Well established as one of the world’s premier face-ripping metal bands, Arch Enemy had already undergone a major personnel change when original frontman Johan Liiva had made way for the iconic Angela Gossow in 2000. From then on, Michael Amott’s virtuoso crew were unstoppable and, increasingly, a certified big deal. So when the wildly charismatic force of nature that is Angela Gossow announced that she was stepping down from the job of frontwoman and dedicating herself to Arch Enemy’s behind-the-scenes affairs, fans were left to ponder a tricky question: who the fuck could replace her? Fortunately, someone with all the right credentials had been doing their homework.
“I remember buying Wages Of Sin [Arch Enemy’s first with Angela] when I was a teenager and I’d just started to be in a band,” says Alissa White-Gluz, now Arch Enemy’s firmly established figurehead and vocalist. “It was a prog band, kind of Dream Theater-ish. I was doing all sorts of clean vocals, discovering my voice and what I wanted to do. I think it was one of the people in that band who said, ‘If you like guitar stuff, you should check out Arch Enemy’, so I got Wages Of Sin, without really knowing anything about them.”
In the often-unhinged world of heavy metal, some things seem to be written in the stars. Already on a path toward a musician’s life, Alissa heard something in Arch Enemy that instantly struck a chord, and it continued to resonate more and more as she discovered more about them, including the fact that Arch Enemy’s barbarous vocals were being delivered by a woman.
“Obviously I’d heard vocals like that before, but I remember leaving the music store and putting the CD into my Discman because I wanted to listen to it right away,” she recalls. “I was on the bus back home, flipping through the booklet, and I saw Angela’s photo. I was like, ‘Oh, wait a second!’ Ha ha! It was inspiring to hear that kind of voice and see that kind of face. As a teenage girl, it got me excited and thinking that maybe I could do that too.”
Roughly a decade later, Alissa was well on the way to fulfilling her dreams, both as frontwoman with Canadian metalcore mob The Agonist and as a live vocalist for US power metal legends Kamelot. Increasingly renowned as one of the most versatile and powerful female vocalists around, she was (with hindsight!) the perfect replacement for Angela Gossow, not least because the two already had a friendly relationship. One day, everything just fell neatly into place, much to Alissa’s surprise.
“It was all relatively simple, which sounds strange, but I was friends with Angela already and we spoke all the time,” Alissa notes. “I’d met Michael and the rest of the guys a bunch of times, although I didn’t really keep in touch with them. I was on tour with Kamelot at that point, and we were in South Korea when I got an email from Angela that said, ‘Can you jump on the phone with Michael real quick?’”
As you might expect, Alissa was available for a chat with Michael Amott, and within 10 seconds of connecting to the Swedish guitarist, she found herself with an irresistible offer to become the new singer in Arch Enemy, with Angela’s full approval and endorsement as a rather lovely bonus.
“That moment in particular in 2013, it was weird because I was 27 at the time,” she says. “My friends and family were always joking, like ‘Don’t join the 27 Club! You’ve got to get through 27!’ and all that. Then, within one month I met Doyle [burly Misfits alumnus and Alissa’s partner] and got the call from Arch Enemy, and that was right before I turned 28. So it was this weird thing, like, ‘OK, so this is actually the best year of my life!’ It did kind of feel like a cosmic event or something, I guess.”
Another indication that Alissa was destined to be a member of Arch
Enemy was that she swiftly developed a winning songwriting partnership with Michael. As a fan of the band she was joining, the task of writing lyrics over Michael’s relentlessly explosive trademark sound was one she relished.
“Oh, it was great. I knew Arch Enemy’s entire catalogue musically, so I was already familiar with the writing style to some degree. As soon as he started to show me the songs for War Eternal that didn’t have any vocals yet, it was just so nice to hear a song and it’s already kickass, you know? There was nothing like, ‘Well, this part’s not so great and I need to rearrange this…’ It was just, ‘This is amazing and I’m so excited to write on it!’”
Having experienced such a life-changing event, it comes as no surprise that Alissa was in a philosophical mood when she penned the lyrics to songs for her first album with Arch Enemy, War Eternal (2014). Now a seemingly permanent fixture in the band’s live sets, As The Pages Burn stands out as the most lyrically incisive among them: an inspirational anthem about discarding the baggage of the past and striding confidently into a new day.
“It was a feeling that if every day in your life is a page in your book, you can lighten the load by burning the past,” Alissa explains. “I liked the idea that you could be present, but look forward. Nothing is written in stone, everything can be burned and changed. In a way, it came down to being 27 and thinking, ‘Am I gonna die this year?’ because that’s what people do when they’re 27, right? But actually no. I was gonna be reborn. I’d just met the love of my life and I’d joined a band that was the opposite of everything I’d experienced before. I didn’t even have to be the same person today I was yesterday.”
As transitions go, Alissa White-Gluz’s assimilation into Arch Enemy was as seamless and slick as it gets. Significantly, the response to War Eternal was almost universally positive, with the band’s new frontwoman receiving a large part of that acclaim for her dynamic and distinctive contributions to the new songs.
“I was excited. I wasn’t so much anticipating the fans’ reactions, because I had been so embraced by Sharlee [D’Angelo, bassist], Michael, Daniel [Erlandsson, drums], Angela and Nick [Cordle, now ex-guitarist], and I just felt really confident that I’d delivered great vocals for a great album. Also, because I was an Arch Enemy fan before and I knew it was a good Arch Enemy album that I’d happily buy and listen to on my Discman! Ha ha!”
With the new material hitting the spot with just about everybody, all that was left for Arch Enemy was to try out their line-up in front of an audience. Having navigated a change of singer with audacious levels of calm and common sense, Alissa and her new bandmates were probably destined to experience a few bumps in the road. Nothing ever goes that smoothly…
“Yeah, we had crazy circumstances for the first shows. We had problems with the bus so we were late for the first show. Then I broke my ribs on the second show because I fell onstage. So it was this crazy trial by fire, which seems appropriate for As The Pages Burn! but the shows were still amazing. I remember the very first show. After the first or second song, I started talking to the crowd and they started chanting my name! At that point, we all felt like, ‘Yeah, this is going to work!’ It was a really good feeling.”
Seven years on from the release of War Eternal and it’s hard to imagine anyone else as Arch Enemy’s singer. The follow-up to War Eternal, 2017’s Will To Power, added many more raging anthems to the band’s illustrious catalogue, and their reputation as one of metal’s most formidable live acts remains unassailable. Clearly, all of this was written in the stars. As Alissa bellows in As The Pages Burn: ‘A second chance carries expectation / The books you’d written no longer exist / The future is in your pen / Ink to paper, now begin…’
“In some ways I don’t feel more attached to my lyrics, as opposed to Angela’s or Michael’s,” Alissa concludes. “Any time the crowd is singing along with me, I get that feeling. We’re all a team and I’m happy to sing the other guys’ lyrics. There are even times when I’m singing one of Angela’s lyrics and I look out and I can see Angela singing them back at me! But As The Pages Burn is a big one. It’s a staple of the setlist and we play it at every show. It’s just amazing to have your words and your music appreciated.”
Published in Metal Hammer #351. Arch Enemy are due to tour Europe with Behemoth, Carcass and Unto Others in autumn 2022. See archenemy.net for more