ARCH ENEMY - This Means War!
June 21, 2014, 4 years ago
Several years ago a theory was developed suggesting that non-Canadian metal and rock bands wanting to break big only had to add a Canuck to the mix somewhere down the line. There's absolutely no scientific proof to give my theory any merit, of course, but acts like Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Dream Theater all enjoyed huge success as a result of Canadian influence (producer Bruce Fairbairn, vocalist Sebastian Bach, producer Bob Rock, and singer James Labrie respectively). This supposed trend has continued with Alissa White-Gluz, former vocalist for The Agonist, replacing Angela Gossow in Arch Enemy after 14 years in the trenches. An unexpected development to say the least, but perhaps even more unexpected is the impact the band's new album, War Eternal, is having on their fanbase. Sure, there's the expected disgruntled faction that worship the ground Gossow walks on - and rightly so - and others that find War Eternal too melodic, too clean and too easy on the ears. For the most part, however, both Alissa and War Eternal continue to garner postive feedback and huge support from an increasingly louder majority.
BraveWords: Could you sense that Angela was going to call it quits, or did her announcement come out of the blue?
Michael: "We ended the Khaos Legions world tour in December 2012 with a South American leg, and the last show was in Mexico City. A few weeks after that we had a band meeting and decoded we were going to take 2013 almost completely off from band activity, definitely from shows. That opened the schedule up in a way we've never experienced in the last 12 years, because as you know it's been pretty relentless doing the album-tour-album-tour cycle. It was pretty much a case of ending a tour on the Friday and going into pre-production on a new album on a Monday. That happened twice in 10 years, and it was very intense. People change, and Angela got to a point in her life where she wanted to make some changes. Not everybody is in this for life because it's a very demanding lifestyle. It can be very tough on you if you're not 100% into it."
BraveWords: Angela is still part of the machine, but in the background as the band's manager. It's a post she's actually held for several years...
Michael: "Angela took over the business management for Arch Enemy in 2008. She did a fantastic job with that and really turned things around for the band on many levels. She was getting a lot of satisfaction out of that, so I think that was getting stringer than the satisfaction she got out of performing. And she never liked travelling, so in the end I think it caught up with her. We could see the writing on the wall. We're not completely insensitive assholes and we could see that she wasn't 100% into it anymore. And when she finally told us last year that she was quitting, Angela urged us to carry on."
BraveWords: You guys didn't audition for a new singer from what's been said. It sounds like Alissa was the first and only choice to replace Angela. Alissa: "It wasn't an audition, but more of a general incorporation into the band. I'd been friends with Angela for a while, and I was on tour with Kamelot at the time. Sometimes on tour you don't have the greatest wi-fi signal, so it was one of those days where a million emails poured in at once and one of them was from Angela. All it said was 'Go on Skype, Michael needs to talk to you.' It was as blank as that, so my initial reactions was 'Fuck, did I do something wrong?' (laughs). I had no idea. So, I did go on Skype and had some conversations with Angela and Michael, but pretty much from the first conversation it was a case of 'Let's get to work.' There were mixed emotions on all sides, I think, and we couldn't announce it right then because the change had to be made the right way. We haven't really stopped working since then."
Michael: "In the same meeting when Angela told us she was leaving the band, she told us we had to continue and suggested we look at Alissa as the person to replace her."
Alissa: "We had to be secretive because of the change, but I didn't know what to tell people and I'm such a bad liar (laughs). I thought 'Tommy (Karevik / Kamelot) is in Sweden, so maybe it's not that weird if I say I'm in Sweden...' (laughs)." BraveWords: It's interesting how there hasn't been a huge amount of fallout or rampant negativity with regards to the change. Of course some fans are pissed, but there hasn't been anywhere near the amount of conflict compared to the Halford vs Owens or Dickinson vs Bayley flame wars. A lot of people accepted Alissa as the singer of Arch Enemy based only on the songs/videos ("War Eternal", "You Will Know My Name", "As The Pages Burn") that were released in advance via YouTube by Century Media. Alissa: "I feel very fortunate, and one of the most appealing things about taking this on is that it was a unique situation in which I would be joining a band and all parties would be benefitting from it. It wasn't a situation where I'd have to screw someone over; Angela wants this, I want this, the rest of the band wants this, and the creative chemistry works really well so it's a good thing. Angela's statement, my statement and Michael's were all very clear and the people that actually read them got the same positive feeling that we did. It's a scary thing to do but I think we did it in the right way. Making sure we had music ready to go when we announced this was really important because we wanted the music to do a lot of the talking." BraveWords: Did the songwriting for War Eternal begin before or after Alissa came on board? Michael: "We'd already started the process of writing, but as I said earlier it was supposed to be a year off. Angela wasn't involved at all; she was off doing her own thing, she moved back to Germany, she didn't want to hear any new music so she could really decompress. I came up with some ideas, and I flew to Virginia and spent two weeks in Nick's (Cordle/guitars) basement. I don't think I saw the sun once (laughs). We recorded a bunch of ideas and I came back from that with five songs. One of them was the instrumental version of "War Eternal". Actually, it was the whole front of the album: "As The Pages Burn", "You Will Know My Name", "War Eternal", "No More Regrets". They had no lyrical content at that point, and when we started working with Alissa we split the songs on the album up and wrote the lyrics that way. There's no better way of welcoming somebody into the circle than to say 'We want to use your talents as a songwriter.'"
Alissa: "The fact they automatically trusted me enough to be part of the songwriting from the beginning was such an important piece of the puzzle to me. Writing lyrics is really important to me and lyrical integrity is important to me, so that was huge and it gave me a boost of confidence."
BraveWords: Your lyrics for The Agonist always seemed to make social, environmental, or to some degree political statements. Whatever the case, it's hard to imagine you writing "pure fucking metal" lyrics, something that Angela did quite well along with delivering her own social or environmental views.
Alissa: "Angela, Michael and I all have for the most part the same political and social views and values. I don't think I'd ever find myself writing lyrics like the ones for "Nemesis", but "Cruelty Without Beauty" is right up my alley. It's cool to join a band that has a different style that I can actually learn about and adapt, as well as use what I guess has become my signature lyrical style. It's a nice coincidence.""It's crazy. At first I was thinking that I might not be completely fulfilled writing Arch Enemy songs, that I'd feel like I have to write more, but in the end I realize that less is more sometimes. With Arch Enemy I've actually learned to be more selective about which lyrics I keep. It's cool that I'm learning to appreciate breathing room as well as the parts where I just scream my face off."
BraveWords: You have shows booked until the end of the year, and you're getting your touring legs back right now. What can people expect of the show?
Michael: "We're going to play all the songs that people expect to hear and maybe throw in some songs from the old era that we never did with Angela. Alissa has her favourite Arch Enemy songs, and a couple of them we realized we'd never actually played them before (laughs). I heard Alissa sing "Nemesis", "Dead Eyes See No Future", "We Will Rise", "Blood Stained Cross" and "My Apocalypse" in our rehearsal space in Sweden and they sounded absolutely phenomenal. Angela is one of my favourite death metal singers. Alissa is a much more technical singer, I'd say, and it's almost as if there are melodies in her screams on the new album. There are these raw and bleeding vocals but there's melody in there too, and it just sounds epic. Looking back at it now, I can't believe how good the album is (laughs)."
BraveWords: Alissa, how has it been adjusting your former live persona to being Arch Enemy's vocalist? Different songs, different audience, huge expectations with regards to the older material. Has it been an easy/comfortable transition or has it taken some getting used to?
Alissa: "So far the shows have exceeded my expectations. It feels so right being on stage with Arch Enemy. After the first show we were all super exhilarated, just hugging each other and breathing a sigh of relief, I was practically in tears; yeah, I know that's not metal, but fuck it. I have seen first-hand some other singer switches (Nightwish, Kamelot) and leading up to this tour I always thought 'I would love it if our shows could go this smoothly.' Thankfully, they have been. Seeing smiling faces rocking out in the crowd, singing along with me and even chanting my name has been extremely encouraging, and I also just fucking love Arch Enemy's back catalogue. The shows are getting better and better from a performer's standpoint. I'm really happy that the fans are enjoying it as much as we are."
BraveWords: You've been performing with broken ribs on tour following an on-stage accident with one of the risers. Singing with broken ribs isn't recommended practice, of course, especially with this kind of material and stage show. Your ability to pull these shows off - since you're not a drug-type person - is it mental discipline, physical discipline, or just being plain stubborn?
Alissa: "Well, part of the reason I don't want to take any drugs for my ribs - apart from being straight-edge - is that I am afraid that if I numb the pain, I won't monitor what stage moves aggravate the injury and therefore might make it worse. I was sure to get the right info from the doctor before totally ignoring his recommendations (laughs). As in, he showed me that the pieces of bone were well aligned and in no danger of puncturing my liver or lungs, there was no internal bleeding or organ damage. I always feel that I know my body better than some random doctor though so I take medical orders with a grain of salt. Actually, it was fellow metal vocalist Kiara Laetitia (ex-Skylark) who brought me to the ER in Italy and helped translate with the medics. It's funny, we joke that although we've only recently met, she now knows me inside and out since she was in the room watching my X-rays, blood tests and ultrasounds since I needed her close by to translate." "I feel that the injury is definitely limiting my vocal performance and stage performance to a certain extent, and there have been two shows now where the pain after the adrenaline wore off brought me to tears; blinding, nauseating pain, really. But, there is actually nothing you can proactively do to help heal broken ribs, so I'm just looking forward to my week off next week to really allow for some serious bone mending to occur. I always respect my body, eat right, work out. I think my body owes me this favour to heal fast (laughs). In the meantime I'm just relying on adrenaline, yoga breathing and mental focus to get me through the pain. Can't wait to get back to 100% though and continue fully unleashing on stage!"