Arch Enemy: How heavy metal can change the world

Arch Enemy

We’re outside what is affectionally known as a ‘creative space’ in north London. The window-panelled ground floor is full of people busy hacking away at laptops while planning world domination through influencers and hashtag marketing. Probably. We don’t stick around long enough to find out as we head upstairs into a sparse room that Arch Enemy are calling home for the afternoon.

Following a photoshoot and interview with Venom Prison’s Larissa Stupar, Arch Enemy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz joins guitarist and founding member Michael Amott at a table to discuss their legacy in heavy metal.

Alissa joined the Swedish melodeath mainstays back in 2014 following the departure of Angela Gossow. What followed was the critically-lauded War Eternal album and almost 300 shows over the next three years, all over the world. Over that time the working relationship between Michael and Alissa has been cemented with the close-quarters living leaving no room for question marks, and the new era for Arch Enemy is now well and truly in motion.

But what has happened within the Arch Enemy barracks since between War Eternal and upcoming album Will To Power? And for Michael, what is it like sitting at the helm of a band who just passed their 20th anniversary? Let’s find out.

In the time since War Eternal was released, politics and society has gone full-on bonkers. How has that influenced you musically or personally?

Michael: “Arch Enemy has always had a dystopian world view, and the writing’s been on the wall for a long time with a lot of that stuff. The human race is its own worst enemy.”

Alissa: “In a way, Arch Enemy’s music is more relevant than ever. Sometimes it takes a disaster for people to find their purpose, and I feel like there are a lot of people in the world who were complacent before, now realising they have to stand up for what they believe in. There are marches and protests from people that previously chose to stay out of it. When you find that passion you want art to accompany it, and you can’t find music of that calibre in mainstream songs. I think more people are going to be turning to metal to fuel that fire.”

Is it because metal is often so aggressive and abrasive, that people are crying out for it?

Alissa: “Metal has been saying it for a long time – fight against the system and remember who you are. You can call it a political agenda behind a band, but it has existed in metal, punk and hardcore for a long time.”

Themes of solidarity and defiance have been a part of Arch Enemy since their inception. Why do those themes resonate with you, and why is that the music you want to make?

Michael: “The lyrics have got to match the music. The music takes you to somewhere maybe it isn’t always a happy place. Metal can be really empowering and a lot of times our songs are actually quite positive.”

Is it important for you to convey a feeling of positivity?

Michael: “We’ve always been like that. It’s never been like ‘There’s no light at the end of the tunnel, life is shit,’ we’ve never been that kind of band.”

Alissa: “I feel it’s more about waking people up. As a person I always want to be positive and as a band we’re positive, but it’s through shaking and waking people, asking them why they’re putting up with something and not standing up to it. I think that’s more positive than songs that are directly saying ‘You’re beautiful and I love you’. Really cheesy songs like that have no effect on me, but really empowering metal is a very positive thing.”

I think about all those poor kids with neck tattoos who are now flipping burgers

The new album is called Will To Power. What does that phrase mean to you?

Michael: “It’s something that Nietzsche wrote, and I liked how it looked when I read it. It’s very complex and very deep, as Nietzsche tends to be. I found enough stuff in there connected to what we talk about on the album. Human ambition is the main driving force for perpetuating our race, which is both good and bad – you can get people like Hitler out of that or people like Einstein.”

You mention the idea of human ambition. Were there topics on the album that you really wanted to address?

Michael: “I don’t like to over-analyse the lyrics because it takes away from the magic, but sometimes it’s very obvious. There’s one song called The Eagle Flies Alone which is about individualism and staying true to yourself, which is a topic I’ve touched on many times in my lyrics. I started writing a song called A Fight I Must Win about depression, which is quite a common thing, and Alissa helped me finish that one. This album has been a little bit more all over the place, touching on different things, moreso than the previous album.”

It’s your tenth album, which is a huge milestone for any band. How does that feel?

Alissa: “I think that there’s something about Arch Enemy’s music that’s timeless and allows it to be enjoyed by people from a variety of different ages. Whether it was written last year or 20 years ago, it still works, and that’s a really important thing that sets some bands apart.”

Michael: “We’ve seen so many trends and bands come and go. In the United States our agents will tell us it’s important to have a tour package with these kind of bands because that’s what’s hot right now, then we’ll come back two years later and those bands have gone – that scene is dead. I think about all those poor kids with neck tattoos who are now flipping burgers. Put on an Iron Maiden album or a Judas Priest album and it still moves you, it’s just great music. That’s the goal, to create something that’s not a part of a scene.”

When you find passion, you want art to accompany it

As fans of metal, how have you seen it change from 1996 to now?

Michael: “1996 was completely the wrong time to start a band like Arch Enemy. The guitar had been replaced by the turntable, the singer had been replaced by the rapper. Death metal had died off, that whole scene had ground to a halt. Bands were experimenting more with industrial, there was nu metal… We did one album on a small independent label, but the second album Stigmata came out on Century Media, and I remember doing interviews in 1998 with people asking us why we have guitar solos. One review said that listening to that album was like locking a paedophile into a daycare home or something (laughs). It was really nasty, and I thought it was crossing the line. That turned around completely and became en vogue again. We’ve been doing the same thing for a long time and sometimes it’s been in – it’s ups and downs.

“We’re very much an album band. We love making albums, we love creating this whole piece of art with artwork, lyrics, videos – we’re really good at that I think. It’s sad now to see that the world is going back to the beginnings of popular music where it’s a singles market and you’re supposed to have snappy songs because people can’t focus on bigger pieces of work. But we have a very strong worldwide fanbase who are into our records and do buy the physical products to support the band – they get into the whole piece which is very satisfying. I’d be very unhappy if we just put out singles and EPs. If we can educate younger people to get into that mindset as well, that would be great.”

Arch Enemy’s tenth album Will To Power is out September 8 via Century Media, and is available to pre-order now.

In Metal Hammer issue 300, Alissa and Venom Prison’s Larissa Stupar discuss whether extreme metal can ever break into the mainstream. Available in stores now or you can order a copy online.

Can extreme metal break the mainstream?

The story behind the song: We Will Rise by Arch Enemy

Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.