An interview with Michael Ammott
di Fabiola Santini
There is no need for a formal or an informal introduction of Arch Enemy. They are who they are and are known to the world and beyond as the masters of the legions of deadly notes and as being true rebels at heart. Michael Ammott, one of the two terrific guitarists, shares his thoughts on the melodic death metal quintet’s latest project, Khaos Legions, and the band’s approach to their intense life, prior to joining his bandmates on stage for their unforgettable performance at London’s Shepard’s Bush Empire.
One of the many descriptions of your music that I have often read over the years is “an attempt to merge melody with aggression and technicality,” which sounds like a very difficult process to do on a regular basis. Would you agree on this choice of words?
You are right, it sounds a difficult process, but it’s a natural thing for us as we enjoy all different kinds of music. We are big fans of old school metal bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, but also of eighties style bands like Queensryche; we do love all the different dynamics. In addition, we all grew up surrounded by thrash and death metal but also classic music. I guess the music style we have developed over the years is a combination of all. When I first started Arch Enemy, I had been playing guitar for a while with Carcass, I even had a couple of bands before them, so I really wanted to do something diverse and express myself even more as a songwriter and a musician.
Do you think that Khaos Legions represents a good example of such a process?
I would say so, yes. It’s difficult for us though as we already have quite a few albums out and we always want to raise the bar; we want the sound and songwriting to become better and better. Khaos Legions has been a very enjoyable process for me; we wrote a big part of it on the road, collecting many ideas. Then when we finally decided to put everything together into the album, we almost had too much material.
Your eighth album, Khaos Legions, sold 6000 copies in the first week of its release in the US. What do you think made it so wanted?
Sometimes we sell less, sometimes we sell more; I never really think of charts. We wouldn’t have started on this style of music to begin with, we wouldn’t have Angela screaming over everything and lots of riffs and solos, if we wanted to be at the top of the charts. With this focus, we would be playing a totally different kind of music. We seem to have very dedicated fans all over the world that support us. Nowadays, as you know, it is more about live shows; everything seems to be going in that direction as people do not buy records that much anymore as a physical product.
You guys took four years for the making of Khaos Legions: has the songwriting and the recording process been more difficult compared to the previous Rise of the Tyrant?
I guess it did take a bit longer, even though I had written some of the songs like Under Black Flags We March back in 2007. They were kind of older ideas lying around and I finally found the right way of finishing them up and put them on the record. As I said before, it’s always a matter of wanting to become better and better, but this is a challenge we enjoy. Maybe it’s hard to find an overall direction, but once we have that nailed down the music comes very quickly. For us, there is no pressure, it’s lots of fun to make music. We run our own career, we are self-managed, we own our own recording, publishing and merchandising, we decide everything and we put everything together; we are pretty much self-contained and we enjoy the whole process as we set our own deadlines. It took a few years for us to get to this point, making every mistake we could possibly make along the way. Everything we have done so far brought us to where we are now.
I find it hard to believe you are self-managed. How do you cope with the difficult business orientated world while maintaining your creativity and sense of expression?
The secret is Angela, she does all the business. She has a business background and her mind works really well when making budgets and everything related; for me, it’s just a completely different world. She runs all day to day activities.
She is one of a kind!
Yes, she is.
Going back to Khaos Legions: the title is also very interesting, who are these legions? I can imagine them invading in the Beginning Overture; however, the album generates anything but chaos as it is indeed very structured.
You’re right. The album has a sense of structure and order; however, when we started recording it, there were lots of things happening around us like the uprising in North Africa and Angela took lots of inspiration from these events. She also liked and wanted the word Khaos and came up with the title, like an uncontrollable force.
What is the concept behind the artwork of the album and why did you decide to work with Brent Elliott White (Megadeth, Death Angel?)
We have seen his work; I was checking his website and I saw some of his book covers too and I really liked what he does. We felt the album itself was very colourful; we wanted to have something more powerful compared to the covers we have done in the past. He is based in the US and thanks to our intense exchange of sketches back and forth via email, we managed to communicate very easily and agreed on the final product.
You are definitely one of the best live bands around: what was it like to play at Sonisphere last summer?
We flew in that morning from Sweden and arrived only thirty minutes before we were due to play. We got changed in the van from the airport to the festival and went straight up on stage. It was a little bit stressful, it is one of those things that is either going to work or not. In that kind of big festival, if you do not show up on time, you are not going to play; they are not going to make special arrangements for you. It was crazy, but it looked like the fans enjoyed it. We did a long singing session and managed to talk to them.
Any particular band you enjoyed at Sonisphere after your set?
In Flames, and too bad we did not see Slipknot. We did support them in the past and we definitely like them.
Will you continue touring next year?
Definitely. Khaos Legions came out in late May; it’s still fairly fresh. Next year, we will be touring starting in mid-January doing lots of crazy trips doing shows in Russia, Turkey, Israel and Romania. We want to hit a bunch of places we have not hit before. In April, we are also going to Asia and then it will be time for the festivals again.
ph Fabiola Santini