Arch Enemy has always been a funny band to me. Not ha-ha funny, just you know, funny. When you think of the stereotypes of metal, you may think the music is all very heavy and very extreme. And despite what some older generations might say, metal isn’t “just noise,” it can also be melodic. And that is what has always intrigued me about Arch Enemy. Not only could they produce some of the heaviest riffs, but they could also create some of the most beautiful melodies. Another stereotype is the one where metal bands are composed of a bunch of big, burly, bearded men. Since the departure of Johan Liiva in 2000, this Swedish metal band has been fronted by the incredibly talented Angela Gossow.
When Gossow decided to part ways with the band earlier this year, she passed the torch to her friend, The Agonist’s Alissa White-Gluz. Guitarist Michael Amott and the rest of the band welcomed their new singer as they recorded their 10th album, War Eternal. Instead of letting the pressure get to her, White-Gluz has been grateful and humble to be in the position she is in, and because of that, the overly-critical metal fans have embraced her. I recently had the chance to talk to Alissa about what it was like taking the reins, jamming with a band she’s listened to for years, and where her inspiration for some of the songs came from. We also discussed co-writing with Michael, the reception of War Eternal, and some of today’s concertgoer habits. See what Alissa had to say below:
You have been friends with Angela for some time. What was it like when she had asked you to take over? What were your first thoughts?
Well my first thought was to talk to her and Michael about it. I just wanted to make sure that this was what everybody had wanted and not just a fleeting thought. I think she might have jokingly said, “Oh, one day you’ll be taking over for me anyways…” I wanted to make sure she was serious about it (laughs).
Were there any nerves upon jamming with the band for the first time?
I’m not really a nervous person. Putting pressure on myself doesn’t make things any better anyway. I just made sure I was prepared for the initial jam.
What was it like in the studio? From what I gathered, it seemed like everything went rather smoothly.
Yeah, it was a really great experience. I think there was a natural chemistry with Michael and it made for an enjoyable and smooth recording process.
What was the writing process like in terms of lyrics? Did you already have lyrics ready or did you hear the music first?
I had written a bunch of songs in the middle of 2013, because I had thought I was recording another album with my previous band. So when I was informed that I wouldn’t be continuing on with that band, I had a handful of songs. I didn’t want to toss them into the Arch Enemy catalog because that wasn’t what I had written them for. So I listened to the demos that Michael had sent me and right off the bat, I decided what songs I had wanted to do and what ones Michael could do. Some songs I would call “shotgun” on and others, I would tell Michael that he could do them (laughs).
Was there back and forth between you and Michael, or did you both write your tracks separately?
We independently took the time to write the lyrics. But I also spent a lot of time in Sweden with Michael, and we would sit in the kitchen and brainstorm ideas. We actually kept some of the demo vocals for the album because some of them just had a good raw feeling to them. Everything was more or less written before we went in to track the songs, but there’s always something, some sort of magic, that will happen in the moment. In the chorus for “War Eternal,” for example, I changed something in the studio that now is something that really hooks the song.
It’s gotta be crazy to listen to a band, be influenced by the band, and there you are, hearing new Arch Enemy material in the studio, and they are waiting to track your vocals.
Yeah. When Michael sent me the demos to check out, I downloaded them, and when they began to play, I was like, “Wait a second.” There I was sitting in my kitchen, and I was hearing demos from Michael Amott and Arch Enemy, they were blank, and I was expected to write the lyrics. I was like, “Holy shit.” (Laughs)
In terms of prepping for live performances, was there any song you in particular you couldn’t wait to play with the band?
Yeah, some of them I still want to play since we haven’t played them yet (laughs). We play about a two-hour set, but there’s only so many songs we can cram into that amount of time.
Especially with the size of the Arch Enemy catalog.
Exactly. I was really looking forward to playing “Ravenous,” “We Will Rise,” “Burning Angel,” “Taking Back My Soul,” and so many more. There’s just so many songs and that’s not including the ones off of War Eternal (laughs).
Yeah, that’s gotta make the setlists a pain to figure out!
Yeah. I know it wasn’t easy for Michael, Sharlee [D’Angelo, bassist] and Daniel [Erlandsson, drummer]. But they know what works live. If something works better in the beginning, middle, or end of the show, they would know. I could sit there and tell them all that I want to play, but they’ve been playing most of these songs for years. I love every Arch Enemy song, so I am happy to play any and all of them (laughs).
There have been various videos of you guys playing the new material up on YouTube. I was just curious what your thoughts are on live footage that makes its way online.
I know there are bigger artists who kind of denounce fans that upload that kind of stuff. I kinda understand where they are coming from. Recording a live show, especially a metal show, with a phone, is not giving a good representation of how the performance actually is. It’s like taking a photo of the Mona Lisa in the dark, blurry, and uploading it with a cheesy Instagram filter (laughs). If someone is on stage, they are performing their art, their masterpieces, and they just want it to receive good representations of it.
I think to fight against it might be too much energy to put into something that doesn’t even matter. You know, with every show, there’s going to be a hundred different videos in different angles, which oversaturate it all. It may be a bad representation of a show, but if the fan enjoyed it enough to take the moment and record it, let them do that. I don’t think it will deter people from seeing the shows. I think it might even make people a bit more curious about going.
Exactly. It’s just a common behavior that has now taken place amongst concertgoers. It is interesting in some situations, for example, when a band’s lineup changes, it may create more hype.
Yeah. I’m really proud of what we do live, so I’m not ashamed or worried people are going to see it before they actually come to the show. I think it’s another thing fans like to do nowadays. You know, they like to hear a single before they buy an album, and they might want to watch a live video before they buy a concert ticket. It’s a taste before they buy the whole pie.
It does get weird at times. I was on tour with my boyfriend Doyle’s band last week, and I was just watching the show from the side. I noticed some fans were watching and singing along, while others were right in his face with a light and a camera, filming him for like, 60 minutes straight. It’s just weird because they paid to see this event, and they didn’t even get to see it (laughs).
Comedian Louis C.K. does a bit about something similar. He talks about how the phone might record HD video, but if you put your arm down, everything around you is HD.
Yeah, exactly (laughs). If you wanna snap a few photos or whatever that’s fine, but filming an entire set and uploading it is a little strange. It’s also not fair to the other fans because now they gotta overlook your hand and your camera to see the show.
Any final thoughts you would like to tell the readers?
We can’t wait to hit the road and perform the new songs for everyone. So far we have been getting really awesome reactions from the fans about the new stuff. The crowds have been exploding when we play “War Eternal,” which has been really great. There has been a nice exchange between the crowd and us on stage.
Arch Enemy will hit the stage at the Best Buy Theater in New York City on Oct. 24. Joining them on this tour will be Huntress and Starkill. War Eternal is available now. For more information, go to archenemy.net.