Courtesy Photo / Arch Enemy
Alissa White-Gluz has fronted Arch Enemy since the 2014 album War Eternal.
Diverse lineups make for riveting concerts. Nothing keeps an audience on its toes like a bill that doesn’t feel like three or four carbon copies of the same band.
A perfect example stops in San Antonio next week, when Swedish melodic death metal masters Arch Enemy co-headline a package tour with blackened death legends Behemoth. Seminal grindcore act Napalm Death and newer goth-metal ensemble Unto Others provide support.
Arch Enemy’s trek to headliner status goes back to 1995, when guitarist Michael Ammott left legendary grindcore band Carcass to start a new band going in a new direction. Angela Gossow — actually Arch Enemy’s second vocalist — blazed a trail as one of the most prominent women to deliver “harsh” vocals, or “death growls,” and became the face of that band.
Since then, Arch Enemy has released a string of successful albums including Doomsday Machine
(2005) and Rise of the Tyrant
(2007). However, by 2014, Gossow retired from the stage and Canadian vocalist Alissa White-Gluz successfully stepped in, starting with 2014’s War Eternal
With White-Gluz still up front, Arch Enemy will release Deceivers
later this year, and the band plays SA's Aztec Theater on Monday, April 18. The Current
caught up White-Gluz on a Zoom call from California, where the band was rehearsing for the tour.
Arch Enemy played in San Antonio previously with Amon Amarth in 2019. Do you have any memories you’d like to share?
I’ve been there many times. Our Texas shows are always great. We’ve played a few that were extremely, blazing hot. I do remember one in particular where our albums, our vinyl, started melting. That’s how hot it was.
You’re touring on a co-headlining bill with Behemoth. Their frontman, Nergal, seems like a character. Have you had any colorful or amusing interactions with him?
I call him the Nerg. I’ve hung out with him so many times. We’re friends. If there’s one thing to be said about this career choice, it’s that you encounter so many characters, and you’re just laughing nonstop because everybody is so funny. There’s a photo of me and my boyfriend, Doyle [Wolfgang Von Frankenstein, of the Misfits] on the red carpet — the blood red carpet! — for the premiere of Rob Zombie’s movie Three From Hell
. It looks like I’m doing this “old Hollywood” wave to the camera from one of the photographers that happened to catch that moment. But it’s because I saw Nergal walking by on the sidewalk, and I was waving at him. If you see that photo, I’m actually in the process of calling out to him.
Arch Enemy’s Michael Ammott got his start with Carcass, which is a very different band than this one. How do you think that time period and that style influenced his work with Arch Enemy?
Michael was quite young when he was playing with Carcass, but he was already a very accomplished musician. He’s a great guitar player, and he’s capable of doing a few different styles. But they always have that root in melodic metal. I think it probably just got him on his feet to where he could start his own band. Which he did.
Deceivers is going to be released in July of this year. Michael said that the band is going to be releasing more singles than usual. What went into that decision?
I think over the course of the last couple of years everyone has had to rethink how they release because of the way music is consumed now. We put equal time into all the songs, but then, maybe only two or three of them get highlighted as singles. But that’s not to say that the rest of the songs didn’t take just as much time and energy and heart to create. We have fans who know every single song, but we wanted to give people an opportunity to discover a little bit more about our sound.
Harsh vocals are notoriously difficult on vocal cords. I’m curious about what kind of a vocal warm-up you do and how you make sure you’re still going to be able to sing for years to come?
Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. You’ll be in a bad mood all the time if you do that. I’m very aware of my food choices, my health choices. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I never have. I don’t do drugs. There’s people that can smoke and then pump out an amazing vocal performance, but I treat it like the same way I treat working out. There’s multiple facets to getting in good shape. There’s your mental health, there’s your cardio stamina, there’s your muscle mass, there’s your nutrition. I look at singing the same way. I need to be able to mentally carry the weight of that song and the lyrics. I need to physically be able to perform it every night on stage. So, what does my body need to be able to do that? It needs good hydration, good nutrition, good sleep. When you’re going onstage every night in front of thousands of people and you’re putting yourself in this vulnerable position where you’re literally screaming your heart out, you need to make sure that you’re mentally fit and ready to do that in front of so many people. That’s what drives your passion. And so that’s what we do.
You joined the band after Angela left. It’s fair to say that when someone leaves a band, there’s often bad blood. Yet she’s still in management, and it seems like everyone is a happy family. What are your interactions with Angela like, particularly right after you joined the band and replaced her?
It was great from the beginning, because she’s the one that asked me to replace her. It was her idea. She knew she was at a point in her life where she wanted to step away from the stage, but she still poured so much of her time and effort into the band. She wanted to continue to do that, and she was already the manager prior to me joining. We’re very similar people and we all have a common goal of driving Arch Enemy onwards and upwards.
Metal festivals are oftentimes headlined by bands who are getting up there in age: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Megadeth. Slayer has already retired. How is metal going to sustain itself without some of those literal titans?
I was just talking about that yesterday, because I was with Nergal and Michael at the Bay Strikes Back Tour, which is Testament, Exodus and Death Angel. We were talking about it, and there’s a little bit of concern, actually, for what is going to step in as fantastic music. Even if you go a little bit beyond metal, Aerosmith let’s say. Once these bands have to stop for whatever reason, Arch Enemy is right there waiting to step in. (Laughs
But there is a little bit of concern on my end. Not to say that modern music isn’t fantastic, because it is. It’s more that the consumption of music is less focused on the quality of the songwriting and the musicianship and the lyrics, and it’s a little bit more focused on the virality of the song and made for a very short attention span. And that’s not the fault of musicians. That’s just the way world is. So, I’m a little concerned about maybe not having really excellent music in — let’s say — 50 years. I’m a little worried that the era of bands might actually come to a close, because even the era of touring bands is not very old. If you read the Keith Richards biography, he talks about the Rolling Stones being one of the first touring bands, and I would hate to see that go away. I hope that there will be a renewed enthusiasm for live metal music. When I was watching the audience in that sold out House of Blues Anaheim show with the Bay Strikes Back, I was seeing everyone in the audience just loving it and having this spiritual moment in the crowd while Exodus was playing. I don’t want to go to a dance club, I don’t want to go to a bar, I want to go to a show. There’s a good chunk of really established metal bands that have been going for 20 or 25 years, and we’ve built up a really great performance and a really great set. I understand if Slayer can’t do it anymore, but there’s definitely some concern that we’re going to have a moment where the masters are no longer there.
Arch Enemy has classic metal elements as well as more extreme elements, particularly your vocals. How do you balance accessibility but also wanting to scream your heart out?
It’s what I loved about Arch Enemy before I joined, and it’s what I love about it now. I love the presentation of Priest, I love Rob Halford as a frontman, I love Bruce Dickinson as a frontman. I love the theatrical element. I love that you are looking at a larger-than-life persona who’s bringing you on this experience of music and telling you a story. I love that, and that’s what I like to do on stage as well. I think that that allows people who maybe would be turned off by my kind of vocals. It allows them to go past that wall that they’ve built up. And once they do, they hear the melodies and the harmonies in the guitar. Every song has a different hook. You can sing with the guitars, but you can also chant with the growls.
You are an outspoken vegan. How does that philosophy influence your lyrics, your music and so forth?
One of the things that was a factor when Angela asked me to join the band was that she’s also vegan and she’s kind of against religion. And we have a lot of the same philosophies on things. And so, she knew that me stepping in and having to sing lyrics that she had written in the past wouldn’t be an issue. I can’t sing something that I don’t believe in. And I can’t write songs if I don’t believe in what I’m writing. We write songs collaboratively sometimes, and I take into account other people’s opinions. It doesn’t matter to me if my idea isn’t as good as yours. Let’s go with the best idea. So, for me, a lot of what I write comes from being vegan but is not directly necessarily about veganism. It’s more about the aspect of wanting to change things for the better. Me seeing issues and problems in society that are not really spoken about and knowing that I have a platform where I can actually talk about it. I don’t want to give someone a news report as a song. I want it to be a song. I can’t scream about nothing. I have to scream about something that makes me want to scream! I think we’re all realizing right now that we’ve fucked up in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to industry. I think it’s important for musicians to include some worldview in their music. Of course, not everyone will agree with that, and that’s why I write it in poetry form. And that’s why a song like “The Race,” I may have written that as a rant about climate change and politics and animal cruelty. And then somebody else might be like “this is about my mother-in-law” — and that’s OK! That’s totally fine. I want people to connect with it. The thing that inspires me the most in my life is wanting animals to be treated well. I have a profound love for animals and that’s why I’m vegan. It just so happens that there’s a bunch of other problems that come with animal agriculture that we could probably try to fix if we would get ourselves all on the same page. I like to write about things that I care about, and many times it ends up being that. Sometimes it’s more personal, more introspective. Sometimes it’s purely poetry. It could be that I saw a beautiful painting, and the painting inspired me, and I wanted just to create imagery, which is sort of the case with our song “Exiled From Earth.” That actually, for me, was about climate change, but then the sound of the music made me want to create a landscape through words instead, so I feel like that is a very cinematic song in that sense. So yeah, I think it’s important for people to find inspiration in who they are and riff off of that, so it comes across authentic.
You clearly have some opinions where the world is headed. I would love a Kumbaya moment as much as the next guy. Music can unite people sometimes. What can we do?
I wish I had the answer to solve that problem. I really do. Unfortunately, I don’t. I do think that a top-down approach is maybe needed at this point. We’ve done bottom-up approach for a long time. Grassroots activism. Convincing one person at a time that they have the power to create change. And then they do. That’s great and that does work well, and there’s a ripple effect from that kind of activism. I think that a top-down approach [is needed]: changing the laws, changing the ways mandates and corporations work so that they are taking into account the needs of the human population and the needs of the environment. I feel like we’re at the point where we need to go that route, because unfortunately the U.S. is a capitalist society, as is a lot of the world. That’s great in a lot of ways. But it doesn’t necessarily consider all the consequences of that type of thinking. I don’t think that there’s any one political party or stance that is 100% the best and correct across the board. I think that’s impossible. I also see how quickly humans adapt and how quickly things become normal. If we even just consider ourselves now not having our phone with us for like one day, everyone would flip out about that. Whereas, anyone my age or older went most of their childhood and teenage years and even young adulthood with no phone. And it was fine! I think it’s the kind of thing where, if it came to it, now the norm is non-dairy milk because dairy is abusive and destructive and cruel and destroys the planet in a way we can’t keep up with. So, if the norm was some kind of non-dairy milk, there would be resistance at first, but we would adapt, just the way we adapt with everything else. The only reason that, for example, dairy is still a viable option is because it’s subsidized by the government. And so that’s what I mean by top-down. If we would choose instead to subsidize industries that are less harmful or not harmful to the planet and people and animals, there could be some major change. I think the time is now to do that because we don’t have a lot of options anymore.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
$35-$65, 6:30 p.m., Aztec Theater, 104 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 812-4355, theaztectheatre.com.