Arch Enemy – Powered UpSunday, 19th November 2017
As far back as their first release back in 1996 with Black Earth, Arch Enemy has been a revered name in melodic death metal. In fact, it seems they only seem to grew with each new release. They’ve also managed to hold on and survive not one, but two vocalist replacements – something that would have easily ruined a much lesser act. It’s a testament to their songwriting skills and musical prowess that they’ve been able to stay at the top of their game for over two decades now.
Their latest album, Will to Power, takes the Arch Enemy formula and intensifies it to the boiling point. While the band feel more comfortable to experiment a bit (such as some clean singing), the tried-and-true formula of blistering aggression and soaring melodies has never sounded better. Some slight experimentation breathes some new life into the act. On the band’s most recent stint across the US, with Trivium, we were able to catch up with bassist Sharlee D’Angelo before the band’s show in Worcester, MA to discuss the band’s line-up solidification, recent revitalization, as well as the Black Earth entity which did a mini tour of Japan and consisting of most of the original Arch Enemy line-up.
Dead Rhetoric: Before we jump in, I did just want to say that I love the new album from The Night Flight Orchestra.
Sharlee D’Angelo: Thank you! It’s nice to have both ends of the spectrum, musically, to get to do that. And doing it on a level where it actually works. It’s fantastic. I always find that exploring new musical universes brings something [new]. It brings things over to the other [band]. You learn things about your own musicality by doing different things.
Dead Rhetoric: With Arch Enemy over the last three years, do you feel that you’ve solidified a good, solid line-up?
D’Angelo: It feels like it now. It feels like Jeff [Loomis] was the last piece of the puzzle. We have been doing so much together and touring – you spend all that time, it feels like it has been like this since the beginning. I can hardly remember what it was like before [laughs]. We’ve been everywhere. We’ve done everything in these last three years. So I’m hoping that nothing will happen. If we could stay this way, it would be great.
Dead Rhetoric: It kind of seems like the band itself, with Will to Power and War Eternal, has kind of revitalized itself.
D’Angelo: Yeah. I think, to us, it looked like a disaster. What do you do when your singer [Angela Gossow] quits? That’s every band’s nightmare…what the fuck do you do? I think in hindsight, that was probably something like…we needed to burn the city down to rebuild it. Something needed to happen, something new needed to come in. Looking in retrospect, we would have just evened out a little bit. We were just sailing along, and nothing was really happening. We were doing well, but we needed something. That was apparently it. Things happened, with a bit of turmoil, and we just had to work our way to where we were before. But we ended up in a new place.
Dead Rhetoric: It seems like the touring aspect has become energized as well. It seems like you are on the road almost all the time at this point.
D’Angelo: Definitely. The reason that it happened, was because we thought, that with a new line-up, we needed to work our way up to where we were before. We had to start a lot lower, and by doing that, we needed to basically play everywhere in order to prove ourselves in the face of people so that they know that this is for real. But it turned out that we didn’t have to actually step down that much. We sort of started on the level we were at before, and just went upwards, which was a bit surprising to us. But a welcome surprise [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: It’s funny to hear you say it that way. Looking at it from the fan perspective, Arch Enemy are one of the leaders within the genre. I was actually going to ask, when you put out an album, do you feel a sense of pressure since there are many eyes looking at a new Arch Enemy release.
D’Angelo: Yeah – you have that in the back of your mind a little bit, of course. You can’t really let that seep in and hurt the creative process. All you can do is write for a crowd of four…the other band members. Those are the only people you need to please, along with yourself. I think that something that we have proven over a long period of time, is that if we like it, there are some other people that will like it too. They share our musical taste. That’s a good thing. I think it’s so hard to second-guess what people are going to like. It’s like, “Well, if we put out this song, what will people think?” We try not to think like that. If we like it, then it’s good. We’re not AC/DC, or a band that stays the same…we do change and evolve, but it’s a slow process over time.
We don’t change that much, but mostly because we still like the same type of music that we always did. We haven’t really felt a need for a conscious change. If it’s a cool riff, we are all seventeen in our minds. We hear an electric guitar and it’s like, “Fuck yeah dude” [laughs]! We are still very Beavis and Butthead-y like that. The child within us keeps us going down the path that we always have. Then of course, new influences come left and right. We do experiment a little bit with things, but to go back to your question, we don’t really think about it that much. Once the music is done, then you start doing it…but it’s a different thing, because it’s sort of like selling the album to people. When it comes to that, you have to think of what is going to grab people’s attention.
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of Will to Power, it does seem like there was more experimentation. You have the ballad [“Reason to Believe”] and some clean singing for one thing. Is it a better way for you to stick with the Arch Enemy sound when you all have different projects you are involved in as well?
D’Angelo: I think we stick with the Arch Enemy sound because we like the Arch Enemy sound, not really because we are afraid of change. We just don’t see a need for change. We are kind of like, as I said, “Oh, electric guitar. Fantastic!” It’s that knuckle-headed thing that we have. But also, we always try different things. If they turn out great, we will use it. If not, then no – it was cool to try but maybe it’s not for us.
We also knew, the ballad “Reason to Believe,” would be a deal-breaker for certain people [laughs]. It was a bit of a divider, and we knew it. But we were very influenced by both rock and metal, and all our favorite bands did power ballads. The thing is that we couldn’t really do it before. A ballad takes singing. Unless you are a band like My Dying Bride…we are not really good at that kind of thing. So we knew it would have to have clean singing on it. If the clean singing doesn’t work, then the song doesn’t work. That’s why we have it – because the song called for it. On the last album, we tried, because we had Alissa [White-Gluz] in and knew that she was a great singer as well. But it’s hard, because there was already too much melody in the guitars. There’s still some background singing on War Eternal, but there’s a whole lot more on this album. We try not to force things, like just having clean singing for the sake of it; it has to come from the song itself.
Dead Rhetoric: A lot of Arch Enemy’s music has that empowering sense; it’s very anthemic. Is that the direction that you like to shoot in?
D’Angelo: I don’t think it’s been a conscious thing, but it’s our own reaction to everything going on. There’s so much doom and gloom; I think it’s important, partly because we have a young audience, to infuse a bit of hope in them. Tell them that they are the master – they can do it, but it can only start from within. No revolution starts nowhere – it’s within you. It is an important issue I think. It’s so easy for people to just lose hope. People see no way out…you just need a starting point. The starting point is right inside you. It’s better to have a positive message than a negative one I think. However, there is a need to put a spotlight on negative things. But not just like, “Here: negative.” Rather, “This is negative. What can we do to change it?” To just be negative and that’s it, it’s not really for us.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think is the essence of the Arch Enemy sound?
D’Angelo: I think it’s the combination of aggression and melody. Those are the two biggest building blocks we have. You fuse them together and you’ve got Arch Enemy.
Dead Rhetoric: So there’s Arch Enemy, but there’s Black Earth. Are you trying to keep those as two entirely separate entities at this point?
D’Angelo: Yes. The thing is, as a band, Black Earth doesn’t exist. It’s not there [laughs]. It was just something – it was the 20th anniversary of the first album and it was like, “What do we do?” When we have been playing older [Arch Enemy] songs over the years, there has been less and less interest. People don’t really know them. To force in old material to the set now, at the cost of some newer songs that people want to hear…you don’t force feed people anything. So we thought of what we could do to celebrate what happened 20 years ago. The first country that opened their arms to Arch Enemy was Japan. In Japan, we can still play the old songs. So we thought to ‘get the old gang together’ and just perform the early stuff. Just to keep things separate, we decided to call it Black Earth. So it’s a band that doesn’t exist.
We did seven shows for the anniversary in Japan, and we also played the Loud Park Festival. That was basically something that our label in Japan wanted to do – we were there as a secret act. We weren’t even on the bill. There’s a DVD from the little tour that we did. So it was to promote that. If we are going to do something in the future…who knows? We aren’t going to close the door on it. Maybe an anniversary for the third album? It was just something cool to do while we had some down time with Arch Enemy. Just go to Japan and have fun. There’s no career in it – you just go celebrate the songs and what we sounded like back then. So it’s a completely separate thing…that doesn’t exist [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: So what are your thoughts on metal in 2017?
D’Angelo: I hardly know what metal is in 2017. I haven’t heard an album that came out after ’83, so I really don’t know [laughs]. But what happens now, it’s just different fusions of different genres. Kids today, they are so open-minded. The young bands that are forming now, they don’t even have to go out and get records anymore…it comes straight in through their phones. They have been exposed to so much different stuff. So you get progressive djent with dance hall reggae choruses. I think metal is always going to evolve like that. There’s new influences getting into it. But there’s also the young kids who really get into a specific older genre, and they dress up like that so you are seeing a lot of that, especially back in my home country. There’s been a lot of bands that are extremely retro and play old school metal. They are putting new energy into dying genres as well, which is also great.
Dead Rhetoric: So what’s the plan from this point on for Arch Enemy – tour, tour, tour?
D’Angelo: Yeah, tour, tour, and then I think we are going to tour. I don’t think we can even write music anymore, we just tour. I think that we have tours booked up to at least fall of 2019. We’ll see what happens after that. The first year and a half of an album cycle is always the super busy part. Then we have a little more down time, and that’s when we start making music again. If we get inspired, maybe it will take less time to get the next album out, or there might be extra places that we can go tour in. If that’s the case, we will do it. It’s hard to say what the future holds.
Right now, it’s an exciting time – a new album out and new songs to play. We are basically going with it, because we kind of like doing this [laughs]. Things are actually going well. It’s exciting to see. Going from one album to another, you can see the sales and all that – we have charted in countries that we didn’t think were possible. Where ever we play now, we are packing house so it’s like, “Okay, we have to go out and play a little more. It seems like people actually like us.” That’s a great feeling.