Interview with Michael Amott of Arch Enemy: Where Evil Began

While now best known as one of the few death metal bands to feature a female lead singer (the growling Angela Gossow) and by far the most successful in that enviable class, Arch Enemy was originally the conception of Carcass guitarist Michael Amott back in 1996 with Johan Liiva on vocal. Gossow didn’t join the band until their fourth full-length, Wages Of Sin, dramatically changing the character of the band.

Other line-up changes over the band’s 14 years—Amott’s brother Christopher left for a short period, and they went through two bass players before Sharlee D’Angelo manned the bottom end—have also changed the sound of the Swedes since their early days, and inspired by fan requests and Testament’s album of re-recordings (First Strike Still Deadly, also mixed by boardman Andy Sneap), the band went into the studio to re-record cuts from Black Earth, Stigmata and Burning Bridges.

The result, aptly titled The Root Of All Evil, is a display of Arch Enemy’s current and most adored line-up featuring the band ripping through their older material. In support, they’re doing a brief tour of the U.S. and Europe before spending the majority of this year writing for a forthcoming full-length next year.

Michael Amott talked about all this and more in a detailed email exchange.

Regarding The Root Of All Evil, when did the idea to re-record older material first come up?

We started talking about doing something like this three, four years ago. The initial idea came from the fans really, they kept asking us if we’d ever consider re-recording some of the older material, this time with Angela on vocals. At first, I couldn’t see the appeal of doing it, but as time passed and more and more people were asking about it, we decided to give it a shot, and I must say that it was a fun project. I found it quite refreshing to go in the studio and record the songs and make them sound fresh and exciting.

Did you plan the re-recordings as a surprise? Prior to the announcement of the record you didn’t give many hints it would be a revisiting of older material.

Yes, we went old school and didn’t Twitter and blog every five seconds from the studio! Actually, I don’t think we thought that much about creating a big buzz or hype about the re-recordings; we just kind of suddenly found ourselves with a few weeks to do this in early ‘09, and we just went in and knocked it out. It was quick and painless.

What attracted to you to the songs you did choose? Was cherry-picking songs from three records more appealing than re-recording one in its entirety?

Yeah, we liked what Testament did a few years back with a similar project, and I guess that’s where we got the idea from to do it like this. As far as picking the songs goes, there are obviously five of us in the band and everyone’s got their favorites.

How familiar do you think your fans are with the first three albums? Obviously, the first album was hard to find, but its since been reissued and the Internet has made it extremely easy for diehard fans to hear these songs.

We noticed when playing live the last few years that we really weren’t getting a lot of recognition when playing the older songs (from the first three albums), so it was quite obvious that the first era of the band was getting more and more obscure. Arch Enemy’s fan base has grown and renewed itself many times over.

There are some technical differences from the original recordings. The first three albums were in a different tuning, and there are some differences in the bass lines and obviously the vocals. How faithful did you want to be to the original recordings?

We weren’t that concerned with staying 100 percent true to the original versions. These are new interpretations of the old songs. If anyone wants to hear the original recordings of the songs, they can listen to the old albums. We wanted to to give our favorites from those early albums an ‘extreme make over’ and make them harder and tougher. We wanted the songs to sound like Arch Enemy right here and now, a worthy tribute to the first chapter in the band’s history.

You did use Andy Sneap for the mixing of the record but the band really took the reins on the production of the album. Did you feel more comfortable behind the mixing board after Rise Of The Tyrant?

Yes, we are getting increasingly confident when it comes to producing our own music. This is a natural progression for us, and we enjoy having that control. We know best how we want to sound nowadays. Andy Sneap is just an amazing mixing engineer, and he gets the aggression and passion that we’ve poured into the recordings to come out and be totally in your face.

Was there an urge to revisit some of the covers you did with Johan, like ‘Aces High’ or ‘Starbreaker’?

No, that’s not something we would want to do. If we ever do any more cover tunes in the studio, it’ll be stuff we haven’t covered previously. The point of doing covers for us is to have fun with it and that’s why we’ve covered a lot of different songs from bands like KISS and Queensryche.

Would you consider these takes to be the definitive versions of the songs?

The Root Of All Evil shows a snapshot of how these songs sound when Arch Enemy plays these songs today. I enjoy both the original and the new versions, they have different qualities.

Your endorsement deal with Randall Amps just ended. What have you been trying out on the road for new amplification? Has it been difficult replicating the sound you’ve had for the past three years with Randall, or are you trying something different?

Yes, I ended my deal with Randall recently as there were a lot of changes at that company and all the people I knew and had dealt with up to that point had left. As far as guitar tones, I can pretty much get ‘my sound’ out of a lot of various amplifiers, so that hasn’t been a problem really. On the last couple tours both myself and Chris (Amott, guitar) have been experimenting with amps from Marshall.

When could fans expect new Arch Enemy songs?

I’ve written four song ideas that we’ve been jamming on, and I know that the other guys have ideas as well and I look forward to hearing them. We don’t typically write a lot on the road so the songwriting process will pick up once we get off the road, I hope. The idea is that we’ll be continuing to write and arrange new material throughout 2010 and we plan go back in the studio again at the end of the year and see what we come up with. Ideally, we’d like to release a new Arch Enemy album in 2011. Our last album of new material, Rise Of The Tyrant, came out back in Sept. 2007, so that’d be a good time in-between records. I’m very much looking forward to getting into the creative phase of writing and recording again!

The Root Of All Evil is out now. Arch Enemy performs at the TLA in Philly on Jan. 21 and Nokia Theatre in Times Square on Jan. 22. For more info, visit