Doomsday Machine (Century Media)
An interview with guitarist Mike Amott
By Eric Chon
Mike Amott is one of the founding fathers of modern metal. His contribution to melodic metal with his fellow musicians in Carcass is immeasurable. He keeps that tradition alive with the very forward-thinking Arch Enemy, whose newest album, Doomsday Machine, seeks to push the genre even further. After driving almost five hours from Boston to meet him and hear them play, Mike was kind enough to answer my geekiest questions about Arch Enemy, Carcass, and even a few about Spiritual Beggars.
This album’s cover artist has done some killer high-profile work (Dimmu Borgir, etc.): How did you guys hook up with him?
The guy who does our normal artwork didn’t have the time to do this one, so he recommended Joachim Luetke. I called him up – he lives in Austria, I think – and we talked. He sent ideas, and it just clicked.
How and when did you write the material for Doomsday Machine?
It’s all fresh from 2005. We didn’t write anything on the road. We didn’t really get around to it. We had a lot of ambitions for this record, and we kept theorizing about how the next album could sound while on tour for Anthems of Rebellion. We got together in mid-January, after a few weeks off, and started jamming and rehearsing every day for a couple of months.
You guys fit in a lot of riffs, but at the same time, you’re including melodic interludes with a very rock feel: Was this a conscious direction?
Yeah, we’re not afraid to step outside the box that people have put us in. We just delved and dug deeper into ourselves and our influences. We kept asking “What is Arch Enemy?” We wanted to step up and do something that’s 100% representative of the band as it is right now. We’ve done that in the past, but perhaps there was always this “What are people going to think about us?” question lingering in the back of our minds. This time, we didn’t consider other people’s opinions at all. We just thought about what we wanted, and we figured that if we were into the music, our fans would be too.
So the popularity of Anthems of Rebellion hasn’t affected Doomsday at all?
Well, it’s really boosted our confidence. We feel quite powerful now, as a band. Other bands get very nervous about their position. They’re thinking “We should be doing it more like this,” and we were a little like that before. But now, we don’t want to dilute what we have. People sometimes tells us we should add clean vocals into the mix; you know, make it a bit more pop (makes a face). Nah. We want to be the best extreme metal band in the world. That might not make us the biggest band, but we’re gonna try for the best.
Angela’s voice is much rawer and more powerful than in the past.
Yeah, it’s got more bite to it. There were a few key factors. First, there’s a better atmosphere in the studio. We’re in a new one, and it’s really nice. She also wanted to have a hand-held microphone, like she does live, and it’s pretty difficult to find a recording mic you can hold in your hand. Most of them are mounted, with the spit-guard or whatever in front. That took a few days to find. And then she has her own room to record in, without any lights on, maybe a few candles. She gets into that whole atmosphere, and it helps a lot. And since she’s alone in there, she can really go off, instead of standing in the control room with those florescent lights, standing like a piece of wood in front of the mic.
Tell me about Chris (Amott, guitar) leaving the band.
Chris just wanted to do something else. He’s only done this all his life. He’s never had a job or gone to school or anything. He wants to try the “normal” life for a bit (laughs). We’ll see if he comes back…
He played on Doomsday, right?
Yes, he did.
Are you guys touring with a another guitar?
We have a new guy, a replacement. Tonight’s his fourth show, and we’re really happy with him (Gus G. from Nightrage). He’s nailing it right on.
How has the tour been?
It’s been very good. We’ve got a great bus, great crew, awesome driver; all the things that make a tour worthwhile, the little things that the fans don’t see, but count for a lot on how we perform. A lot of good things are happening for us, and we’re doing it on our own terms. That means a lot to us.
How is playing a tour like Ozzfest, with such a huge variety of bands? Do you prefer the festival atmosphere, or smaller, more intimate, shows?
I like all shows, really (laughs). They’re all different, so it’s hard to compare them. A lot of people have never heard of you when you play these festivals. They’re going, “Oh my god, is that a chick?” (laughs) But with the smaller shows, everyone is down with it, they know us and they know what we do. They’re the core fans, and it’s always really fun to play for them.
On this tour, is there a lot of mingling with the other bands?
We’re the ones who’re offish (laughs). No, it’s kinda different. Everyone is off doing their own thing. We know a few of the other bands, like The Haunted, In Flames, and Soilwork. We’re all Swedish bands, and we know each other quite well. For now, we’ve been hanging out with them. But the general misconception by the fans is that rock’n’roll touring is so much fun. It’s actually quite boring. It’s a monotonous lifestyle. Even if you change the scenery, it’s still all the same.
The whole touring life itself is crazy, if you’re not used to it. Your whole world is upside down, you know? You give up having any kind of meaningful relationship at home and just dedicate your life to music. People have this perception that touring is a 24-hour party, and it’s not. People don’t know what bands give up to be there. It’s a long fight before bands can get to the kind of “on the road” lifestyle that we’re enjoying now.
Out of these Swedish bands, and I’ve talked to a number of them, who’s the heaviest drinker?
Well, it’s definitely not Arch Enemy (laughs)! We’re not heavy drinkers. I don’t know who’d be the best, but it’s true that Scandinavian bands do that, I guess. But we’re kinda boring that way. We’re doing a job, which is also fun, but we take it very seriously. This is what we wanna do with our lives, so we’re gonna try not to drink it away.
What do you guys do to relax while you’re on tour?
Well, duh, we smoke crack! (laughs) Doesn’t every band? But seriously… We listen to music, watch movies, talk, you know. Pray. Lot of prayer. Not really. We worship Satan in the back of our bus every morning. We have a little altar there with a black mass going on (laughs).
I have a few questions about Spiritual Beggars. What drew you to that really fuzzy, thick sound in the first place?
It’s all good music. Good songwriting, good singing, good playing. That kind of thing is missing in a lot of music these days. It’s the true soul, the true essence of hard rock and the roots of heavy metal. I started writing music in that style, I put a band together, and we started releasing albums.
Has that influenced your writing for Arch Enemy?
I think everything does, you know? You learn from one thing, and you kinda adapt it to another situation. That’s what life is like (laughs). Not everything seeps in, though. I feel like I can put my Spiritual Beggars hat on, and then take it back off. Then put my Arch Enemy hat on. But I’m still the same person. It’s definitely a different side of me, a bit softer, but still heavy. More rock. More traditional songwriting. I love that kind of music, but Enemy is my main focus.
Have you been listening to anything recently that’s caught your attention? Metal or otherwise?
I like the new Nevermore album. It’s very good, from a very strong band. That kind of music isn’t very popular over here, but it should be. I’ve also been listening to a lot of older music: Kansas, Rush, old Heart. I love that old stuff (laughs). I love metal: It’s my first passion, and it’s still my main musical passion and my main focus as a writer. But in order to create the music we do, we have to be able to get our influences from outside. What you see with a lot of these younger bands – you know, the ones who only wear shirts of other metal bands and who only listen to metal – they’re not going to be very original. They’re not really adding anything to the genre, just diluting it. There are exceptions, of course, but the metal scene is currently overcrowded with that kind of mediocrity. I’m not trying to be evil or nasty by saying that, but I think it’s true.
A lot of bands are happy that they sound like In Flames with a bit of At The Gates, so that’s a good result for them, you know? And, well, I’m a bit of a connoisseur of this kind of music, and I’ve already heard that. I wanna hear people doing something new. Or, you know, just doing metal really well (laughs)! Arch Enemy is an extreme metal band, but we want to be good songwriters within our style.
Any advice for up-and-coming bands?
Don’t watch Headbanger’s Ball and try and copy those bands. By the time you come out, you’ll be way too late! (laughs) It’s better to just follow your heart as an artist and be creative. Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit. Initially, everyone starts out copying what they’re into. I did it… But if you can tap into your soul later on, it’ll be good.
There’s definitely a progression with each album.
We’re constantly evolving. But still, we’re quite stubborn, you know? We’re not gonna start wearing eyeliner and dying our hair black like Good Charlotte, and then sound like In Flames (laughs)! The whole concept of Arch Enemy is to blend extreme metal with classic metal with good singing, good writing, good playing, and throwing a good show. We’re not really doing anything totally original, you know?
Some of these experimental bands, well, I never really like groundbreaking bands! (laughs) People will go “This band is revolutionary!” and I just can’t get into it. Like Tool or something. But I do get into the older progressive bands, like Kansas and Rush, and Jethro Tull. But the new stuff just doesn’t appeal to me. It’s a bit too atonal, and I appreciate a good melody. I like brutality and heavy riffs – I’ve written a few (laughs) – but I want it to be catchy.
Do you keep in touch with any of the guys in Carcass?
Yes, I do. I speak to them a few times a year.
Is there any chance for a reunion show?
(pauses) Does anybody really want that? I’m not really a sentimental person. I don’t look back that much. I’m still learning and stuff, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to get back together now, I think.
I read in the book Choosing Death about how you were first approached to join Carcass. After hearing their first LP, Reek of Putrefaction, you said it sucked, and wouldn’t do it. Is that really how it went down?
At that point, they’d only done their first album, and I wasn’t very impressed with it. I mean, I like the guys, but I wasn’t gonna give up my band to do that, you know? But they made a giant jump with the second album, Symphonies of Sickness, and I was fortunate that they asked me again.
Lots of people cite Carcass around the time you joined (Necroticism and Heartwork) as one of the originators of melodic death metal. How do you feel being seen as one of these founders?
I like looking down! (laughs) But no, really, does anyone even know who Carcass is? I’ve never really thought too much about my career and what it means. I just like playing and writing music. I just want to keep working.