Overall, I’m really happy with it though. The day I’m 100% happy with an album I’ve made I think I’ll probably stop making albums. I always need to feel that I can push further, and create something better. Something even more metal, something even more kick ass. I’m always looking forward to the next one, the next chapter. I’m always making new music.”
British guitar string manufacturer RotoSound launched a Michael Amott signature string set on March 15th. “I used to use RotoSound a long time ago,” the axeman remembers. “Then I started playing another brand which gave me a great sound for a long time. I then got interested in RotoSound again a couple of years ago though, and I started using them again about a year ago I guess. Somebody approached me saying ‘Have you tried RotoSound?’, and I said ‘Yeah, I used to play them all the time.’ It was somebody who worked with the company who said ‘Why don’t you try them again?’ I did, and I really liked how they sounded. I started using them on tours and a couple of recordings.
“With the guitar and the guitar sound there are so many different factors, so many different things that come into play. You’ve got the amplifier, and in the amplifier you’ve got lots of different things like different tubes, the wiring, and the actual guitar cables. You’ve got the pickups in the guitar, the wood in the guitar, the neck, and the strings of course. I think the most important thing is probably the guitar player himself, but I think as far as how they sound, I don’t know. I think they just sound really good. To my ears they sound very good; they sound very brilliant and have a lot of great attack, and just a nice tone. Most strings have that for like the first day and then they die, but I feel that these sustain that life for a little bit longer. You can play a couple of shows with them, and they still sound great. I sweat a lot when I play, which really kills the strings. Live I sweat a lot and my hands get really sweaty, and that really kills the tone. I find that these have quite a long life though. I just like the way they sound really. I don’t really know how to explain that anymore (laughs). It’s the feeling isn’t it more than anything else.
“We decided to go even further, and deepen that relationship with a signature set. With whatever company I’ve been with string-wise, I’ve always had to order specific gauges. There hasn’t been a set of strings out there on the market that are exactly the gauges I use; I’ve just always had to get separate strings for each gauge, and then make my own set out of those basically. It’s always been a custom gauge that I’ve used, because it’s what I feel most comfortable playing for the tuning that I use, and the tension that I want on the guitar. RotoSound offered to release on the market basically my custom set, which is very exciting of course. They’re very open. They’ve got great people, and a great team working at RotoSound strings. It was a lot of fun putting all that stuff together with them, and trying out different strings that they wound for me and stuff like that. They got it right really quickly though, because they really know what they’re doing. It’s great. I love working with them; they’re a great company, and there’s a history there. They’re a really old British company, almost like Marshall Amps and stuff. It’s just got a lot of great pedigree to it, a lot of rock ’n’ roll history.”
From April 13th until the 28th Arch Enemy toured across Asia, a continent where the assortment’s profile is particularly healthy. “We do quite well all over the world nowadays,” Michael notes. “We are fortunate enough that we can tour all over the world successfully, which we do. We go all over Europe, North America, South America, and all of Asia. We don’t only do just Japan; we do China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan – all over the place really.
“Asian culture is very different, but we’ve been over there so many times that we can understand it. We’ve been to Japan 20-25 times maybe over the years, and had a lot of success over there. Arch Enemy remains the biggest extreme metal band in Japan in the last 15 years, so we’ve had a long history, a lot of success, a lot of big tours, and a lot of great album sales over there. The band is very well established in Japan. The culture is really different; they listen to music maybe a little bit more carefully than we do. They’re very detailed, and they’re very into the details. It’s a little bit different, but at the core I think metal fans are the same all over the world really about music. It’s getting a bit more crazy though, a bit more that way, yeah. They used to be a bit more quiet between the songs, but I think they’re getting a bit more rowdy now. I think there’s a European or American influence now, but they listen very carefully to what you play. They come to a show completely sober; they want to hear you perform, and they’re very analytical. If you play one note wrong, they’ll let you know after the show.”
Arch Enemy’s live setlist varies from performance to performance. “We played a lot of different setlists in Asia,” the mainman acknowledges. “We had something special where the fans in Japan could vote for their own favourite setlists through a website poll, so we just learnt a whole bunch of different songs for that. That were really obscure songs that they wanted to hear (laughs). Like I said, with Nick we can play about 40 songs with him and we know even more among the rest of us. We just have a wide variety of tunes to choose from now that we can play, and when we’re playing club shows we play longer shows. We play for an hour and a half, and we can incorporate a lot of songs that we wouldn’t normally play at maybe festivals.
“At festivals I think we play kind of like an Arch Enemy greatest hits thing. That’s what we do at festivals, but hopefully we can throw in something crazy as well. We also want to play some stuff off of the new album Khaos Legions as well. There are some albums we wouldn’t play from at a festival though. It depends, but we kind of change it up a bit as well. Angela (Gossow) keeps on file every setlist we’ve ever played with her. She can see ‘Oh, we played this festival two years ago in August 2010, and played this setlist.’ She can pull that out, and then we just make sure we don’t play the same again. She basically has that for every territory and every show we’ve ever played with her.”
Arch Enemy’s quicker paced compositions are Michael’s favourites to perform live. “They get my blood flowing, pumping,” he exclaims. “Songs like ‘Bloodstained Cross’ off of Khaos Legions or ‘Nemesis’ (from July 2005’s Doomsday Machine), songs like that. ‘Ravenous’ (from April 2001’s Wages Of Sin) and all these songs get a great reaction from the crowd live. We’ve got songs like ‘Dead Eyes See No Future’ and ‘We Will Rise’ (both from August 2003’s Anthems Of Rebellion) that always get a massive reaction live, and have become real staples in the Arch Enemy set. They’re always cool to play because they get such a great reaction.”
An eighth Spiritual Beggars is in the midst of being cut. “We’ve met up a couple of times in the last year,” the guitarist divulges. “I’ve actually written a bunch of songs for that; we’ve actually written and demoed up about ten songs, and we’ve got another three that we haven’t demoed up yet. Those three are just in our heads, or are more simple demos with drum machines and stuff. We’ve got about 13, maybe 14 songs ready to go. The demos sound great, so I’m really excited. It’s always gonna be classic rock inspired, very heavy rock with a lot of Deep Purple, Mahogany Rush, Black Sabbath of course, Uriah Heep, Rainbow, and all those old heavy bands. Really cool bands from the early 70s are gonna be in there. These new demos sound really, really killer. I think we’ve stepped it up a little bit in the songwriting. It sounds very, very catchy with lots of energy. I don’t know. To my ears it sounds like a cut above Return To Zero, so I’m pretty excited about it.
“We’re gonna try to meet up in June, finish the pre-production, have some intense rehearsals for a week, maybe do some more demos, and then hopefully start recording or something. We’ve got some time off in the fall I think from the Arch Enemy schedule. There’s a window there in September, October I think, so we might try to record the album then. Hopefully we’ll get a new Spiritual Beggars album out next year in early 2013. That’s an idea that we have, anyway. I do Spiritual Beggars stuff in between breaks in the Arch Enemy schedule. It’s just something that I really enjoy. It’s just a different side of my guitar playing, and my creativity. They’re great guys I play with in that band as well.”
A live Arch Enemy DVD entitled Live Khaos is scheduled to be released in 2013. “It’ll basically just be live stuff from all over the world on the Khaos Legions tour campaign,” Michael imparts. “We put one out in 2004 called Live Apocalypse, and that was filmed in London. It was an entire London show, and then we filmed one entire concert in Tokyo, Japan in 2008 which was called Tyrants Of The Rising Sun. I think this new DVD is gonna be more different; it’s gonna be from different shows, different festival shows. I don’t think there’ll be one whole show. I mean, there might be. I don’t know. It depends on how many DVDs it’ll have. Maybe it’ll be a two-disc or three-disc DVD, or maybe it’ll be just a single disc. I’m not entirely sure yet.
“We’ve got a lot of different material that we wanna put on there. We filmed a really cool small show in Angela’s hometown of Cologne, Germany (on December 13th, 2011), which is very cool footage that looks incredible. We then have another big show from Japan actually (October 15th, 2011), which we did last year in a big stadium in front of 15,000 people. That’s a very big, epic scale show, so that’s a bit different again. Then we have some stuff from the Philippines. We’ve got footage all over the place, really. We’re filming a little bit this summer as well. We film wherever we go. We’re going to South America at the end of the year – all over Latin America – so we might film some stuff there as well. We’re gonna try to put it all together sometime. Whatever it is, we’re gonna try to make it very cool and fan friendly. Something that the fans can really sink their teeth into, and get excited about. It’s gonna be from all around the world I think though. Some crazy footage, a bit more chopped up.”
A ninth Arch Enemy studio effort is provisionally scheduled for issue in 2014. “I try to raise the bar a lot every time, but it’s getting more and more difficult because we’ve made some really damn fine albums,” the founder chuckles. “It’s getting harder and harder, but we try to raise the bar. We try to push ourselves even further, and come up with new lyrical concepts, new music, new tones, new riffs, new ideas, and new ways of creating extreme metal. I have about three, maybe four new song ideas I’m working on. I’m slowly starting to write new material. Right now the direction sounds very extreme, but I don’t know. We might tone it down a bit (laughs). It’s very busy, I’d say probably more technical guitar wise, more melodic and faster, and not as mid-tempo and heavy as the Khaos Legions material. I’d say it’s faster, more uptempo, and with more crazy guitar work.
“This is how it looks right now, but all this might change of course. Things might go horribly wrong, or they might go faster than that.”
Michael originally earnt notoriety as the guitarist for British extreme metal unit Carcass, recording the albums Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious (October 1991) and Heartwork (October 1993). Reunion shows took place between 2008-2010 following their 1995 disbanding, though future Carcass plans seemingly fail to include the Swede. “I’m not working with Carcass at the moment,” Michael confirms. “From what I hear they’re working on something new, but it’s not with me. I’m not included in it. I don’t know. I don’t comment (laughs). I don’t really know what they’re working on so it’s not really for me to say, but whatever it is I wish them well of course. I had a great time doing the reunion shows; we played a lot of shows in 2008, 2009, 2010, and I had a fantastic time at those shows. I’m a very busy guy as well, so I could see why I wouldn’t be included. I’ve pretty much got a full-time thing going on with Arch Enemy, and I’m with Spiritual Beggars on top of that. It’s very difficult for me to fit in a third band with touring and everything.”
Khaos Legions was released in Japan on May 18th, 2011 through Trooper Entertainment. The album was subsequently issued on May 30th, 2011 and June 7th, 2011 in Europe and North America respectively, all via Century Media Records.
Interview published in May 2012. All promotional photographs by Gustavo Sazes.
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