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Arch Enemy: Too Metal for Disney. Michael Amott's Wild Ride

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 @ 8:55 PM

"Mickey Mouse called and he wa

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It’s opening Sunday for the NFL, and most of San Diego is ensconced in front to the TV cheering on the Chargers as they took on Da’ Bears at Qualcomm Stadium, just outside of town. Arch Enemy founding guitarist Mike Amott, however, could care less. Instead, he’s spending one of San Diego’s perpetually idyllic afternoons on the phone handling interviews and getting ready for that night’s show at the SOMA as co-headliners on the "Black Tyranny Tour."

"It’s been a hectic few days" Amott notes. "And I don’t really follow American sports anyway. It would be nice to get outside for a bit, though, maybe I can take a break a little bit later." The tour got off to a bit of a chaotic start for the rising Swedish metallurgists and their tour mates Machine Head, Throwdown and Sanctity. Some of Arch Enemy’s crew were delayed by visa issues and the opening date at the Disneyland House of Blues in Anaheim got switched, literally, at the last minute to The Glass House in Pomona more than an hour away because of some bullshit new ‘anti-metal" policy the Walt Disney Co. seems to have adopted.

Another "Black Tyranny" show at a House of Blues on Disney property — in Orlando — ended up getting switched as well, and other metal shows by Obituary, etc., were similarly displaced. But you can still have Gospel Brunch twice on Sundays at both locations, if you so desire.

Amott, though bemused, seems relatively unfazed by the tumult. Given all of the touring Arch Enemy has done here and elsewhere, especially during the past five years, the band has overcome much bigger problems — such as singer Angela Gossow blowing out her voice during the Wages of Sin tour in 2001 — and will no doubt face more during the next 18 months or so as it supports the brand new Rise Of The Tyrant album.

The bruising Tyrant, which was slated for release in the states Sept. 25 through Century Media, is Arch Enemy’s seventh album and shows the band is definitely not content to merely stand its ground after the steady gains of the last three albums, Sin, Anthems of Rebellion and Doomsday Machine (which cracked the Billboard Top 100). And it sees the return of Amott’s brother and co-lead guitarist Christopher, who left the band — rounded out by bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and drummer Daniel Erlandsson — in 2005 after tiring of Arch Enemy’s rigorous schedule. His position for the past two years had been filled by Fredrik Akesson, who can be seen on a couple bonus tracks on Arch Enemy’s 2006 DVD Live Apocalypse.

Tyrant sees the Amott brothers’ signature elegant leadwork and intricate guitar harmonies once again soaring above their brutal riffing and Gossow’s attack dog vocals, making for a melodic death metal masterpiece from a band that just seems to be getting stronger and better with age.

On the phone from the aforementioned San Diego, Mike Amott spoke about his brother’s return, Arch Enemy’s unrelenting drive, a possible reunion of his legendary former band Carcass and what it was like to play Antonio Tony DiMarco Thunderbottom on the Cartoon Network’s outrageous Dethklok: Metalocalypse.

KNAC.COM: Kind of a strange start to the tour, eh?

AMOTT: Yeah it was crazy, it was a sold-out show in the end, which was cool. But they had to switch the venues two days before and do all this scrambling around. We got here and it was like, "OK, what's going on?" It was really nothing to do with us, it had to do with the booking agent and the venue owners. We're too metal for Disney, I guess. Mickey Mouse called and he was really pissed (laughs.)

They're pretty down on metal, I guess. It really wasn't too bad for us, but it must have been a hassle for all those people who bought tickets for a show they thought was going to be in Anaheim who had to drive like 70 miles to the new venue.

KNAC.COM: It was just the fact that this House of Blues was on Disney property, right?

AMOTT: I guess so because the other House of Blues shows we have booked aren't going to be affected. At least that's what we're hearing now. Who knows what games people play.

KNAC.COM: No fooling. With all of the corporate ownership of the venues and the promotion and everything nowadays you're at their mercy?

AMOTT: Yeah, we'll have to see what happens. It's hard enough touring over here as it is with all of the travel and getting all the work permits squared away for the band and the crew without having to deal with stuff like this too.

KNAC.COM: Did the show itself go OK?

AMOTT: Yeah, it was fun. It was sold out, the crowd was into it. It was the first time we'd ever played in Pomona, and you're nobody until you play Pomona (laughs.) It was a good time. There's still some bugs. We were missing some of our crew who were still trying to get here because of the paperwork stuff I was just talking about.

But it's getting tighter, the show yesterday went that much better and it's just a matter of getting back in the swing. It usually takes a couple of shows to work everything out, but since we haven't toured in six months it might take a couple more than usual. We only did two festival shows before this, so we're a little rusty.

KNAC.COM: Plus you've got Chris to get acclimated back into the mix?

AMOTT: Yeah, but he's full-on back into it. He's enjoying himself and having a good time and playing very well. So it's falling into place. He's pretty stoked to be out here, he hasn't been on the road in three years so he's excited to be out here playing shows and to be playing guitar again.

KNAC.COM: Did he rejoin the band in time to do the album?

AMOTT: He rejoined the band about six weeks before we went into the studio so he was there for pre-production and rehearsals and when we did the arrangements for the songs.

KNAC.COM: Did you feel that he would eventually come back to the band, or did you think he might be gone for good?

AMOTT: I don't know. I think we all were hoping he would come back at some point, but it had to be because he wanted to be in the band, not because someone was pressuring him to come back. He approached us and we talked about in the new year, actually, he said he'd really like to come back to the band we were like "yeah, the sounds great." But we thought we'd give him a couple months to think about it, because this is a very important part of our lives. this is our life, we don't really have anything else.

We don't want get into a position where we got rid of the guy who we had, and who we were quite happy with, and then have Chris leave again because he decided he really wasn't into it after all. We wanted to make sure he was 100 percent certain, so we gave him time to make sure this is what he really wanted to do, and he convinced us that it was. So he's back in the band.

KNAC.COM: Just what did Chris do during his time away, I read some stuff about him going to school, talking about a solo album?

AMOTT: He didn't stop playing guitar, but he didn't record any music or wasn't part of any serious projects. I think he just wanted a break from all that. He did go to school for a while, then he started teaching music. He did some bar type shows, doing covers with some friends. I think he just wanted to get away from the insanity that is Arch Enemy for a while. When you join a band like Arch Enemy it takes over your whole life. It's a full-on thing. There isn't really room for anything else, it pushes everything out. You can't have a little plan for yourself, what you would like to do with your life, forget about that. it's all about the band.

And he got into the band when he was young, he was only 17. Basically he hadn't tried anything else and he wanted to experience something else. And you can't really blame him for that. We all had been employed, we had had day jobs, we all knew normal working life was like, we had all been out on our own. He just went straight from school and living with our parents to being in a band and being a musician. He didn't know that the grass was pretty green on this side (laughs.) He knows that now.

KNAC.COM: Before Arch Enemy, did you and Chris play much together, jam at home and whatnot, or were you already out doing your thing with Carnage or Carcass by the time he started playing?

AMOTT: I'm seven years older than him, so I started playing guitar first. By the time he was really playing I had moved out of our parents house. But he would come over to where I was living and we'd play guitar. And I gave him the guitar he started out on. I kind of gave him his start, I guess you could say, but then he took the ball and ran with it. He went to music school and his playing really developed from there.

But yeah, we have been playing together for a long time, and I even though I was in another couple of bands, that definitely has helped us develop our unique sound with Arch Enemy. We have a very similar feel, in certain areas of music we lock in, and it's becomes very special.

And, of course, you have to factor in genetics, because I've played with some great guitar players, but I've never been in sync with anyone like I am with Chris. That's blood. And that's good and bad (laughs), being family we get into shit all the time. You're so close and you are brothers, so it can be pretty volatile, but I think that there is an energy there, there's something a little bit magic and it's great. It's just what you need.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned playing with other guitar players, did you get comfortable with Gus G (Firewind)[who did the 2005 Ozzfest with the band] and especially Fredrik Akkeson who was with the band for quite a while?

AMOTT: I couldn't get naked around those guys (laughs) but other than that I was pretty comfortable. Actually I really, really enjoyed it because I'd been playing with Chris for so long that I cherished the opportunity to jam with some other really great musicians. Especially with Fredrik I bonded a lot, we had some really great jam sessions, a lot of great guitar experiences together.

He's a real freak, he loves to practice a lot and he really kicked my ass because he practices so much. That was cool, and that really helped us step it up on this new album, which I was really happy about. We were able to push a little bit further, get a little bit better all the time.

KNAC.COM: Did Fredrik contribute to the new album - or would he have had Chris not come back?

AMOTT: We were writing a little bit with Fredrik, he was coming up with some ideas here and there and we were jamming some of them, but we didn't end up using any of them because that wouldn't have been the right thing to do. "Hey, you're out of the band, but we're going to keep your music (laughs)."

When we brought in Chris, we did a few things on the side that ended up on the album, some co-writing things. It felt more natural to include Chris in the writing, ease him back into the band a bit.

KNAC.COM: At least Fredrik ended up with a pretty sweet gig, playing with Opeth, so things worked out all the way around.

AMOTT: Yeah, it's a hell of a thing. I spoke to Fredrik, told him what was going down, that my brother was going to come back into the band, that I was really sorry, I hadn't expected something like that to happen. I felt really shitty, I felt like the world's lousiest person. And like a month later I heard he had got the job with Opeth and it was like "great." It felt great for me, too, because I didn't have to have that on my conscience any more (laughs.)

KNAC.COM: Still, in the back of his mind, he had to have thought "what happens if someday Chris wants to come back?"

AMOTT: Absolutely, especially with us being brothers. It wasn't like we were getting rid of Fredrik to bring in some other guy, someone who we thought was better. It's just about putting family back together again, and he understood that.

KNAC.COM: How well did you know the Machine Head coming into this tour? I hope you all get a long, since you're playing with them for pretty much the rest of the year.

AMOTT: I know, all over the place. It's cool. We know them a little bit, we haven't toured with them but we've met them on several occasions before and played with them at festivals or at the NAMM show and whatnot. We're going to know them a whole lot better when these tours are over though, that's for sure (laughs.)

KNAC.COM: Will you be touring for this album as hard as you did for the last couple albums?

AMOTT: I hope not (laughs.) But I think so, that's how it goes nowadays. But each time, things get a little bit bigger and a little bit better and it keeps building, which is the kind of position you want to be in as a band. We did five months on the road in the U.S. alone last time, which is quite a lot for a little band from Sweden. We toured probably did 18 months, almost two years for the last album all together, so that was quite a lot. But if you want to keep moving forward, you have to work hard.

KNAC.COM: Chris burned out once, how are the rest of you holding up?

AMOTT: OK. Angela's the one it wears on the most, because she has to scream at everyone every night. But she takes care of herself and we're not a wild, crazy party band. We can't really afford to be when we've got this many shows. If you go out getting wrecked every night it takes it toll on the shows. The show is No. 1 for me, putting on a good performance for the fans.

And that might seem like I'm kissing ass, but it's not, it's my philosophy about this. That's why I'm away from my family at home; it's why I'm standing here on the phone in San Diego. I'm not here to get drunk and hang out in a parking lot; I'm here to put on a great performance for the fans.

KNAC.COM: Are you pleased with how Rise Of The Tyrant turned out?

AMOTT: Yeah, I'm very pleased. There's always little things you'd like to change, production-wise and whatnot, but at some point you've got to let it go and accept that this is the album that we've made, hopefully it encapsulates where the band is at right now in a good way. I love the songs, I love the music on the album. I'm really excited about it.

It sounds pretty fresh to me, it's got a lot of old-school metal in it that we love, that we've always had, but I think we got a lot more intense about it this time. It's a bit more technical; it's looser and a little bit faster. Angela sounds amazing, I love her performance. And Chris is back, so there was a lot of crazy energy in pre-production and rehearsing, there was a little bit of friendly competition going on there, which is fun.

And I'm really proud that this our seventh studio album, this is our fourth one with Angela, and it's fucking sick and extreme and we're getting bigger every time around without us selling out. We're not writing commercial songs, far from it.

KNAC.COM: I'm sure it's been suggested that you do.

AMOTT: (Laughs) Of course, there are people who hint that "it would be great if you could write a sing like 'We Will Rise' again." But that's not how we write songs. It's a form of personal expression, it's an art thing really, you can't just write songs to fit into some mold. That's not how it works for me. That's not what metal's about, metal's about expressing yourself and showing where you're at right now as songwriters and musicians.

The thing is we've never had a plan with this band, we've never been that driven career-wise. It's more like the fans found us. Then we started touring more when we actually got a fan base. And once you go around the world once, people are like "why don't you come back?" So we have to go to all these countries twice or three or four times because there is a market for it. And that's why we were doing this in the first place, because we love playing live. And we have a pretty unique deal for our records, which helps eliminate some of that "commercial pressure." I have my own company, Savage Messiah, and we license our music to other companies around the world, Century Media in the U.S. and Europe and a bunch of other companies in other places. We, Arch Enemy, deliver a finished product, so even management and the labels really don't have any input in it. And it's good because they know they can trust us. Some bands need a lot of guidance, they need a lot of input, otherwise they'd never get anything done. But we have a good work ethic.

KNAC.COM: You guys are going to China for the first time next month. That should be interesting?

AMOTT: It's going to be fun, I have no fucking idea what to expect. Which I guess is the reason we're going. It's going to be exciting, but it's kind of scary in a way. There's a lot of censorship from the government, so who knows what we might be getting into.

KNAC.COM: Are there other places Arch Enemy hasn't been that you'd like to go to?

AMOTT: We've never been to South Africa, we've never been to Russia. And Greece, which is ridiculous because most metal bands play there all the time, and Gus G who played with us is from there, so we almost owe it to him to go. But we've never managed to get it in. We'd like to go to more Asian countries like Thailand and Taiwan.

KNAC.COM: Asia, and specifically Japan, is really the reason Arch Enemy is here in the first place, right?

AMOTT: Yeah, it all happened in Japan. The first album [Black Earth] we did we did on a very, very small label, really underground. It was two guys I knew who had just started a label that I kind of did this for as a favor, but then they licensed it to a really big company in Japan who did a really good job with the album. They loved the album, they placed it right in the market and it fucking exploded.

So we had a new band, a new project project really [Amott, his brother Chris, former Carnage bandmate Johan Liiva and session drummer Erlandsson who later became a full-time member], with a very small underground release, not much back home in Europe and nothing in America, and then it was like, bang, something happened in Japan. We got a budget to tour over there, put together the rest of the band, went over and played the first tour. It was a once in a lifetime experience and it formed a relationship that has lasted for 10 years. And if it hadn't been for that, who knows what, if anything, would have become of Arch Enemy.

KNAC.COM: Did Carcass have a history there or something?

AMOTT: They went there, but after I left the band, they went there once. But they did have good fanbase. That's something that has helped me my whole career, the legacy of a really, really good legendary band. The mix of solos, harmonies but also a really brutal edge, they [the Japanese] liked that combination with Arch Enemy, it was really fresh. You say that now, that you've got metal with guitar solos, it's really not going to revolutionize anything because everyone is doing it, now it's more about just writing good songs. That's what we try to do with Arch Enemy, have quality music, quality songwriting, quality performances, put out really strong albums and do good shows. That's all we can do as a band, we're not new kids on the block anymore.

KNAC.COM: Did you have much of a role in shaping the sound of the two Carcass albums you played on, Necroticism and Heartwork?

AMOTT: Yeah, I think to a certain extent. By the time we were writing Heartwork I was in full swing, I was essentially an equal songwriting partner with Bill Steer, I probably wrote about 40 percent of the music on that album so a lot of the stuff you hear could be my riffs (laughs.) We kind of threw it all together, it was like a big jigsaw puzzle, which is how Arch Enemy is, a lot of riffs, a lot of parts. Some people will say Arch Enemy sounds like Carcass, but a lot of how Carcass sounded at the time was me, although that's not take away anything from those guys, especially Bill. It was all our fault, how it sounded (laughs.)

KNAC.COM: I was curious how that worked, whether you brought some of that to Carcass or whether that was Bill Steer's doing and it rubbed off on you, which you then took to Arch Enemy?

AMOTT: I was influenced by Bill Steer's playing, he was really my favorite, so when I got the opportunity to join Carcass I grabbed it because it was a great opportunity to play with a guitar player who I really admired. And then I developed my own style within the band. By the time we made Heartwork I kind of found my style on that album as far as riffs and solos go, and I just kind of built on that from there.

I never had an urge to break into jazz or anything like that, I want to be really good at playing extreme heavy metal. I don't have the urge to do anything radically different than playing heavy guitar.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of Carcass, Jeff Walker last year talked about the possibility of reuniting the band to play some festival shows. Obviously that didn't happen, but what about down the road?

AMOTT: I could see it happening, sure. I think it's something we [Walker, Steer and himself] would like to do [drummer Ken Owen still suffers from the effects of a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him after Carcass split], but when it might happen, who can say. I will be tied up with Arch Enemy probably through next year, and Bill and Jeff have projects and bands of their own. But it would be fun to go out and play the old Carcass songs for a lot of people, show them how it was done back in the day (laughs.)

    [The Swedish magazine Close-Up has reported that Steer, Amott and Walker had actually gotten together to rehearse Carcass material on several occasions over the last year, so stay tuned.]

KNAC.COM: What was your Dethklok experience like?

AMOTT: It was definitely a surprise, but it was cool. I was approached by one of the co-creators, Brendon Small, to be part of it. He talked me into it. I did all sorts of things, they had me play guitar and they had me do all kinds of voices there in the studio. There was one episode called "Snakes & Barrels" [about Dethklok drummer Pickles' reunion with his old band and the mayhem that ensues] that I did two voices for, one is a one of the band members of Snakes & Barrels and the other is some crazy scientist guy that the government hired to stop Dethklok.

They had me say all kinds of funny stuff, but apparently they liked what I did a lot because I expect to come back and do some more. It feels great for the ego, because apparently not only am I one of the world's best guitar players, I'm also one of the funniest guitar players in the world (laughs.) Or so they would lead me to believe.

KNAC.COM: As a metal guy, what do you think of the cartoon itself?

AMOTT: I think it's really well done. I think it's been really successful and I'm happy about that. The creators are amazing, their sense of humor is fantastic, they're very smart, they're big music fans as well and they're actually fans of the genre that they're kind of poking fun of. They just know their shit, everything is good about it. And that's Brendon Small who's actually writing the music and playing guitar for the Dethklok songs. He's actually a very good guitar player, he's just a multi-talented freak.

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